School Counselors: The Unspoken Divide

BattleI have been researching school counselors through the Standford Design Model.  I have been looking at the dynamics involved into why some school counselors follow the ASCA National Model and why some do not. Digging deep into this research I found an unspoken divide:

College/Career Model vs. Mental Health Model

You may not even know that you probably identify with one model more than the other (or your school community does). The College/Career Model is from the origins of school counseling with the first vocational guidance counselor in 1901.  Counselors helped students and parents with career decisions and eventually with college decisions.  Today, advocates for this model are looking to mandate college training into counselor education.  Also, the federal initiative Reach Higher strengthens this model.

The Mental Health model evolved from the 1930s when vocational guidance counselors were seeing personal issues from their students.  The mental health model grew stronger after the war with influences from Carl Rogers and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Today, school counselors are trained in the solution-focused brief counseling because of the time restraints in a school setting. Advocates for this model have laws in place on bullying, school safety, and other mental health issues.  Strengthening this model in the last two decades are issues from Columbine, 9/11, Sandy Hook, and the uprise in suicide from bullying.

The two models are merged into the role of school counselors.  We have also been asked to close the achievement gap through interventions.  This focus on academics came first from the Soviet Union launching Sputnik in 1957. In 1958, the National Defense Education Act was passed.  The act was used to strengthen math and science and to increase college enrollment. (Space Race)  Today, we have the federal initiative Race to the Top that came from Bush’s No Child Left Behind and before that Clinton’s Standards Based Education.

Through all of the needs of our society, the school counselor has adapted and added many responsibilities to the profession.  Once the school counselor was only needed to help students decide on a career.  Today, school counselors are asked to help with career, college, mental health issues, and academic achievement.  Pulled in so many directions with so many outside initiatives, the school counselor sometimes has to make a choice or the school culture dictates the choice for them.

As school counselors become overwhelmed in their position, they may follow the mental health model or they may only follow the college/career model.   You may see one school with a lot of small groups, a strong bullying program, and individual counseling sessions.  Another school, doesn’t run small groups but has class presentations on careers, a strong  college program, and career day.

I can remember the first time I encountered this unspoken divide.  At my first job interview, I had asked the middle school counselors how many small groups they had in their school.  They had replied none.  I was a little shocked. I had just finished my counseling degree and was completely trained in the mental health model.  My internship also strongly believed in this model.  I ran across this again when I began counseling. One of our middle school counselors said that she could not take up teacher class time to teach a school counseling lesson.  She was not allowed to pull students from class for group, either.  The school culture strongly believed that school counseling should be done around class time.  She was given time for certain presentations but not in the mental health model.

From the few schools where I encountered the divide there were a few similarities.  The college/career school had a higher socioeconomic level, test scores were high, and college was an expectation from parents.  The mental health school had average to lower socioeconomic levels, average to low test scores, and average to low expectations of college.

Maybe the school needs were different therefore a higher need in mental health counseling was required? Maybe the higher socioeconomic school took care of their mental health in private practice? Maybe the affluent communities did not want the mental health stigma being placed on their child?

When a school counselor has a strong belief in following the mental health model and then is in a school where the school culture wants the college/career model a dissonance occurs.  If this divide is not addressed, the school counselor could be seen as not effective.

Why is there a divide?  Is this hurting students?

 Have you experienced the divide?



5 thoughts on “School Counselors: The Unspoken Divide

  1. Pingback: School Counselor:  If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em | cmlindberg

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  3. Pingback: My Story: The Unspoken Divide | cmlindberg

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