Lessons for a New School Counsellor … an ongoing dialogue for this school year

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This year I will be supervising another first year school counsellor, the difference being this time I want to blog about it so that I can help him as well as learn new things myself. I also hope this will help other new school counsellors in the process.

I absolutely love being a school counsellor. It is a career that I have never regretted choosing. I registered as a psychologist in 2007, and tested out private practice part time. The decision to do this helped me realize just how much I love being in a school helping students and connecting with educators. The work of a school counsellor fulfills me and makes me very happy. I love going to work every day. It is extremely rewarding because I know I can make a huge difference in the life of students and their families.  I believe as school counsellors we can change the path that a student’s life will take to a more positive one.

I know that school counsellors can save lives by what they do . They can be the first person to assess that a serious concern exists and connect the family with resources that can change the lives of the student and their family for the better.

When a student walks into my office the first question I often ask is “ how can I help you today” ? I always want to be helpful. I believe that if we are not being helpful then we are not meeting the needs of our students. At the end of the session I usually ask what did we discuss today that will be helpful to you and what will you use as a result of our spending time together today.

As a school counsellor I want to be able to replace despair with hope and sadness with joy not unlike the words in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.

I want the school counselling office to be a safe place for students to explore what isn’t working and find out how they can make things work in their lives. I like to focus on the strengths of the student. Often times students have told me they would not go to or do not like going to see counsellors. They say to me that being in my office is different ; meaning somehow I am different and that I don’t seem like the perception of what they think a “counsellor” is.

Now don’t get me wrong I have had students who did not like me. It is part of what happens as a school counsellor, teacher , educator or anyone in any profession and if that happens hopefully they will connect with the person who will be most helpful to them.

What do I believe are the important lessons a new school counsellor should know? These lessons will not be in order of importance, but are all lessons I feel are worthwhile being aware of. As the school year progresses I will continually add to this list.

Lesson #1: We can’t help everyone, but we can sure try to help the ones that come to us or are referred to us ( and sometimes we need to go to them).

Students will often disclose very serious issues that we as school counsellors need to address. Sometimes when we disclose to parents that their son or daughter is thinking of suicide or some other life threatening concern (the end result might be the student may never return to see you). Hopefully you have connected the student and their family to resources that can improve and indeed in some cases save their lives.

It is important for new school counsellors to not get discouraged if a student does not return to see you (don’t personalize it) it may just be that you have helped them a great deal, but are unaware of just how at that time. Students have stopped me in stores and other places years later to let me know what a difference I made. So hang in there knowing that you did what you needed to do. It is also important to be self aware, so also run by your concerns with another counsellor and see if indeed there was something else you could have done or ask what if anything could you have done differently. Remind yourself that you are in a process of learning. Consult… consult… consult… a lifelong lesson for ALL school counsellors.

It is also OK to recognize that you are NOT a match for every student. Hopefully there are other counsellors in your school or outside agencies that you can refer your student to if this happens. I let students know that they have a choice when it comes to counsellors and they need to see the person they feel most comfortable and safe with. Hopefully, that will be you ,but if not that is OK too.

Lesson # 2: We need to base what we do on theoretical perspectives that are useful and helpful. Humanists like Carl Rogers ,Victor Frankl have impacted me, but so to have others in the field of psychology like Albert Ellis, Irvin Yalom, Fritz Perls, Ed JacobsDavid Burns, Virginia Satir, Donald Meichenbaum, Claudia Black


and Mary Pipher to name a few. There is no one right approach. You need to discover what you believe and make sure it works for you and your students.

Each theorist has impacted the way I interact and help students. Along the way I have also worked with some amazing school counsellors , educators and supervisors who have also influenced me in a positive way. Thanks especially to Diane Williams, Deana Helton and Helen MacKinnon.

Lesson #3: Find great mentors and learn from them. One of my all time favorites is Ed Jacobs. Ed is a genuinely helpful man as well as being a great therapist. I love how he interacts and works with young and old people alike and makes a positive difference in the lives of others. Check him out on youtube here:

Lesson #4: There are so many people and resources you can learn from that can impact students in a positive way. I think Leo Buscaglia  has the best lessons that can be used in counselling students. I can honestly say I loved Leo . He was and still is an inspiration to me. Which brings me to an extremely important lesson … lesson #5

Lesson #5: Continually professionally develop yourself. Keep learning and learning and learning. One of my new favorite ways to do this is to connect with other school counsellors worldwide on twitter. See my past post on amazing school counsellors and what they are doing. My twitter handle is @sspellmancann. If you are not on twitter sign up TODAY!

Lesson #6: Read great counselling books . A few I really like are : Impact Therapy by Ed. Jacobs, Creative Counselling Techniques by Ed. Jacobs, Group Counseling Strategies and Skills Jacobs, Masson, Harvill, Letters To A Young Therapist Mary Pipher, The Gift of Therapy  Irvin Yalom, Mans Search for Meaning Victor Frankl

As I think about the lessons I believe a new counsellor should be thinking about I realize that there are some practical considerations that a new counsellor might want to implement. Here are a few:

What are some basics that could be helpful to you as a new school counsellor? 

  • Write an introduction letter to parents letting them know who you are and what you do and post it on the school counselling and school website. (If  by chance your school does not have a website design a letter introducing yourself and put it in the school newsletter ( put it in the newsletter anyway.)
  • Tweet this out to students on the school twitter account and post it to the school facebook account.
  • Introduce yourself to as many teachers as you possibly can. In a large school, this will take time.
  • Plan to meet with your administration team at THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR and least once a month. Celebrate what you do and how you are doing. Discuss what the expectations are of a Comprehensive School Counselling Plan and how you can work together to accomplish this.
  • My plan this year is to implement a joint admin. counseling blog post at least four times throughout the school year. Counsellors and admin should be joint leaders in any school.
  • Show initiative. Everyone in a school will benefit. If you have some great ideas don’t be afraid to share or try out your ideas.
  • Discuss limits of confidentiality with every student. You might want to put a poster of the limits on your office wall.
  • Visually make your office a space students want to be in.
  • Develop a monthly calendar of things to do and check off when you complete them.
  • Have a plan when meeting new students.  It is helpful to get a cell phone number so that you can follow up especially in a self-directed High School.
  • It might be helpful to keep a notebook of all the things you need to know especially if you are in a new school or counselling a new age group.
  • You will want to find a simple and easy way to curate information. I use livebinders and pinterest. They can be extremely helpful tools for new counsellors as well as those that have been around for awhile.
  • You need to be a positive PR person for the school counseling program , so find many ways to connect with students. Brainstorm with your colleagues ways to make connections with students so that they know who you are and what you do.
  • Connect with parents. Let them know through parent council or other means what you do.
  • Ask for help. You are not expected to know everything. Utilize the professionals inside and outside of your building for support.
  • Learn as you go about the many community resources that are available and put them in a binder or livebinder
  • Don’t be afraid to share your innovative or creative ideas with your counselling team ( if you have one). They and you will benefit!
  • BALANCE we all benefit from taking care of ourselves. Don’t burn yourself out in the first year. Practice self-care.
  • You have a big learning curve. BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF.

I am adding one of my live binders called school counsellor resources. Please as in all my livebinders  take what you like and leave the rest.

As I learn along with my new school counsellor I will be sharing any insights that we both might have. For all of you who are new to school counselling have a wonderful experience and know that what you do absolutely matters.

Welcome to the best profession in the world school counselling.

13 thoughts on “Lessons for a New School Counsellor … an ongoing dialogue for this school year

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