ERIC Identifier: ED328830
Publication Date: 1991-01-31
Author: Sears, Susan Jones - Coy, Doris Rhea
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services
Ann Arbor MI.
The Scope of Practice of the Secondary School Counselor.
Statistics from the 1988 Census data (U.S. Government, 1988) demonstrate
how difficult it is to be a "kid" in America today. In just one day, an
*2,795 teenagers become pregnant
*1,106 of those teens later have abortions
*1,027 babies are born drug- or alcohol-exposed in utero
*211 children are arrested for drug abuse
*437 are arrested for drinking and drunken driving
*10 die from gunshot wounds
*30 are wounded by gunfire
*1,512 teens drop out of school
*1,849 are abused or neglected
*6 commit suicide
*3,288 run away from home.
Obviously, more and more children and youth are coming to school with
serious personal problems. In schools, the individuals trained to help
students deal with their personal problems are school counselors. The role
or scope of practice of the secondary school counselor in today's school
is the focus of this digest.
ROLE OF THE SECONDARY SCHOOL COUNSELOR
Several influences have impacted what has been referred to as "the role"
of secondary school counselors. Among the influences are state certification
standards; counselor education training programs; the nature of school
systems; professional organizations; principals and other administrators'
beliefs about counselors; and the counselors themselves. Principals have
had a major influence on counselors' roles. In many situations, principals
have dictated "the role" by assigning the counselor "duties"--often administrative
or quasi-administrative duties (e.g., counting credits, keeping track of
attendance, discipline) that have little to do with the actual role of
school counselors or the needs of students. School counselors appear to
be reluctant or unable to convince principals that they should perform
the duties for which they have been trained. This must change if school
counselors are to have any influence in the restructured schools of the
In this complex and troubled society, school counselors are being asked
to assume a greater role in the lives of their students and the students'
families. The challenges facing counselors and demands on their time will
continue to grow during the next decade. School counselors must choose
carefully where they spend their time and energy. But, given the challenges
faced by today's students, school counselors must focus on students' personal/social,
educational, and career needs. In order to do so, counselors need to move
from a services-oriented approach (orientation, information, assessment,
counseling, placement, and follow-up) to a school counseling program approach.
They must be clear about their "scope of practice"--the responsibilities
for which they are trained--and not allow themselves to become assistant
principals, attendance officers, substitute teachers, and clerks.
A PROGRAM APPROACH TO SCHOOL COUNSELING
School counselors can exert more control over their scope of practice
if they commit themselves to designing and implementing developmental school
counseling programs (Gysbers, 1990). While crisis and remedial counseling
will always be a part of the school counselor's responsibilities, counselors
must provide assistance to as many students as possible. Emphasizing developmental
counseling programs permits counselors to be seen as contributing to the
growth of all students and not just working with those "in trouble." Developmental
counseling programs focus on meeting students' needs and lead to activities
and structured group experiences for all students (Gysbers, 1990). They
are proactive rather than reactive and when counselors are busy implementing
their program, they are unavailable for unrelated administrative and clerical
duties (Gysbers, 1990).
Developmental Counseling Programs include both "content" and "process"
components. The content component of the program speaks to:
1. The rationale for the program (why the school and children need a
2. The personal-social, educational, and career development skills or
competencies needed by children and youth; and
3. The management plan or blueprint intended to guide counselors' management
of the counseling program.
The process component includes:
1. The activities counselors will use to help students achieve the designated
skills or competencies;
2. The counseling strategies they intend to employ, e.g., individual
counseling, group counseling, classroom guidance, and/or consultation;
3. Methods to be used to evaluate their program and improve their effectiveness
with students, staff, and parents (Sears, 1990).
THE SCOPE OF PRACTICE OF THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR IN DEVELOPMENTAL COUNSELING
In a comprehensive developmental school counseling program, the counselor
has the following scope of practice (the responsibilities for which a school
counselor is trained and qualified):
Design. Counselors design the content of the program. Gysbers, (1990)
refers to this content as a "guidance curriculum." The content of the program
is designed to help students gain skills or competencies in personal-social,
educational, and career domains. Following is a list of skills/competencies
that one might expect to see in the content of a developmental counseling
1. Personal-Social Skills. Students will: (a) gain self-awareness and
improve self-esteem; (b) make healthy choices and effective decisions;
(c) assume responsibility for their own behavior; (d) respect individual
differences and cooperate; and (e) learn to resolve conflicts.
