Counselling is a part of the larger field of Psychology. The subject of Psychology is extremely broad and includes various sub-fields within it like Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Industrial Psychology, Sports Psychology, Educational Psychology, and many more. Thus before we dive into the steps of how to be a school counselor, it is important to understand what school counselling is.
Counselling is a noble profession. It involves helping people cope with and solve personal and psychological problems. Counselling is practiced by trained professionals known as counsellors or therapists who use scientific techniques, methods, and therapies to help people solve issues they are facing.
What is School Counseling?
Since Psychology is such a vast and fluid subject, its disciplines are not confined to strict boundaries but rather overlap to a large extent. School Counseling combines counselling techniques with school psychology.
Schools undertake school counselling programs, the work area in which the counsellors carry out their roles.
A school counselling program is a service provided by a school in which steps are taken collectively by teachers, school counsellors, and parents to provide the necessary resources, services, and guidance to enable each and every child in the school can perform at their maximum potential by helping eliminate any obstacles.
School counselling is a field in which trained professional education counsellors to work with school children in the school environment to address and help them cope with academic issues, environmental coping, and social development.
Role of School Counselors
The role of school counsellors is highly varying, and the way they carry out these roles is not fixed. Each student is different, and so is how they must be dealt with.
School counselling is practiced by school counsellors who are highly trained in the field. School counsellors help children with several issues, including going well beyond the ones mentioned above. But, there are some basic functions that all school counsellors carry out.
1. Creation of School Curriculums
The question of what students learn in school is central to any school system. Attention needs to be paid to the construction of the curriculum. Aspects such as the age of students, intellectual capacity, memory, learning and retention, practical use of topics learned, and so much more have to be considered when designing a curriculum for students.
Additionally, each student is different in their intellectual and cognitive capacities. While most students are of average intelligence, few students also fall at the extreme ends, i.e. those with learning disabilities and gifted children.
School counsellors and psychologists can only understand students at such intricate levels. Thus with the coordination of the school counsellor and teachers, the right curriculums can be curated for students.
2. Helping Children With Disabilities
Disabilities come in many forms. They may be physical, visual, hearing, learning, cognitive, etc. People with disabilities require special attention and additional help.
While support from family, friends, peers, and society at large is important, help and guidance from someone who understands their problems scientifically and has the tools to help them out are also needed for people with disabilities. In the school environment, school counsellors play this role.
3. Helping Students Adjust to the Environment
Adjustment issues occur when students cannot find their place in the school environment. It is that feeling of simply being unable to “fit in.”
The counsellor’s job is to counsel students, understand where the problem lies, help them find common ground with other students, and help them ease into their environment.
4. School Counseling Program
School counsellors also help students with school and guidance counselling. They help conduct aptitude tests, help students understand their weaknesses and find their strengths, help them figure out where their interests lie, gain valuable skills and assist students in school and career planning.
Thus, what matters to school counsellors is not only a student’s academic achievement but also student success beyond the classroom and the real world.
5. Helping Students Reach Their Maximum Potential
Improving student outcomes by helping students manage their knowledge and resources, identifying and removing barriers, and identifying their goals.
Combining and using techniques like school counselling programs, guidance programs, vocational training, and testing allows academic development and student development and helps students function at their fullest potential.
Types of School Counselors
The types of school counsellors can broadly be divided into three categories according to the age group of students that they provide counselling.
The school setup can be divided into elementary school, middle school, and high school. Thus the types of school counsellors can be bifurcated accordingly (as elementary school counsellors, middle school counsellors, and high school counsellors).
Although, it is important to note that such bifurcation is a lot more common in countries like Canada and the United States, where each of these three schools is separate, unlike in countries like India, where a single school setup includes grades from pre-primary to high school.
Career and guidance counsellors are also kinds of counsellors that work with students in the school setting.
Elementary School Counselors
Elementary school counsellors counsel children in elementary grades, usually from kindergarten to grade five or six.
School counsellors in elementary schools help children with disabilities, giving them the extra assistance they require in their learning journey. They also help children adjust their attitude toward peers, friends, and teachers. They help students with adjustment issues and teach them to build a positive self-concept.
Elementary schools require counsellors who know how to deal with children at such a young age and can get through to them and help them. School counsellors play an integral role in helping students in elementary school create the right foundation for their education journey in the years to come.
Middle School Counselors
Being a teenager is hard! Middle school counsellors help students in their teens and early teenage years. They understand that apart from various academic problems middle school students face, personal factors also come into play.
In middle schools, school counsellors provide counselling services (which may include both individual and group counselling), conduct various tests, design specialized educational programs and help in their implementation, help students create a strong sense of personality and individualism, and help students learn decision-making skills and much more for overall personal and academic success.
Many of the roles of middle and high school counsellors overlap or are quite similar since they deal with students of the same age group, i.e. teenagers.
High School Counselors
High school counsellors assist students between grades nine to twelve. High school can be a very stressful time for students, so having school counselors in high schools is crucial.
High school, especially grade twelve, is when students gradually start transitioning from their teenage years to adulthood. Students focus on academic achievement but also have increased responsibilities and stress in their personal lives as well.
A school counsellor in high schools assists students by addressing academic issues and personal issues that in turn affect their ability to learn, helping students manage their time, helping them cope with peer pressure, navigate their social life, strengthen their identity, help them deal with various stressors for the overall student development.
