In its most basic form, counseling is about helping other people to help themselves. Professional school counseling is a specialized form of counseling which focuses on the specific needs of students and helps them to achieve the highest and best levels of their potential.
The purpose of this report is to provide a 3-step analysis of the career of professional counseling. It is a final project which synthesizes and presents a practical exegesis into the concept of school counseling and how it occurs in American high schools. This report will be focused on the state of New York and respondents in the practical works will be taken from the state.
The essence of this report is to document and present the concept of professional school counseling. What is professional school counseling? What does it entail? What are the routine activities that make up professional counseling? What should a professional school counselor expect in the day-to-day running of a guidance and counseling unit of a high school in the United States?
In order to answer these fundamental questions, the report will review three stages of data collection and analysis. The first section of the research will be an observation and presentation of definitions and concepts that define professional school counseling. This will include the review of literature and secondary sources of the concept of professional school counseling and what the activities on the ground actually is.
The second part of the empirical study will evaluate and analyze the concept of professional school counseling from a microcosmic perspective of a practitioner. A sample of a professional school counselor will be examined and studied in this phase. This will include the presentation of open ended questions that will be presented to the respondent who will provide answers that will be summarized and discussed in the section.
Finally, the third component will include a reflective report. This section will synthesize the findings and presentations of the concept of professional school counseling. This will include the identification of major trends and the conceptualization of the activity and function in American schools. This will bring together all the aspects of the taught course and the discoveries of the research.
COMPONENT I: OBSERVATION
As a background to the observation, the major concepts and theories that best defines professional school counseling is discussed. The American Society of Counselors identify a professional school counselor as “a professional educator with a mental health perspective who understands and respond to the challenges presented to today’s diverse population”.
The definition of the ASA shows that a professional school counselor provides his or her services as a part of the education of young people in their formative stages. This includes the provision of education that is distinct and instead of focusing on the technical elements of counseling, a school counselor will have to find ways of making education meaningful to children and learners of diverse backgrounds and promote better integration into society and a balanced development of the personality of children.
A professional school counselor carries out various counseling functions for a schools and this include the coordination and communication of major counseling needs that bring together different stakeholders in optimizing the competencies and development of high school children. This is a specialized function because it brings together aspects of teenage and child-oriented counseling to complement the educational system and process.
The view of counseling in school also varies. There are some schools that view counseling as an essential part of the development of children whilst others view it as a special needs function. The approach used by an institution defines the scope and size of the professional school counseling function. It therefore follows that a school that views guidance and counseling as an essential unit of the development of all its students will have more work to do and this hints of the likelihood of having more professional school counselors. On the other hand where a school views professional school counseling as a special function for students with special needs, it is apparent that they can have a smaller professional school counseling unit.
In line with these definitions and conceptions, the observation occurred and the observation questions of Appendix 1 was compiled to identify the main elements and features to check in the sample school. This informed the nature of the pointers to look out for and observe in the institution under review.
The sample chosen for the observation is the Stuyvesant High School, located in New York. This is the same institution from which the interview was also conducted. Thus, to ensure that the theories could be linked to the typical practice of a specific school, there was an observation of the office setting and how the system worked in the school.
Arrangement of the Professional School Counseling System
The institution has a Guidance Department which has 16 permanent staff members who are complemented by various interns and other support staff who assist in various functions and duties. The permanent staff members are postgraduate level professionals with recognized industry certificates who have a wealth of experience in guidance and counseling for teenagers and young adults.
The Guidance Department is represented on the school board by the Assistant Principal who is the head of the Guidance department. Hence, issues and matters relating to social matters are given quick and prompt attention.
The mission of the Guidance Department is to “facilitate the academic, social, and emotional growth of each student”. This shows that the department is focused on dealing with all the needs of all students as a complementary aspect of the entire school. The unit is a stakeholder oriented unit that promotes diversity by liaising with all the relevant units of the school necessary for the development of each student’s life.
Work is divided up in such a way that each student is to meet with one of the 16 Guidance staff members in a particular year. Thus, each staff member has a unique office where hearings occur in a confidential setting and provides the necessary tools and processes meant to optimize the competencies and opportunity for each child.
The obligations of each counselor is divided up by a technical counseling administrator who pairs each learner’s needs with a specific counselor who is specialized and competent enough to handle his or her matters. This is done with consideration to certain factors like age, career development goals and circumstances. The specialization of each counselor is necessary and vital in the matching process.
