Educational Counseling Research Paper

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At the outset it is important to note that this research paper is focused on counseling in elementary, middle, and high schools. The obvious omissions from this list include postsecondary institutions such as junior colleges, community colleges, vocational–technical schools, four-year colleges, and universities. These institutions were not included in this discussion because their historical antecedents and current status are quite different from those of counseling in other educational institutions and the space allocated to this piece does not allow for a discussion of counseling services in both groups of institutions.

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1. Historical Perspectives

It seems likely that the delivery of guidance and counseling services in educational settings began in the USA near the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco in the California School of Mechanical Arts. In 1895 George Merrill began offering services that included occupational exploration, career counseling, job placement, and follow-up services. Jesse B. Davis also pioneered in offering guidance services in high schools in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Although his program also included vocational guidance, it also focused on character development and developing appropriate behavior (Miller 1968).

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, other programs were established in Cincinnati, New York City, and Seattle. However, one of the most important developments that emerged from this period actually arose from the work of Frank Parsons in the Vocational Guidance Bureau and his posthumous publication Choosing A Vocation (Parsons 1909). Parsons was a social reformer who was concerned about a number of groups including immigrants and school dropouts. He recognized the importance of making wise career choices and set several programs in motion to improve their decision-making processes. In his book he outlined a three-step model for this process: (a) develop a clear understanding of one’s self, (b) acquire a comprehensive knowledge of occupations, and (c) using what Parsons called ‘true logic,’ choose an occupation that is suited to one’s abilities, aptitudes, and interests. Parsons’ simple model of occupational choice making, underpinned by the development of numerous psychometric instruments in the 1920s and 1930s was to underpin the vocational counseling and guidance process in the USA and elsewhere until the 1950s. In the 1950s, Super (1951), Holland (1997), and others published more sophisticated models of occupational choice and career development that would change the way counselors think about the process. In reality, much of what passes for career counseling in schools today still follows Parsons’ model.

Most of the early developments described thus far have been centered in high schools. Although many people advocated the need for guidance services for children, activity in this area was limited to a few school districts such as the Baltimore city schools. In 1964, funds for elementary school guidance programs and the training of elementary school counselors became available because of amendments to the National Defense Education Act and since that time elementary school counseling programs have increased rapidly in the USA.

1.1 Directive Approach

To this point the general term guidance has been used more often than counseling to describe the services provided to students in educational institutions. Today, many school counselors in the USA are still called guidance counselors because of the early emphasis on guidance services. Guidance services include testing and appraisal; providing educational, vocational, and personal information; classroom guidance; consultation with teachers and parents; educational and occupational placement; and individual and group counseling.

Although the term counseling appears in connection with many of the descriptions of services provided in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century services, the process of counseling received little attention in the professional literature until 1939 when E. G. Williamson published How to Counsel Students. Williamson (1939) set forth a counseling model that could to some degree be linked to Parsons’ (1909) tripartite model, although it had six steps. These steps were (a) collect data about the student and his or her environment using tests, inventories, observations, and other data collection devices; (b) collate and synthesize the data that has been collected; (c) diagnose the student’s problem; (d) predict what will occur to the student based on the various choices available to the student; (e) provide counseling; and (f ) follow up to determine how the student has fared given the course of action taken, and recounsel as necessary. Williamson’s approach, which relies heavily on appraisal, became known as the directive approach to counseling because of some of the counseling strategies recommended. For example, Williamson suggested that counselors identify the most appropriate course of action for students, and if the student rejected the suggestion, send them out to consider their options before proceeding.

1.2 Nondirective Approach

In the 1940s and 1950s Carl Rogers (1942, 1951) provided counselors with a very different approach to counseling students that soon became known as the nondirective approach. Rogers’ philosophy and his counseling techniques were simple. He believed that people have within them an innate ability to come to terms with and solve their own problems. The counselor’s role, according to Rogers, is to create a climate in which individuals feel free to explore their innermost self-perceptions and feelings. In Rogers’ counseling framework, appraisal of the individual was largely eliminated, as was diagnosis. Not surprisingly, Rogers’ optimistic view of human beings and their ability to cope with their problems was widely embraced.

