Help from School Counselors:
- Family Problems
- Academic Issues
- Substance Abuse
- Career & College Pathways
School counselors in the 1960s usually helped students choose colleges or enter career training programs. As the role of the counselor has grown along with education and training, the job now includes working with students on interpersonal, academic, and family issues. A qualified school counselor can teach important coping skills and can help students with special needs on an emotional, physical, or academic basis. The role of the school counselor is to provide support to students, teachers, and sometimes family members. Issues where counselors can help students differ from school to school as well as between grade levels. Five areas are most common no matter which age levels and community the counselor serves.
As many as one out of every three students report being bullied at school, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Stopbullying.gov website. Students can be bullied at school, in their neighborhoods, or on the internet. Cyberbullying via social media platforms has been associated with tragic consequences, including suicide. Bullying can cause depression and anxiety leading to school avoidance. Bullies, too, have been shown to be at-risk of dropping out, fighting, and substance abuse, and may also benefit from counseling and interventions.
2. Family Problems
Depending on the school district, grade level, and training that counselors possess, they may provide individual therapy or conduct groups for students and their families. Counselors may offer crisis counseling after a death in the family, divorce, or a serious illness. Family issues such as alcoholism or mental health problems can also come up in school counseling. Family violence is a serious issue that requires an outside referral, but counselors may help families learn better communications skills, including parenting support groups and instruction.
3. Academic Issues
When a student experiences academic problems, the school counselor is often on the front line of determining where the problem lies and helping to find solutions. Part of the school counselor’s role is helping to prevent dropouts and increasing academic success. The American School Counselor Association provides guidance for counselors on working with students at risk of dropping out. Counselors can develop peer mentor programs, conduct staff development, and provide referrals to academic support services. Support services can include working as part of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team with teachers, administrators, specialists, and parents.
4. Substance Abuse
Although substance abuse has been declining in recent years, drug, alcohol, and tobacco use is still a major issue in schools. A school counselor can help students to overcome substance abuse or misuse. The counselor has a number of screening tools which can help identify problems and can create a group or individual counseling program. A school counselor can also access community resources and refer students and parents to programs that can help reduce substance abuse.
5. Career and College Pathways
The original school counseling role of assisting students to choose and follow an educational pathway throughout high school and beyond continues. The school counselor helps students to apply for college and follow through with applications, tests, recommendation letters and more. With a variety of vocational certificate programs, technical training, and two-year college options and pathways, a school counselor has many ways to assist students to successfully complete their K-12 education and transition to work or further education and training.
Not every school counselor will be asked to work with students on every issue ranging from bullying to substance abuse. Counseling education, training, and certification will match the roles that school counselors are asked to take in individual districts, grade levels, and school settings.