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Guidance and School Counseling

A Brief History of School Guidance and Counseling in the United States

School counselors help to make learning a positive experience for every student. They are sensitive to individual differences. They know that a classroom environment that is good for one child is not necessarily good for another. Counselors facilitate communication among teachers, parents, administrators, and students to adapt the school's environment in the best interests of each individual student. They help individual students make the most of their school experiences and prepare them for the future.

A Brief History of School Guidance and Counseling in the United States

The history of school counseling formally started at the turn of the twentieth century, although a case can be made for tracing the foundations of counseling and guidance principles to ancient Greece and Rome with the philosophical teachings of Plato and Aristotle. There is also evidence to argue that some of the techniques and skills of modern-day guidance counselors were practiced by Catholic priests in the Middle Ages, as can be seen by the dedication to the concept of confidentiality within the confessional. Near the end of the sixteenth century, one of the first texts about career options appeared: The Universal Plaza of All the Professions of the World, (1626) written by Tomaso Garzoni. Nevertheless, formal guidance programs using specialized textbooks did not start until the turn of the twentieth century.

The factors leading to the development of guidance and counseling in the United States began in the 1890s with the social reform movement. The difficulties of people living in urban slums and the widespread use of child labor outraged many. One of the consequences was the compulsory education movement and shortly thereafter the vocational guidance movement, which, in its early days, was concerned with guiding people into the workforce to become productive members of society. The social and political reformer Frank Parsons is often credited with being the father of the vocational guidance movement. His work with the Civic Service House led to the development of the Boston Vocation Bureau. In 1909 the Boston Vocation Bureau helped outline a system of vocational guidance in the Boston public schools. The work of the bureau influenced the need for and the use of vocational guidance both in the United States and other countries. By 1918 there were documented accounts of the bureau's influence as far away as Uruguay and China. Guidance and counseling in these early years were considered to be mostly vocational in nature, but as the profession advanced other personal concerns became part of the school counselor's agenda.

The United States' entry into World War I brought the need for assessment of large groups of draftees, in large part to select appropriate people for leadership positions. These early psychological assessments performed on large groups of people were quickly identified as being valuable tools to be used in the educational system, thus beginning the standardized testing movement that in the early twenty-first century is still a strong aspect of U.S. public education. At the same time, vocational guidance was spreading throughout the country, so that by 1918 more than 900 high schools had some type of vocational guidance system. In 1913 the National Vocational Guidance Association was formed and helped legitimize and increase the number of guidance counselors. Early vocational guidance counselors were often teachers appointed to assume the extra duties of the position in addition to their regular teaching responsibilities.

The 1920s and 1930s saw an expansion of counseling roles beyond working only with vocational concerns. Social, personal, and educational aspects of a student's life also needed attention. The Great Depression of the 1930s led to the restriction of funds for counseling programs. Not until 1938, after a recommendation from a presidential committee and the passage of the George Dean Act, which provided funds directly for the purposes of vocational guidance counseling, did guidance counselors start to see an increase in support for their work.

After World War II a strong trend away from testing appeared. One of the main persons indirectly responsible for this shift was the American psychologist Carl Rogers. Many in the counseling field adopted his emphasis on "nondirective" (later called "client-centered") counseling. Rogers published Counseling and Psychotherapy in 1942 and Client-Centered Therapy in 1951. These two works defined a new counseling theory in complete contrast to previous theories in psychology and counseling. This new theory minimized counselor advice-giving and stressed the creation of conditions that left the client more in control of the counseling content.

In 1958 the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was enacted, providing aid to education in the United States at all levels, public and private. Instituted primarily to stimulate the advancement of education in science, mathematics, and modern foreign languages, NDEA also provided aid in other areas, including technical education, area studies, geography, English as a second language, counseling and guidance, school libraries, and educational media centers. Further support for school counseling was spurred by the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik and fears that other countries were outperforming the United States in the fields of mathematics and science. Hence, by providing appropriate funding for education, including guidance and counseling, it was thought that more students would find their way into the sciences. Additionally, in the 1950s the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) was formed, furthering the professional identity of the school counselor.

The work of C. Gilbert Wrenn, including his 1962 book The Counselor in a Changing World, brought to light the need for more cultural sensitivity on the part of school counselors. The 1960s also brought many more counseling theories to the field, including Frederick Perl's gestalt therapy, William Glasser's reality therapy, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May's existential approach, and John Krumboltz's behavioral counseling approach. It was during this time that legislative support and an amendment to the NDEA provided funds for training and hiring school counselors with an elementary emphasis.

