School Counseling

In addition to their typical developmental issues, children and adolescents currently face many challenges to their healthy growth and development. According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), school counselors accept responsibility for helping all children and adolescents make age- or grade- appropriate progress in their personal, social, educational, and career development. School counselors also assist children and adolescents who present different degrees of need for special help in these areas—needing help with developmental issues and issues inherent in their own circumstances. These special issues may arise when children or adolescents are unable to accomplish developmental tasks or when circumstantial obstacles interfere with their progress. A familiar example of the former is the adolescent who prefers to spend time with friends rather than attend class. A familiar example of the latter is the child who cannot concentrate on schoolwork due to troubles at home. School counselors work with children and adolescents who are situated along the entire mental health-mental illness spectrum and from different cultures. School counselors also work with students’ parents, teachers, and administrators.

Comprehensive School Guidance and Counseling Programs

In rising to the challenges of serving large caseloads of clients—the ASCA recommended ratio is 250:1; the current range across the states is 222:1 to 1301:1—with developmental and circumstantial issues, school counseling professionals have reached consensus about the means for delivering school counseling to students. Initially conceptualized by Gysbers and Moore, the comprehensive school guidance and counseling program model is endorsed in the ASCA National Model and in the models of a majority of the states.

The four elements of a comprehensive school guidance and counseling program are those of content; organizational framework; resources; and development, management, and accountability. The content element describes standards for student competency development. To guide meaningful practice, competencies must be specified for each grade level or grade grouping. There are national content standards published by ASCA. Many state and local school district models include content competencies appropriate to their schools’ missions and communities.

The organizational framework element describes structure, activities, and time parameters that support program delivery. The structural components present the definition of, the assumptions behind, and the rationale for the program and its implementation design. The program activity components define activities as guidance curriculum, individual student planning, responsive services, or system support. The time portion of the element describes examples (as in the National Model and the text), or recommendations, guidelines, or rules (as in state models) for appropriations of school counselor time for each of the program activity components.

The resources element describes the personnel and financial and political resources needed to fully implement a program. The development, management, and accountability element describes a systematic process for schools and school districts to use to tailor their programs to best assist their students’ development that make wisest use of the allocated resources. The five phases of this process are planning, designing, implementing, evaluating, and enhancing.

Six Changes for the 21st Century

Even in states and school districts with well-described programs, and even with research that documents the value added to students’ development within fully implemented programs, program implementation is uneven at the present time. A legitimate goal on behalf of equitable services for all students is to have fully implemented programs in all schools. This entry identifies six goals for changes that may lead more schools to fuller implementation of their programs:

  1. Clarity of school counselor professional identity
  2. Meaningful school-based leadership for school counselors
  3. Multicultural competence of school counselors
  4. Relevant school counselor education and training
  5. Use of technology for program and counselor accountability and evaluation
  6. Fuller understanding and support for guidance and counseling by noncounselors

Each of these was the target of recent work, and the successes of these early efforts suggest that they are feasible improvements for all to consider.

School Counselor Professional Identity

To fully implement comprehensive school guidance and counseling programs, school counselors need to be clear about their professional identity. The program establishes the framework for an appropriate job description for school counselors and the basis for school counselors’ professional identity. Historically, there has been debate about whether school counselors are counselors or educators. School counselors are both. Their responsibilities include educator tasks, such as teaching (guidance curriculum) and guiding individual student planning, and counselor tasks, such as individual and small group counseling and consulting (responsive services). Program development and management, collaborating with colleagues and administrators, and reaching out to the community (system support) are tasks done by both counselors and educators.

While the program model is helping change the situation, school counselors still spend a disproportionate amount of time doing nonguidance tasks (e.g., administrative, clerical, instructional, or student supervision duties). With clear standards for the program, for school counselor competence, and for ethical behaviors and values, counselors will continue to replace these tasks with those that apply their professional competence. Additionally, having one vision for the program and school counselors’ jobs provides a common language for school counselors across the United States. Communication and affiliation among school counselors based on a shared identity strengthens that identity.

School-Based Leadership

To fully implement comprehensive school guidance and counseling programs, school counselors need leadership. To maintain a meaningful program, leadership for its development and management is a continuous responsibility. To encourage their ongoing professional development, school counselors need administrative and clinical supervision by school counseling professionals.