Historical hindsight suggests that the enthusiastic acceptance of Rogers’ ideas was not the wisest course of action that could be taken by counselors working in educational settings. Most school counselors are faced with serving large numbers of students and therefore must provide counseling sessions that are relatively short in duration and few in number. The client-centered model, although it was touted as a briefer model of counseling than the psychoanalytic approaches that held sway in the 1940s and 1950s, turned out to be an approach that required several sessions of fairly long duration. Moreover, counselors found that children needed more structure than the client-centered model provided and as a result did not respond well in counseling. Although many elementary school counselors incorporate aspects of the client-centered model into their work, other briefer, more action-oriented approaches to counseling appear to be more popular (Gibson et al. 1993), a fact that reflects the status of client-centered counseling with other school counselors working at other levels as well.

2. Current Status And The Future Of School Counseling

The National Defense Act of 1958 and the increased emphasis on counseling that began with the acceptance of Carl Rogers’ ideas in the late 1950s and early 1960s marked the beginning of a rapid movement toward professionalization by school and other types of counselors. The result was the development of accreditation standards by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), higher standards for licensure to practice in school settings by every state, and the publication of a variety of position papers regarding the role and function of school counselors by the American School Counselors Association. Today school counselors utilize dozens of models of counseling to assist students with the wide range of problems they bring to them. School counseling, which began in the USA, has been adopted to varying degrees by all English-speaking countries, most Western European countries regardless of language spoken, and some African and Asian nations. Interestingly, the career development needs of students in all countries, including the USA, will continue to shape the services offered to students both in the USA and in countries such as Japan, the People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan. However, a number of other forces continue to influence school counseling including concerns about the family, efforts aimed at substance use and violence prevention, and concerted efforts aimed at educational reform.

2.1 Counseling

Baker (2000) indicated that the need for counseling in contemporary services is substantial, and presented a list of concerns that are addressed routinely in individual and group counseling sessions. The problems on Baker’s list were aggressive behavior, underachievement, grief, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, substance abuse, stress, problem pregnancy, career planning, and coping with dysfunctional families. Earlier Conyne (1994) provided data that support to some degree Baker’s observations. He reported that 25 percent of high school students in the USA drop out of school, suicide is the second leading cause of death among the 11–24 age group, and that AIDS has become one of the leading causes of death among 15–24 year olds. Other data, such as the report that one in five students report at least one bout of depression before age 18 (Lewinsohn et al. 1993), also lend credibility to Baker’s list of problems.

It should be noted at this point that most school counselors assume a very limited role when counseling students who have severe mental health problems because they lack the time required and may not be trained to deal with severe mental health problems. However, there is support from both quantitative and qualitative research for both individual and group counseling that school counselors perform according to the conclusions of Whiston and Sexton (1998). They reviewed the research literature regarding school counseling interventions and concluded that students appear to benefit from social skills training, activities related to coping with families, and career planning activities.

Whiston and Sexton (1998) also reviewed the research literature focusing on what they called guidance curriculum activities and drew different conclusions. Generally speaking, research has not been supportive of the efficacy of classroom guidance activities, although there were some positive results. Classroom guidance activities devoted to the development of self-esteem were generally not effective according to Whiston and Sexton. However, they concluded that research regarding the use of classroom guidance to improve academic achievement was somewhat effective. At the conclusion of their review, Whiston and Sexton made two types of recommendations. One recommendation was that more and better research regarding school counseling interventions is needed. The second recommendation was that school counselors should strive to improve the quality of their interventions.

2.2 Classroom Guidance

Given the rather limited support for classroom guidance, should school counselors abandon it as a strategy and use their time to provide additional counseling activities? The idea of eliminating large group interventions seems untenable since school counselors are faced with providing services to 350 to 1,000 students and the use of a large group delivery mechanism is an efficient means of reaching large numbers of students. Whiston and Sexton’s (1998) recommendation was on target. There is a need for the improvement of the delivery of classroom guidance activities.

Another line of research, that dealing with resiliency, provides an even more compelling rationale for the improvement of classroom guidance, counseling interventions, and other strategies used by school counselors. Resiliency is the innate ability of children and adolescents to cope with numerous environmental difficulties and emerge with positive mental health (Lewis 2000). Although resiliency is innate, it seems to be fostered by a number of protective factors that school counselors can impact. Lewis (2000) reports that resilient individuals have a positive attitude toward school and develop good reading skills by age 10, have good reasoning and communication skills, believe that they can influence their own lives, set career success as a high priority, have special interests and hobbies, and have coping strategies when facing adversity. Factors that seem to promote resiliency include friendship-making skills, positive mentoring at school, positive affectional ties with alternative care givers, a caring environment, high expectations, and opportunities for participation. Clearly, the fostering of resiliency cannot be developed through a single intervention. However, social skills such as friendship-making skills, decision-making skills, coping with factors such as stress, study skills, and many other variables that positively affect resiliency, can be influenced if a variety of strategies are employed.

