What Is A Guidance Counselor?

By Sarah Fader

Updated August 14, 2019

Reviewer Deborah Horton

It is not uncommon to be struggling, whether it has to do with school, mental health, or life in general. Many feel isolated in their struggles, especially young people who are still developing their voice and their place in the world. However, in Canada, the United States, as well as about fifty other countries across the world have mandated school counseling.

Guidance Counselors Help Students With School and Mental Health Concerns
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The level of counseling differs between countries, of course, so for simplicities sake, I will focus on the most developed and understood counseling system, that of the United States. 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 student as teachers and offer help that sometimes teachers simply can not provide

A Brief History

In the Western world, counseling in schools began to arise in the early twentieth century, focused mainly on preparing students for the workforce, and developed on from there. Throughout the 1920's and 1930's guidance counselors became more prevalent. In the beginning, many teachers doubled as guidance counselors, however, this is no longer the case.

Later, in the 1960's counseling was afforded more funding. As well, changes in Legislation at the time allowed the vocation to flourish. It wasn't until then that counseling really focused on come than academic and career achievement.

Originally, many teachers have opposed the idea, believing that only education should take place within schools. However, these counselors focused more on personal and social development. By the 1970's counseling was being implemented in schools from kindergarten to high school graduation. In the 1980's and early 1990's, Guidance Counselors were opposed. Many questioned the effectiveness of school counselors.

Finally, in 2003, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) released a national framework for school counseling. In 2004 that model underwent revision in an attempt to close opportunity and achievement gaps, and ensure all students from JK to grade twelve have access to a counselor. This lead to the system that we are used to now. In 2012 the ASCA released another final revised version, which is in place now.

So, What Does A Counselor Do?

Despite their prevalence now in Western society, many students and parents aren't sure what exactly their Guidance Counselor does. In it's infancy, guidance was not much more than making class changes, handling college applications, and dealing with students who caused trouble. Today, Guidance Counselors offer a range of services and are a crucial part of the education system.

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Today's Guidance Counselors help all students, academically, personally, socially, and in preparing for a career. The counseling system is in place in order to help students achieve in their future career, and in their social interactions. Counselors are available from Kindergarten through to grade twelve and begin by helping students to grow there 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, go to them with personal problems, create career goals, and other aspects of student social life 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 each and every student reaches their fullest potential in life. They can help develop coping, organizational, and communication skills, as well as supply student with the tools to attain a sense of self-acceptance. Also, they 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 over time. These differences are most noticeably seen between different levels of schooling.

Guidance Counselors Help Students With School and Mental Health Concerns
If You Have Questions - Reach Out and Get Matched With a Therapist Today

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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, dealing with any number of student concerns. Elementary counselors often keep an eye out for troubled students, such as those suffering abuse, neglect, depression, mental disabilities, and self-harm. With that in mind, they also deal with the 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 the same student issues. This group, however, typically includes students from grades six to eight. The influx of hormones 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.

At the high school level, 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. This in mind, they of course still assist with personal issues, however, most students at this level go to counselors for career advice and academic guidance.

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Some college and universities offer Guidance Counseling as well. A campus will often have multiple counselors in order to accommodate the number of students. At this level ages may vary widely and often student go to counselors with graduation, career, and scholarship concerns. As well, students may seek financial guidance, childcare advice, and other issues in their personal life. Also, at this level, with students being over eighteen there is no worry of parents being called, allowing open and honest communication between the two.

What About Parents?

The reach of Guidance Counselors may go beyond their students to their parents. In the creation of a productive and caring environment for students, some counselors may work with the parents of their students. It works both ways, parents can also reach out the counselors on behalf of their children. Guidance counselors can explain and strategize about student academics, provide support for families in difficult phases in their life, such as coping with the loss of a loved one or assisting in the difficulties of divorce.

As well, parents can reach out to the school to request academic evaluations for their children, to better understand their child's grades. They can also tell them of any other concerns they have regarding their child, such as worries of bullying, mental illness, and so on. Lastly, parents can, and should communicate with the guidance counselor about any outside help the student may be receiving.

How Does 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, in their programs they will have studied how to stop a crisis, counseling, and life planning. In most cases, they will go on to internship before finding a solid workplace.

School Psychologists are usually required to hold a master's or even doctorate degree. 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.

Secondly, there tends to be a difference in the way counselors and psychologist 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, in order to optimize the potential of the students.

School Psychologists, on the other hand, meet with each student in order 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 school administration, and outside entities, recommending programs to improve student achievement, and even consult with teachers when they need it to ensure the school community is emotionally and academically optimized.

What Can A Guidance Counselor Do For Me?

Okay, so Guidance counselors have a lot of responsibilities within the school, and one of those is the obligation to assist students in any way possible. It is important to keep in mind that 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.

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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 to talk through and come to a better understanding of many things, including family conflicts, social conflicts, and academics.

Essentially, Guidance Counselors are there to be a helping hand for whatever life throws your way. They can help you set and achieve academic goals, assist in dealing with bullying and self-esteem, and can even help students who are under extreme circumstances, such as homelessness, connect with the proper outside organization.

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