2. Educational Skills. Students will: (a) acquire study and test-taking
skills; (b) seek and use educational information; (c) set educational goals;
and (d) make appropriate educational choices.
3. Career Development Skills. Students will: (a) analyze interests,
aptitudes, and skills; (b) recognize effects of career stereotyping; (c)
form a career identity; and (d) plan for their future careers (Sears, 1990).
Delivery. Counselors must be involved in the delivery of this developmental
program content or curriculum that they have developed. They must allocate
significant amounts of time to facilitate or team teach developmental learning
activities in the classrooms. Also, they will need to set up inservices
for teachers to enable them to assist in the facilitation of the activities.
Counselors need to deliver their program content in small and large group
sessions. Large group sessions may be appropriate for the information about
and discussion of post-secondary or vocational education options and financial
aid. Small groups may be more appropriate for interests or aptitude test
Counsel. Counselors must counsel students both individually and in small
groups. Counselors must not forget their unique counseling skills. While
schools are not appropriate cites for "caseloads of clients," counselors
must always allot time for counseling students with personal-social problems,
both individually and in small groups. In order to be as effective as possible
in a limited number of sessions, counselors should utilize newer theoretical
approaches such as brief therapy.
Consult. Counselors must consult with parents, teachers, other educators,
and various community agencies to help students deal with more serious
personal and educational problems, both individually and in small groups.
In order to be as effective as possible, in a limited number of sessions,
counselors should utilize newer theoretical approaches such as brief therapy.
Coordinate. Counselors must coordinate or collaborate with others who
may be offering mental health-oriented programs, e.g., substance abuse.
Counselors report that more and more community-based programs are operating
in the schools. The school counselors should either coordinate the efforts
of these programs or collaborate in their delivery.
Testing programs are often coordinated by school counselors. In these
days of accountability, counselors must be careful not to permit this responsibility
to consume too much of their time. While counselors should understand thoroughly
all relevant interest, aptitude, and achievement tests and should be able
to offer inservices to teachers on their interpretation and use, they should
not be spending their time in direct administration of tests.
Manage. Counselors must manage the school counseling program. Directors
of guidance are a dying breed. Many counselors find themselves supervised
by individuals who have more responsibilities than they can handle. Counselors
must take charge of their own programs and encourage interaction and regular
meetings of the counselors in their district in order to assure program
Managing a school counseling program includes developing an active staff/community
public relations program. Counselors should orient staff and community
to the counseling program through newsletters, local media, and school
and community presentations.
Managing also involves pulling together advisory committees of parents
and community members to gather input related to student needs. The management
function is critical to the success of a school counseling program.
Evaluate. Counselors need to evaluate their efforts with students, staff,
and community. Counselors can gather evaluation data from several sources.
One source of information is "general evaluation" data which includes number
of students seen in individual or crisis counseling, number of small group
counseling sessions, number of large group information sessions, number
of conferences with parents, and number of phone calls to parents and community
agencies. While this kind of general evaluation does not speak to the quality
of counselor contacts, it does provide the school board and administration
information about the scope or breadth of the counseling program. "Specific
evaluation" data takes more counselor planning time. Counselors need to
plan to evaluate their work with students (particularly the delivery of
the guidance activities in classrooms). Ratings scales to be completed
by teachers and/or students and short surveys to determine what students
gained from the guidance activities are two additional methods that can
be used to evaluate the counseling program. Program evaluation is one of
the weakest areas in school counseling. Many counselors will need to seek
assistance from nearby counselor educators in setting up their evaluation
CONTINUED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The need to update professional skills is critical if counselors are
to implement the scope of practice described in this paper. Certainly school
counselors being trained today have the advantage of graduating from more
rigorous counselor education programs than those of the past. However,
counselors, particularly those who were trained over a decade ago, must
participate in inservice training (designed for counselors not teachers),
attend professional meetings, and read professional journals if they intend
to meet student needs in this complex society.
Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (1988). Youth indicators.
Washington: U.S. Department of Education.
Gysbers, N. C. (1990). Comprehensive guidance programs that work. Ann
Arbor, MI: ERIC/CAPS.
Sears, S. J. (1990). Student competencies: A guide for school counselors.
Alexandria: VA: American School Counselor Association.
Sears, S. J. (1990). Designing a school counseling program. Columbus,
OH: The Ohio Coalition for the Future of School Counseling.