By some stroke of fate, the two girls happened upon each other in the empty school hallway, each of them clutching a plastic bathroom pass. And I, a Public School Counselor with Spurwink Services, happened to be walking by. One of the girls was my client. Her fists, curled tight, pressed against her abdomen as if she could hold in the rising wave of rage. Her compact body shook with the effort. The hallway echoed with the voice of the second girl, just as angry. “I saw the way you looked at me! You’d better get that look off your face before I take it off!” My client shouted, “Let’s go! I’ll knock you into next week!” I stepped into my client’s line of sight and she ducked to see around me. “Look at me,” I said, sliding in closer. “Look into my eyes.” She blinked once, hard, and forced her eyes to look into mine. “Remember what we talked about? This is it. This is your fight or flight response.” Her eyes reflected a moment of understanding. She’d been referred to Spurwink Public School Counseling services last year by her school guidance counselor, and I’d been doing trauma-focused therapy with her. She closed her eyes again and inhaled–a deep cleansing breath, shaking her fists open to relax her hands. She turned and disengaged from the confrontation and the atmosphere lifted like a balloon releasing air. It became a teaching moment for my client and a celebration of her progress.
School counselors. Every parent with a child in school knows they exist. For some families, they are a known and secure, yet unused, presence. But for others, they make a huge contribution to a child’s school day – from navigating a new classroom to avoid a physical fight with a peer to school expulsion.
February 1st – 5th, 2016 marks National School Counseling Week. The week celebrates the work that counselors do in schools. As a Public School Counselor with Spurwink Services, I can attest that school counseling work is challenging and incredibly rewarding. It requires a high degree of collaboration and an ability to “think on your feet”. I have also found that there can be some confusion between the roles of School Counselors (formerly Guidance Counselors) employed by the school district, and Spurwink Public School Counselors employed by Spurwink but also located within the schools. Although we share similar titles, each type of counselor is different and brings a unique set of skills to their work. But we also work in tandem in order to best serve our students.
Spurwink Public School Counselors are licensed as either Clinical Social Workers or Clinical Professional
Counselors, and have a minimum of a Master’s level education. Some have additional credentials in drug and alcohol counseling, art therapy, play therapy, or clinical supervision.
Here are some different roles between school counselors and Spurwink public school counselors:
Spurwink Public School Counselors DO:
- Perform psychosocial assessments
- Provide a mental health diagnosis and create treatment plans
- Offer individual therapy sessions
- Offer crisis intervention and parent support
- Consult and collaborate with parents, teachers, support staff and school administration
- Bridge the gap between home and school
- Provide psychoeducation to schools and families
- Work creatively with school partners to provide services that meet the unique needs of students, including supports for immigrant and refugee students
School Counselors (Guidance) are licensed in Professional Counseling with a concentration in School
Counseling, and have a minimum of a Master’s level education. Some are additionally credentialed as Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselors and may hold other therapeutic credentials as well.
School Counselors (Guidance) DO:
- Encourage a safe and positive school climate
- Perform individual student planning, assisting students and parents with academic planning, academic testing, scholarship information, transcripts, financial aid, and future goals
- Facilitate developmental, prevention, and intervention based small groups
- Respond to immediate student needs with brief, solution-focused counseling or group sessions, and also offer crisis intervention.
- Consult and collaborate with parents, teachers, support staff and administration
- Make referrals to other services within the school or community
BOTH Spurwink Counselors and School (Guidance) Counselors do NOT:
- Handle discipline or assign consequences
- Disclose confidential information with those who are curious
- Teach academic subjects
- Work exclusively with special education students or students with behavioral challenges, but with all students in the school
The Main Difference between Each Type of Counselor:
- School (Guidance) Counselors offer intensive support surrounding academics and short term, solution-focused counseling with individuals and groups.
- Spurwink School Counselors offer mental health services and longer term clinical therapy.
The door to my office displays a white board, and usually, my clients write messages to me when they need help with an urgent matter. But as I approach on this day, I see it’s a sentiment from my earlier client. “Donna, thank you soooooooo much!” it reads, in looping script, surrounded by a spray of blue dry-erase hearts. I am grateful to be a part of my client’s collaborative team of counselors and honored to be a part of her journey through the difficult work of change.
by Donna LaNigra, LMSW-cc
Public School Counselor, Spurwink