In the 1970s the school counselor was beginning to be defined as part of a larger program, as opposed to being the entire program. There was an emphasis on accountability of services provided by school counselors and the benefits that could be obtained with structured evaluations. This decade also gave rise to the special education movement. The educational and counseling needs of students with disabilities was addressed with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975.

The 1980s saw the development of training standards and criteria for school counseling. This was also a time of more intense evaluation of education as a whole and counseling programs in particular. In order for schools to provide adequate educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities, school counselors were trained to adapt the educational environment to student needs. The duties and roles of many counselors began to change considerably. Counselors started finding themselves as gatekeepers to Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and Student Study Teams (SST) as well as consultants to special education teachers, especially after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

The development of national educational standards and the school reform movement of the 1990s ignored school counseling as an integral part of a student's educational development. The ASCA compensated partially with the development of national standards for school counseling programs. These standards clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of school counseling programs and showed the necessity of school counseling for the overall educational development of every student.

Major Roles and Functions for School Counselors

The roles of a school counselor are somewhat different at various grade levels.

Elementary school level. In elementary schools, counselors spend their time with children individually, in small groups, or in classrooms–thus having some connection with every student in the school. With the advent of systems thinking, the elementary school counselor now has a working relationship with students' families and with community social agencies. Although the roles of school counselors vary among settings, common tasks include individual counseling, small-group counseling, large-group or classroom presentations, involvement in schoolwide behavior plans for promoting positive and extinguishing negative behaviors, and consulting with teachers, parents, and the community. Additional duties might include developing classroom management plans or behavior plans for individual students, such as conducting SST and IEP meetings.

Middle and high school level. Like elementary school counselors, the roles of middle and high school counselors vary depending on the district and the school administrators. Counselors deal with a vast array of student problems–personal, academic, social, and career issues. Typically, these areas get blended together when working with a student on any one topic; hence, it is impossible to separate the duties of a counselor on the basis of a particular problem. Counselors in middle and high school have experience with all these areas and work with others in the school and community to find resources when a need arises. It is common for a school counselor to be the first person a student with a difficulty approaches. The school counselor then assesses the severity of the problem in order to provide appropriate support. School administrators sometimes assign counselors such responsibilities as class scheduling, discipline, and administration. These tasks can be integrated with the goals of school counseling but can also dilute the time available for helping individuals.

Training Requirements

The requirements for the credentialing (in some locations called certification, licensure, or endorsement) of professional school counselors vary from state to state. All states and the District of Columbia require a graduate education (i.e., completion of some graduate-level course work), with forty-five states and the District of Columbia requiring a master's degree in counseling and guidance or a related field. A majority of states also require that graduate work include a certain number of practicum hours, ranging from 200 to 700, in a school setting. Additionally, a majority of states require applicants to have previous teaching experience. Some of these states allow students to gain experience through the graduate program by means of internships.

Half of the states require standardized testing as part of the credentialing process. Many of these tests simply cover basic mathematics, writing, and reading skills, while some states require more specialized tests covering the field of guidance and counseling. Nineteen states require a minimum number of course credit hours specifically related to guidance and counseling. Fourteen states require students to take courses in other subject areas, such as education of children with disabilities, multicultural issues, substance abuse, state and federal laws and constitutions, applied technology, and identification and reporting of child abuse. Thirty-eight states recognize credentials from other states. Another thirty-eight states require applicants to undergo a criminal background check.

Issues Major Trends and Controversies

Among the many issues facing the school counseling profession are the following three: what the professional title should be, how counselors should be evaluated, and to what extent counselors should work on prevention instead of remediation.

Professional title. Some professionals in the field prefer to be called guidance counselor, while an increasing number prefer the term school counselor. The growing trend is for counselors to be seen as professionals in a large system, working fluidly with all aspects within the system. The expected duties are more extensive than those practiced by vocational guidance counselors of the past, hence the feeling of many school counselors that the name of the profession should reflect its expanded roles.

Evaluation. A major trend in education is the demand for accountability and evaluation. School counselors have not been immune to this demand. Since the early 1970s there has been a growing concern with this issue and numerous criteria have been developed to help school counselors evaluate their specific intervention techniques.

The National Standards for Professional School Counselors was adopted by ASCA in 1997. Similar to the academic standards used nationally by state departments of education, the counseling standards provide a blueprint of the tasks of and goals for school counselors. The standards have not been adopted by every state. The average state student–counselor ratio varies from a high of about 1,250 to a low of about 400, so the evaluation of counselor performance with different workloads is a difficult undertaking.

