ERIC Identifier: ED347482
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Hinkle, J. Scott
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Family Counseling in the Schools. ERIC Digest.
School counselors are becoming more aware of a larger unit of intervention
that includes the family. Family interventions by school counselors can address
a child's misbehavior, making costly special placements unnecessary.
Furthermore, school counselors are in a unique position to appreciate the
effectiveness of family counseling approaches with children. This digest
presents information regarding brief family counseling in the schools and
re-training school counselors already in the work force to provide family
School children react to changes and stress within the family unit in which
they belong. For example, children can become symptomatic at school when a
crisis occurs at home; these symptoms may then serve a systems function by
getting help for the troubled family. Using this family systems approach, school
counselors can apply family counseling to solve a child's problems and assist
the child's family in finding solutions to problems from a social context.
Therefore, from a systemic perspective, dated cause-and-effect logic becomes
meaningless when dealing with children in the schools.
After eliminating specific school causes for presenting problems, school
counselors should consider etiology that is based out of school. According to
systems theory, when a child's problem persists, it is usually connected to the
extended social unit or family. Therefore, it is best to solve the problem by
including the school as well as the family in formulating a solution. This
perspective suggests that a student's negative behavior is connected to how the
parents and other family members respond when the problem behavior occurs. It is
important for the school/family counselor to ask how the problem is maintained
in the system?
Idiosyncratic approaches to school problems have at times required inordinant
amounts of time and resulted in little substantial improvement. However, school
counselors utilizing family counseling within the school have reported
successful interventions for brief periods of time when compared to lengthy
individual counseling. If the problem is more complicated or requires long-term
counseling, family interviews conducted by school counselors can significantly
aid in a referral to an outside community agency. If the family is referred
outside the school, the school counselor may even attend the first "extended
RE-TRAINING: COMPETENCIES FOR SCHOOL COUNSELORS
been limited family counseling training in school counseling programs, resulting
in little family counseling among school counselors. However, this approach to
helping children with difficulties is increasing. As a result, school counselors
re-training in family counseling will need to obtain support from school
administrators. After support is established, training will ultimately require a
paradigm shift for those counselors previously trained in one-to-one,
individualistic counseling. To utilize the family systems approach, the school
counselor will need to become more directive, less passive and neutral, and
expand upon skills developed during training in individual counseling.
Effectively dealing with the transition from the role of helper to change agent
also will be an important aspect of re-training.
Such re-training should focus on elective study in family counseling that may
include additional graduate courses, continuing education, and/or inservice
training. Re-training in family counseling prepares a counselor to work in a
limited role with families. It may include introductory graduate courses in
family counseling and subsequent supervised practice. Disadvantages to this
re-training format include limited preparation to deal with complex systems
problems. However, advantages include "on the job" exposure to family counseling
without extended training.
In addition, becoming familiar with the literature in family counseling is
essential to re-training. This should continue with a focus on family counseling
skills and techniques. Since they typically have not learned sufficient
techniques to begin effective family counseling, school counselors will find
readings about family counseling quite rewarding.
It is also beneficial for school counselors re-training in family counseling
to form study groups and affiliate with professionals who specialize in family
counseling. Study groups can view and learn from videotapes of master counselors
in addition to their own family counseling. Role playing and consulting with
each other regarding family cases will also be helpful. School counselors can
also seek out local family counselors willing to provide consultation and/or
supervision. Additionally, opportunities to do co-therapy with experienced
family counselors should be sought in order to develop specific competencies in
SPECIFIC FAMILY COUNSELING COMPETENCIES
Two primary skills
for school counselors doing brief family counseling in the schools are assessing
the family's capacity to change and defining the key concepts of the problem
within a social context. The brevity of this digest does not allow for an
extended analysis of family assessment. However, assessment should minimally
include obtaining new information which leads to hypothesis generation regarding
the family. Identifying the family hierarchy in terms of "power" and knowing how
and where family information flows also is important to family assessment.
Assessment should always include the family's understanding of the problem and
the family's strengths, as well as what the family has done thus far to solve
Eventually, family interventions within the school will include the
development of a plan and a prescription that includes reframing problem
behavior and assigning homework tasks. School counselors will need to acquire
skills at establishing rapport with the family system, showing caring and
concern, as well as sharing positive characteristics of the child with the
Consulting with parents about their child and assisting with their
understanding of child and adolescent behavior also are important family
counseling competencies. Many parents need assistance with re-establishing their
executive position as primary decision-makers within their family. Effective
relationships between parents and grandparents and other extended family members
also must be established. Parents frequently need help in establishing
behavioral expectations and discipline for their children. Child behavioral
problems that are a function of marital discord should also be identified and an
appropriate referral made.
Within the school-counseling profession, school
counselors are beginning to find family counseling an effective and needed
skill. Moreover, family counseling represents a distinctive alternative for
resolving persistent problems in the schools. Family counseling training has a
short history and re-training opportunities for school counselors wanting to
engage in family counseling have been limited. This digest has presented a need
for such training and one possible direction in which to proceed. With
appropriate training, administrative support, and flexible work hours, school
counselors can provide an effective and efficient service to children, their
families, and the schools.
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J. Scott Hinkle is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and
Specialized Educational Development at the University of North Carolina,