To this point only counseling and classroom guidance have been discussed. School counselors use a number of other strategies such as consultation to impact some of the other factors discussed.

2.3 Consultation

Consultation is a triadic process engaged in by a school counselor (consultant) and a caregiver (consultee) for the benefit of a student (client). The objectives of consultation are twofold. The most obvious of these is to improve the educational or psychological functioning of the student. The second goal of consultation is to improve the functioning of the consultee, who is typically a teacher or a parent. Although there is limited research on consultation with parents, the research that is available is generally supportive of this activity as is the rather extensive number of studies focusing on teacher consultation (Brown et al. 1998). Using consultation and parent education (Muro and Kottman 1995), school counselors help parents develop more positive parenting strategies and establish more positive, supportive family environments. Consultation with teachers typically focuses on academic achievement, disruptive classroom behavior, or a combination of the two. Depending upon the theoretical orientation of the counselor, interventions may range from individual behavioral contracts to entire classroom interventions employing democratic decision-making strategies.

2.4 Peer Intervention

Peer interventions have also been used successfully by school counselors, both as a means of preventing the development of problems as well as interventions to help students who have developed academic and psychological problems. For example, peer counseling programs have been employed successfully to improve communication skills, enhance decision making, teach relaxation strategies, and increase assertiveness (Baker 2000). Peer mediation programs have also been used successfully to reduce physical and verbal aggression in a large number of schools and peer tutoring programs have been instrumental in improving educational achievement among students at various grade levels (Brown 1999). Students have also acted as cocounselors in successful smoking cessation programs for children and adolescents as well as in other roles involving the prevention and elimination of addictions. The roles that school counselors play in peer counseling and tutoring programs include recruiting peer counselors, mediators, and tutors; training them for their roles; supervising their activities; and evaluating the outcomes of their work.

2.5 Other Counseling Activities

Counselors at all levels utilize the interventions discussed to this point. However, educational planning and placement, career planning and placement, and scheduling students’ classes are activities that are very much a part of high school counselors’ roles, engaged in to a limited degree by middle and junior school counselors, and almost totally absent from the roles of elementary school counselors. Assessment for educational and career planning, including the interpretation of tests and inventories to students and parents, follows this same pattern, with elementary school counselors being only marginally involved in these types of activities and counselors at higher levels becoming progressively more involved. In the USA, school counselors have been caught up in the assessment of educational progress that characterizes the educational reform movement in many schools. The result is that elementary school counselors often coordinate the end-of-grade tests, while middle and high school counselors coordinate the end-of-course tests that are used to assess achievement in individual subject areas. High school counselors may also be involved in administering college admissions tests as well as general academic competency tests required for graduation by some schools.

3. Conclusions

If there is one role that is routinely ignored by large numbers of school counselors it is the evaluation of their work. Baker (2000) indicated that the increasing demand for accountability requires that the outcomes of school counseling programs be evaluated, but few counselors seem to be heeding his warning. The result is that a few schools are requiring that counselors conduct follow-up studies to determine opinions about the effectiveness of their programs. Even fewer schools require that specific interventions such as group counseling be evaluated periodically. If Baker is correct about the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of school counseling programs, conducting evaluation studies will become a more important part of the counselor’s role in the future.

Finally, it is difficult to predict whether conducting evaluation studies will be an important activity within school counseling programs in the future because of the demands placed on their time by ever-changing educational institutions. It is even more difficult to predict the overall future of school counseling. The number of school counselors has increased dramatically since the 1960s and there is increasing interest in providing counseling services in schools throughout the world. However, counseling services come at a cost. As school officials set priorities designed to improve the educational experiences of students, school counselors will, as Baker has suggested, have to demonstrate that they are worthy of funding. If this is to occur attention must be paid to improving the quality of some of the interventions used, such as classroom guidance and presenting evaluative data that support the services provided.


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