Prevention versus remediation. A growing trend in the field of counseling is the focus on prevention instead of remediation. In the past it was not uncommon for counselors to have interactions with students only after some crisis had occurred. There is now a shift for school counselors to intercede prior to any incidents and to become more proactive in developing and enacting schoolwide prevention plans. The schools, community, and families are requesting assistance in preventing students from being involved with many difficulties, such as participating in gangs, dropping out of school, becoming a teenage parent, using drugs, and participating in or becoming victims of acts of violence.

Gangs. Students as early as third grade are being taught gang-type activities. Students are more likely to end up in a gang if family members and peers are already involved in gang activity. It is difficult for children to leave a gang once they have been actively involved. Antigang resources are often focused on fourth and fifth graders–an age before most students join a gang. Counselors are in a position to ascertain whether a child is "at risk" of gang-type activity. The counselor can also be influential in working with the family to help the child avoid gang activity.

Dropouts. In many large metropolitan school districts, over 25 percent of students do not complete their high school education. Premature school termination is becoming an increasingly more difficult problem as more careers require education well beyond the high school level. Counselors are in a unique position to assist students with career guidance and help them establish meaningful goals including the completion of a basic education.

Teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy continues to be a societal concern. Precipitating factors are visible prior to middle school. Counselors are often the liaison with community agencies that work to prevent student pregnancy and assist with students who do become pregnant.

Substance abuse. Drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, continue to be a serious problem for youth. Despite national efforts to eradicate these problems, many students still find their way to these mindaltering chemicals. Counselors are trained to understand the effects of different drugs and can assist with interventions or community referrals. The counselor is also essential in developing substance abuse prevention programs in a school.

School violence. School violence can range from bullying to gunfire. Counselors have training to assist teachers and students in cases of violence and to establish violence prevention programs. Counselor leadership in making teasing and bullying unacceptable school behaviors is a powerful way to provide a safer and more inclusive environment for students.

Diversity. Tolerance of diversity is an important goal in a multicultural society. School counselors help all students to be accepting of others regardless of sex, age, race, sexual orientation, culture, disability, or religious beliefs.

Child abuse. Many states have mandatory reporting laws concerning child abuse. Students in all grades are susceptible to abuse by others, and the counselor is often the first person to discover these deplorable acts and then report them to the proper authorities.

Terrorism. Terrorism is becoming an increasingly difficult problem in the world of the early twenty-first century. Children are affected, directly and indirectly, by both massive and small-scale acts of terrorism. Counselors are able to ascertain the extent to which a student or teacher may be adversely affected by terrorist acts. In these cases the counselor can either intervene or direct the person to more intensive interventions.

School Counseling around the World

How are other countries providing counseling? It is clear that school counseling has made significant progress in the United States. Political, social, and cultural factors are deeply embedded in the way a given country addresses the educational needs of its populace. Following are brief examples of how school counseling is practiced in some other countries.

In Japan, the goal of high school counseling is to "help every student develop abilities of self-understanding, decision-making, life planning, and action-taking to be able to adjust in the career options he or she decides to pursue" (Watanabe-Muraoka, Senzaki, and Herr, p. 101). In France, secondary school counseling was started in 1922 and by the late 1930s was adopted by the educational system and seen as a necessary part of the institution. School counselors assist students with vocational guidance.

In Thailand, school counseling often incorporates advice-giving by teachers. In Israel, school counselors devote one-third of their time to classroom instruction and the rest to personal and social counseling. Career counseling is somewhat curtailed because students are required to enlist with the armed services after high school. In Hong Kong, school counseling and guidance is becoming more of a service that is incorporated into the whole school with an emphasis on prevention. Turkey has a fifty-year history of counseling development. There is a professional association that publishes a journal and sponsors conferences. Many secondary schools have counseling services and receive support from the Ministry of National Education.

All countries benefit from professional dialogue and a continual exchange of information. In Europe the Transnational Network of National Resource Centres for Vocational Guidance was established to share information, include businesses and social agencies, and improve counseling methods and materials. The Internet is being used widely as a mechanism for disseminating information. Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, the Slovak Republic, and Norway are among many countries using the web to make career and counseling information available to guidance experts. As school counseling continues to define itself as a profession and to show its usefulness empirically, counseling services in schools are likely to expand worldwide in an effort to improve everyone's life satisfaction.


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