At the school level, leadership of the majority of school counselors is provided by school principals. While they may be effective educational leaders, most school principals do not have expertise in school counseling. Some school counselors have leadership qualities, but they do not have training in leadership for program and staff development. At this time there is no identity for building-level or district-level school counselor leaders: There is no established job title and only a minimal amount of professional literature and research. Standards need to be established for their work. School counselor leaders need to be educated, trained, and certified to meet these standards.

Multicultural Competence

To fully implement comprehensive school guidance and counseling programs, school counselors need to respond effectively to the diverse students, parents, and educators whose cultural roots or backgrounds are different from theirs. They must be multiculturally competent. In 1998 Sue, Arredondo, and McDavis defined multicultural competence for professional counselors. The profession continues to produce much research-based information to inform counselors regarding most effective ways of assisting people in their own cultural context.

Multiculturally competent individuals are always works in progress. Education and training to become cross-culturally proficient begins in counselor preservice education and should continue in ongoing in-service training and other professional development activities for practicing school counselors. As with the counseling field as a whole, school counselors are predominantly from White, middle-class backgrounds. A counseling staff in a school should include representatives from the cultures of the communities the school serves.

Multicultural competence is also essential to enabling school counselors to provide equitable services to their students. School counselors must be competent at using culturally appropriate counseling interventions. When program priorities are established, different needs of different groups of students should be considered and responded to. Cultural differences should not be the basis of discrimination— either overt or covert. In addition, school counselors help students develop multicultural competence. Multiculturally competent school counselors must also advocate for culturally different students and collaborate with their educator colleagues to help schools be more responsive to their communities.

School Counselor Education and Training

To fully implement comprehensive school guidance and counseling programs, school counselors need education programs that provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to carry out the program. Currently, there is a shortage of counselor educators who have practiced as school counselors or who have worked in elementary or secondary schools. Doctoral programs in counselor education are not readily accessible to school counselors. Incentives are not typically offered by school districts to encourage doctoral level study, and school counselors must leave their jobs to attend a university full time.

In reality, education continues across the span of a school counselor’s career. Counselor educators in partnership with local schools and districts could assist in inducting new school counselors into actual school counseling practice and in providing ongoing professional development experiences for all school counselors. A majority of states have continuing education requirements for certificate renewal. Counselor educators may be the best resources for providing multicultural and technological competence development. They are also well positioned to develop and provide the leadership training needed by school counselor administrative and clinical supervisors.

Use of Technology

To fully implement comprehensive programs, school counselors need to use technology to meet expectations for accountability and evaluation. They need to be accountable for the efficient use of their resources (including their time) and to evaluate their effectiveness in program delivery (student results, program completeness). Technology facilitates data collection, management, interpretation, and reporting.

New counselors are more technologically literate than counselors trained several years ago. In-service training, consulting, and mentoring are required to help those who may be uncomfortable with using numbers, data, and technology. In most schools, there is access to the computer equipment and software programs needed (e.g., word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, databases, and the Internet). Many schools have technology specialists available to help counselors. Developers need to create accountability and evaluation models for school counselors that are practical and simple to use.

Understanding and Support from Noncounselors

To fully implement comprehensive school programs, school counselors need to continue to garner support for the program and the profession from principals, parents, and policymakers. Support is generated when noncounselors understand the value and purposes of the work. In tailoring the program model to their schools and districts, school counselors are urged, and mandated in some states, to collaborate with school staff, parents, and community representatives. When multidisciplinary groups are part of the design team, they are more apt to understand and believe in the program and its value. Counselors themselves need to be open to receiving input as to desired program improvements. Accountability and evaluation data can be used to show the value to students of the program. When the program structure, the professionalism of school counselors, and the resultant benefits for students are clear, policymakers (e.g., school board members and legislators) are able to listen to, understand, and be supportive of school counselors’ work.


  1. American School Counselor Association (ASCA). (2005). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.
  2. Gysbers, N. C., & Henderson, P. (2006). Developing and managing your school guidance and counseling program. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
  3. Gysbers, N. C., & Moore, E. J. (1981). Improving guidance programs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  4. Henderson, P., & Gysbers, N. C. (1998). Leading and managing your school guidance program staff. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
  5. Sue, D. W., Arredondo, P., & McDavis, R. J. (1992). Multicultural counseling competencies and standards. Journal of Counseling and Development, 70, 477—186.

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