Commencement of Day
Each counselor has a schedule, just like any teacher. Thus, a counselor will have to begin the day by organizing himself and making early contacts to confirm processes that ought to be confirmed earlier.
After that, there are events that come up as and how the normal process goes. This includes meeting with students and prior appointments and requests. This must be confirmed in the early morning before school begins.
Time management is essential because there are special events that keep coming up from time to time. In the instance of an unusual conduct by a student, the first point of call is the primary counselor. In this process, the primary counselor will have to listen, document basic facts and take action. If it is beyond him or her, the case is referred further to a more senior authority or an external counselor.
A professional school counselor is a contact point for stakeholders. There is a case management model that is used. Therefore, in every case of relevance and importance, the relevant stakeholders must be met by a counselor. And this is the core administrative function. This includes the collection of minutes, summary of information and documentation of information and data.
Information Technology and Documentation
The school has a real time data logging system whereby all matters and actions of a counselor must be logged. This is stored in the server which also has a backup system offsite.
Handling Extraordinary Events and Activities
The personal counselor of each student is the first point of contact in the case of any extraordinary activity. The personal counselor has to document evidence and take preliminary action. After that, the counselor will have to move on to other extraordinary processes and apply technical pointers where necessary.
COMPONENT II: INTERVIEW RESULTS
The fieldwork culminated in the further questioning of a guidance department staff members of the school. The interview lasted for about 60 minutes and was transcribed. The details of the questions can be found in Appendix 2 below. The transcribed findings are summarized in this section.
Background of Respondent
The respondent holds an undergraduate degree in a Humanities course and a Master of Arts in Counseling and Child Psychology. She is a Bilingual Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and National Certified Counselor (NCC) at General Psychology. She has 3 years of post-license experience and has been with the school for 2 years.
Perception on High School Counseling
In her view, high school counseling is about helping high school children to make choices that will build their greatest future. This view seem to be in contravention of helping people to help themselves. However, her view of helping high school children is about helping the teenagers to identify each situation and see the real impact of the consequences.
In terms of differences with other forms of counseling or pseudo-counseling activities, she identifies that there are many aspects including the lack of a clear direction about the implication of different actions. Therefore, helping them is also about laying out the options and where necessary, involving parents in a semi-patriarchal manner in order to help the children make choices. This is not the case in other forms of professional counseling. Some aspects of mental health counseling like diminished responsibility are applicable, but teenage children are not mentally challenged, but people with a future ahead of them and a future to be shaped. Social work elements are important because the improvement of a child’s options is necessary and investigating cases in-depth is necessary. But most children of the school have responsible parents and guardians so it is strictly not social work.
Main Ethical and Legal Issues in Routine Activities
The fundamental ethical issue identified by the respondent is the level of responsibility the child should take in each situation. This is about drawing the lines between how to involve parents and the school in the lives of a child. This defines the communication lines and who to inform and how to inform these stakeholders.
The next most significant matter is about stakeholder involvement. When should it be alright to involve the police? What are the reputational risks? Will the media be involved in the case at hand? These are major pointers that a counselor needs to know.
However, central in this entire process is what are the legal consequences for a guidance staff member and what are the implications for the school. Thus, issues that are complex are referred to the school’s legal unit or a practitioner has to seek professional advice.
Level of Multiculturalism
The respondent identified that multiculturalism is very important in today’s practice. Therefore, being a multilingual professional, she is able to bring together different aspects of various cultures. She identifies that some professionals are homogenous and it is often difficult since they have to adjust and learn and relearn many new things. However, there are some aspects of multiculturalism that is defined and regulated in the professional practice manuals.
There are rules in everything that is to be done. It is either regulated by the professional body one belongs to and often reinforced in the practice manual of the school. Hence, in cases where something is regulated in both professional regulations and in school manual, such ideas are to be implemented in full. Those items that are regulated by one union gives a practitioner options. However, on a few occasions, matters are not regulated. This is often to be referred to a higher practitioner.
Evaluation of practice is be done according to laid down regulations. This is set out in the practice manual and the focus is on consistency and comparability of results. Hence, objective pointers are used in the assessment of different students and learners.
Stakeholders are involved where there is a more serious pointer raised in an issue. In this process, a practitioner has to forward a request to a more senior figure who arranges the involvement of the third party practitioner. This includes referring a matter to a mental health counselor. This must be documented and forwarded for authorization. Findings are to be coordinated and information about progression of student in external counseling is to be documented.