Student success is a very subjective term. Each student has their aims and goals. The school counsellor’s job is to help students understand their definition of academic development and success and then help them reach those goals.
Along with individual counselling, middle and high school counsellors often use group counselling programs to help students carry out their goals.
Guidance Counselors and Career Counselors
Around high school, students decide where they want their careers to be headed in the future. High schools must provide their students with guidance or career counsellors during this time.
Guidance counsellors/ career counsellors assist students in understanding their interests and aptitudes through various testing such as aptitude tests, intelligence tests, and personality tests.
A guidance counsellor’s job is to provide students with advice regarding their personal, academic, and career-related queries and problems. They help students clarify their skills and how they can be applied vocationally.
How to Be a School Counselor
Counselling is a very delicate skill with very little room for mistakes. Just as doctors need to take extreme care when dealing with their patient’s health, counsellors and psychologists have to take immense care when dealing with the mental health of their patients.
Like any other profession, becoming a school counsellor requires detailed and meticulous knowledge of the subject matter. For someone to become a certified school counsellor, they need to pursue school counsellor certification.
1. Get a Bachelor’s Degree
After completing school, one must pursue a bachelor’s (undergraduate degree).
You can pursue your bachelor’s degree in psychology, counselling, social work, or a related subject similar to school counselling. Some colleges and universities also provide specific or specialized programs within the psychology field. In this case, choose a specialization that matches or closely relates to school counselling such as educational psychology, child psychology, etc.
A bachelor’s degree in school counselling or related educational programs will be either three to four years, depending on the country or university you apply to. For example, while Indian universities have three or four-year bachelor’s degrees, Canadian and American universities usually have four-year programs.
2. Master’s Degree
After a bachelor’s degree, the next step required to be a school counsellor is a master’s degree
Nowadays, there are various specialized programs within counselling programs that allow students to explore their topics of interest along with an overall focus on school counselling. A graduate degree or master’s degree in school counselling is required. A master’s degree in a similar program focusing on school counselling can also be taken up. Usually, a master’s in school counselling takes two (sometimes three) years, depending on the program and university.
Many universities now also offer internships and internship training as a part of the course curriculum to facilitate hands-on learning and help students gain practical experience and knowledge outside of regular classroom learning.
3. Internship and Mandatory Work Experience
Each state has a different requirement for the number of hours of internship work needed to be done. These hours are completed under supervision.
Completing these hours is necessary to earn credits toward becoming a licensed school counsellor.
4. Exam for Certification
In order to become a practicing school counsellor, you need a license. An exam conducted and recognized by an accredited institution is necessary for certification.
What exam is needed for licensure depends on the state. The requirements vary from state to state thus, it is important to do the right research. Some states need you to give a specific exam or have your own exam, while others accept a standardized exam score.
5. Applying for Licensure
After giving and passing the state licensing exam, you need to apply for a school counsellor license. A license means that you are legally allowed to be a practicing school counsellor in the state for which you have the license.
Certification varies from state to state. Each state has a different license and different eligibility criteria.
To apply for certification, you must have passed your licensing exam, submitted various transcripts and documents, etc., based on that state’s requirements. You will also be required to pay a specified amount of money as a fee for the certification.
Make sure you check all the requirements of the state if you wish to become a school counsellor in. After receiving your license, you are officially a licensed school counsellor!
A Continuous Study
A school counsellor’s job description is not fixed to only certain roles. A student population consists of a variety of students, each having different behaviours, personalities, intelligence levels, interests, and aptitudes and, thus, different problems.
School counsellors need to constantly be learning to tackle such a large variety of problems and help them achieve academic success. In the school counselling profession, learning does not simply stop after completing the graduate program.
So while you learn a plethora of topics while pursuing a degree in school counselling, learning does not simply stop after a master’s degree in school counselling. Along with the basic skills requirement and education qualifications, you need to be able to absorb new information.
A school setting is very dynamic, and so are the students. Thus, school counsellors must constantly update themselves with new knowledge, techniques and, and technology.
School Counseling Online
Mental health is as important as physical health, and thus, mental health facilities should be available to all in all situations. Technology had facilitated school counselling online.
Thus, counselling sessions for students are now also taken up online, making it accessible to a larger school community beyond the physical school setting. This allows school counsellors to assist more school students as they do not have to meet up in person.
Timings for counselling sessions can be made more flexible. Conducting school counselling sessions online also allows students to feel a sense of ease as they can attend sessions from home, which is a more comforting environment.
The Need for More School Counselors
As the world population increases, so does the number of school-going children. Currently, there is a large gap in the number of students to the number of school counsellors.
According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the ratio of students to school counsellors is 415:1 in the United States, much larger than the recommended ratio.
Especially with the pandemic forcing the world into isolation, students have needed the help of school counsellors more than ever, while at the same time preventing them from actually being able to go to one physically.
Online classes, inability to meet friends and peers, difficulty coping academically, the feeling of missing out on normal school life, and several other school-related and personal problems have made parents and students realize the need for school counsellors.
There is a need for more people to enter the school counseling profession to improve the ratio of counsellors to students in the school community and ensure that there is a school counsellor available for every child.
Counselling is a growing field, with the demand for school counsellors increasing rapidly and more people taking an interest in the field as well.
There is never a boring day as a school counsellor. One learns new things every single day. School counsellors hold the ability to help children lead lives that are academically fulfilling. Being a school counsellor is truly a noble and fulfilling profession.