What Is A Guidance Counselor?
Updated April 30, 2020
Reviewer Deborah Horton
A guidance counselor is a great source of help for both parents and students alike, a person who can help you understand educational goals and meet them. It is not uncommon to be struggling with school, mental health, or life in general. Many feel isolated, especially young people who are still developing their voice and their place in the world. The United States and about fifty other countries across the world have mandated school counseling, giving people the resources to meet their challenges and thrive in school and life.
There are more than 200,000 guidance counselors working in the U.S. right now. They may not teach a class directly, but guidance counselors have as much impact on the student as teachers, and offer help that sometimes teachers cannot provide.
A Brief History
In the Western world, counseling in schools began in the early twentieth century, focused mainly on preparing students for the workforce. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, guidance counselors became more prevalent. In the beginning, many teachers doubled as guidance counselors; however, this is no longer the case. In the 1960s, counseling in public schools was afforded more funding, allowing the vocation to flourish. The profession expanded beyond the focus on academic and career achievement.
Originally, some teachers opposed the idea, believing that schools should be limited to more traditional educational concerns rather than personal and social development. But its popularity continued, and by the 1970s, counseling was being implemented in schools from kindergarten to high school. In the 1980s and early 1990s, new concerns were raised. Many questioned the effectiveness of school counselors.
As a response to these concerns, in 2003 the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) released a national framework for school counseling. In 2004 that model underwent revision to close opportunity and achievement gaps and ensure all students from kindergarten to grade 12 had access to a counselor. In 2012 the ASCA released another final revised version, and this is the system we have now.
What Does a Counselor Do?
Today, guidance counselors offer a range of services and are a crucial part of the education system. Guidance counselors basically help all students in preparing for life. The counseling system is in place to help students achieve in their future career and their social interactions. Counselors are available from kindergarten through grade twelve and begin by helping students grow their own self-understanding, as well as acceptance for themselves. School guidance counselors assess students individually, catering to the specific needs of each youth.
Students can rely on guidance counselors for assistance in their academics, personal problems, career goals, and social life issues such as bullying. Counselors often conduct one-on-one or group sessions, presentations, and workshops to better students.
Overall, the goal of guidance counselors is to ensure that every student reaches their fullest potential in life. They can help develop the coping, organizational, and communication skills, as well as supply students with the tools to attain a sense of self-acceptance. They sometimes provide students with psychological counseling. They lead students on the track to becoming resourceful, adjusted members of society.
Grade Level Differences
The responsibilities of a guidance counselor differ slightly depending on what branch of education they are involved in. Of course, with different ages and levels of development, the problems students face will change and evolve. These differences are most noticeably seen between different levels of schooling.
At the elementary level, there will often be one guidance counselor assigned to the entire school. They generally deal with students ranging from kindergarten to grade six. Elementary counselors often keep an eye out for troubled students, such as those suffering abuse, neglect, depression, mental disabilities, and self-harm. They also deal with typical school difficulties and help students overcome, bullying, gossip, and disagreements with teachers and friends.
At the middle school level, counselors deal with many of these same student issues. This group typically includes students from grades six to eight. The onset of puberty during this stage of development often brings along a host of new concerns. This can include relationship issues, body image, sexual troubles, more extreme self-harm, as well as substance use.
For grades nine through twelve, counseling tends to be more based on academics-counselors aid students in making choices regarding their future career and their academic goals. High school guidance counselors are focused on preparing students for their life beyond school. They of course still assist with personal issues-however, most students at this level go to counselors for career advice and academic guidance.
Some college and universities offer guidance counseling as well. A campus will often have multiple counselors to accommodate the number of students. At this level, students usually go to counselors with graduation, career, and scholarship concerns. Students may also seek financial guidance, childcare advice, and other issues in their personal life. With students being over eighteen, there is no worry of parents being involved, allowing open and honest communication between the two.
What about Parents?
The reach of guidance counselors may go beyond students. In the creation of a productive and caring environment for students, some counselors may work with the parents.
Guidance counselors can explain and strategize about student academics and provide support for families in difficult phases in their life, such as coping with the loss of a loved one or a divorce.
Parents can reach out to the school to request academic evaluations for their children, to better understand their child's grades. They can also express any other concerns regarding their child, such as worries of bullying, mental illness, and so on. Parents can and should communicate with the guidance counselor about any outside help the student may be receiving.
How Does a Guidance Counselor Differ from a School Psychologist?
Many people are unsure of the differences between school counselors and school psychologists. The first difference is the schooling each receives. While the education prerequisite of guidance counselors may vary, they are often preferred to hold a master's degree. Typically, they will have studied counseling, life planning, and how to stop a crisis. In most cases, they will go on to an internship before finding a solid workplace.
School psychologists are usually required to hold a master's or even doctorate. In their training, they will usually focus more on child and cognitive development, prevention, and intervention tactics, as well as being trained in the assessment of children and youth. These programs also require students to participate in clinical training, research, and assessment.
There tends to be a difference in the way counselors and psychologists function within the school. Guidance counselors meet with and focus on the success of every student. They provide academic assistance, as well as career and personal advice, to optimize the potential of the students.
School psychologists, on the other hand, meet with each student to assess their needs. The psychologist usually works closely with specific students, namely those with developmental or learning disabilities, or those who are being held back by stressors outside of the school. This could include counseling students and parents, developing educational plans, and working with teachers to implement the academic aid each student requires. They may also work closely with the school administration and outside entities, recommending programs to improve student achievement, and consult with teachers to ensure the school community is emotionally and academically optimized.
What Can a Guidance Counselor Do for Me?
Guidance counselors are there to assist students in any way possible. Counselors are there to help, even when you may feel there's no one else or you're beyond help. They can help to guide you in the direction you want to go with your life inside and outside of school.
They are someone you can confide in and trust. If you're having troubles at home, at work, or even in your circle of friends, a guidance counselor can be a listening ear. More than that, they can often offer helpful advice on how to deal with your situation. They can help you achieve academic goals, deal with bullying, improve self-esteem, and can even help those in extreme circumstances, such as homelessness.
A guidance counselor is not the only resource. There are many social programs available with the same structure. The role these will play in your child's life will be tremendous.
Having someone by your side to support you as you are reaching your goals will also help. A support system is essential. Having someone to cheer you on makes a bigger difference than you might think!
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The role of a guidance counselor takes on many shapes and forms. The bottom line is, this is someone that can help your child succeed. The opportunities this will give your child are endless. Take the first step to a fulfilling future.