Serious Cases and Experience
The respondent identified that major cases that are serious often occur. And in the process, there is the need for a personal encounter between the mandated counselor with the student in question. Where necessary, this must be done alone or with a professional in the subject in the guidance department. From there, the practitioner has to inquire about more facts and forward a set of recommendations to a senior figure in the department for action to be taken if nothing has already been done. If something has been done already, the personal counselor from the Guidance department will have to coordinate affairs and act as representative of the child in question.
Advocacy Function in Counseling
This happens usually for temporary periods. And in such cases, a counselor has to be a representative of a child in a major situation or matter.
Maintaining Self-Care and Wellness
Professionalism is the key. A practitioner has to act with a focus on professional standard – independence, objectivity, competency, due care and diligence and completeness. Once this is done, issues of personal danger can be identified and a professional can act and improve.
Future of Counseling
There will be more diversity issues that counselors will need to adjust to and it is likely to get more personalized and counselors might need to expand their role and actions.
The main personal issue is about going the extra mile and getting emotionally involved sometimes with some issues, especially in cases that are serious and requires a lot of attention. This often happens to students with potential but might need more attention and guidance.
COMPONENT III: REFLECTION
This study has taught me that professional school counseling comes with major pointers and major issues that requires two things – adjusting to fit the requirements of your institution. No matter what you might know or how dedicated you might be, a professional school counselor cannot do too much out of the scope of the institution. Hence, practitioners will have to understand the scope of their obligations and work within it.
Secondly, practice in schools keep changing. There is the need to know modern issues and matters and then integrate them and work on them. The interviews show that there are conflicts that may occur in practice. However, a practitioner will have to stay within the rules and not get emotionally involved.
Thirdly, professional standards and guidelines can be necessary. It can guide a practitioner and make him or her more focused and more effective in meeting core goals and objectives.
Multiculturalism is something that is going to increase. This is due to the world’s move towards liberal ideals and concepts. Therefore, a professional school counselor has an obligation to stay in touch with new realities. There is the need to continuously improve practice and enhance the ability to carry out activities in order to achieve goals and obligations relevant to current practice.
Joint professional practice is something that is likely to grow. And it can be predicted that there are going to be more regulation on that matter. Hence, a school practitioner must be on the lookout for more information about new regulations on cross-professional practice.
Gallagher, T. J., Hartung, P. J., & Gregory, S. W. (2001). Assessment of a measure of relational communication for doctor-patient interactions. Patient Education and Counseling, Vol 45(3), 211-218.
Gysbers, N. C., & Henderson, P. (2014). Developing and Managing Your School Guidance and Counseling Program. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Studer, J. R. (2015). A Guide to Practicum and Internship for School Counselors-in-Training. New York: Routledge.
Thompson, R. (2012). Professional School Counseling: Best Practices for Working in the Schools. New York: Routledge.
Trolley, B. C., Haas, H. S., & Patti, D. C. (2009). The School Counselor's Guide to Special Education. Thousand Oakes, CA: SAGE Publications.
Appendix 1: Observation
Arrangement of the Professional School Counseling System
Commencement of Day
Specific Events and activities involving events
Information Technology and Documentation
Handling Extraordinary Events and Activities
Appendix 2: Interview with Professional High School Counselor
How will you describe high school level counselling?
How will you define high school level professional counselling as different from mental health counselling, social work, school psychology?
What is your counseling credential? License, Certificate (eg Praxis)? What are the requirements for the state and how did you progress through the career development phases?
What is a typical day as a high school level professional counseling like?
What are the main ethical and legal issues that influence your activities each day?
How important is it to understand and respect multiculturalism as a school counselor?
How do you utilize assessments to help you with your work as a school counsellor?
How do you partner with a student’s family and other stakeholders in addressing a student’s issue?
Please explain how you refer a student to an external mental health counselor.
Is there a protocol you follow?
Does your school have a crisis plan for use in case of an emergency?
Has there been a time when you had to respond to a critical situation in your school or district on either an individual basis (e.g., death of a student or a student’s family member, a house fire, etc.) or on a larger basis (e.g., community crisis or natural disaster)? Please discuss.
What is the role of accountability for a school counselor?
In what ways are you accountable and how do you address that accountability?
How have you engaged in advocacy (for students or for the profession)?
If so, what did that involve and how did it go?
What do you do to maintain self-care and wellness?
What is your personal view about the future of the school counseling profession?
What are the most significant personal development issues you face as a school counselor?
How have you addressed personal and professional growth and development?