Conflict in counselor duties
June Hyun Ph.D.
Louise Berman, M.Ed.
Louise Berman, M.Ed.
Amy Wiskerchen, M.A.
This school year I have been running a social skills group with Autistic and Aspergers kids. It meets once a week for thirty minutes and has been ongoing since the beginning of the year. The IEPs state that this will be provided by the special education teacher in a special education classroom, but I have been doing it as a pull-out group. I do not have teacher certification credentials, nor do I have a special education endorsement. I have been uncomfortable with this arrangement all year, but would like to keep the peace in my building, so I continue with this group while subtly educating the special education department and my administrators about the scope of my counselor certification and the role of School Counselors with regard to group counseling in providing services to all students. My thoughts are that:
§ group counseling should be 6-8 weeks in duration;
§ a School Counselor should not be providing special education services and the counselor should not be written into the IEP as the provider of such service;
§ a School Counselor should not be delivering special education services that an IEP states will be delivered by a special education teacher;
§ a year-long weekly group pull-out is a class, not a group, and should therefore be taught by someone holding proper certification;
§ a year-long weekly group could also be long-term therapy rather than brief group counseling, and therefore should not be delivered by a School Counselor.
All year I have been performing this service while letting people know that a different plan needs to be established for next year. Due to the reduction of counseling time at my school for next year, there is new proposal on the table for me to serve double the number of students seen by me for this service and have a portion of my contract be paid by the special education department for delivering special education services. This is a different plan, but not quite the one I was hoping for.
Ethically, do I have a leg to stand on to cease this practice? Feel free to let me know if I’m way off base on this one.
(note: At the WSCA conference, I brought this issue up during the middle school roundtable and everyone was shocked that this was happening. It seemed pretty clear to me then that WSCA did NOT support the use of a School Counselor in this way.)
Perhaps the most significant challenge for professional school counselors rests in the debate over role definition. Although the current focus in the profession is on program rather than person or services, professional school counselors still struggle with priorities (Gysbers, Lapan & Blair, 1999). As early as 1972, Deitz pointed out that of all the professions in the school system, the jobs of professional school counselors are most inadequately defined and are most subject to changes. Reality demonstrates that different schools encourage or require different models of school counseling (Herr, 1999). School counselors must proactively address such issues with administrators as priorities for school counseling programs are established. Aligning school counseling programs with state and national standards for school counselors is championed by many educators (Baker, 2001; Campbell & Dahir, 2001; Schmidt, 1999). School counselors’ tasks, expectations, and demands vary from state to state, district to district, and school to school.
Typically, school counselors are merely told what to do by administrators (House & Hayes, 2002). The ongoing debate over the definition of the role of professional school counselors is a significant challenge because the national agenda for school counseling changes focus as it reacts to national agendas and events—everything from at-risk students to school violence and, most recently, academic achievement. As a result, professional school counselors are pulled in multiple directions (Sears & Granola, 2002).
Most professional educators agree that an effective counseling program refers to a comprehensive, developmental program designed to benefit all students in their passage through school and preparation for the future. This comprehensive counseling program is designed to address the developmental needs of students appropriate to their age group. The confusion regarding the school counselors’ role and the conflicting expectations of others, as created ambiguity among teachers, support staff, parents and students, resulting in stress for counselors. As a result of the numerous tasks assigned to counselors, students’ needs often remain unmet.
However, the literature of the school counseling profession is clear. For example, Cunanan and Maddy-Bernstein (1994) stated that school counselors ethically counsel students only concerning normal development situations and refer students with psychological disorders to professionals with appropriate clinical training. The absence of a well-grounded, informed vision of the counselor’s role jointly held by principals and counselors leads to the problem that Ross and Herrington (2005) have identified as Counselor Role Drift. This is an all too familiar experience for most public school counselors.
ASCA Standards (2003)
1) ASCA standards specifically address inappropriate activities for school counselors, which include teaching classes when teachers are absent or otherwise unavailable.
2) Because school counselors possess a general counseling certification and serve all students, their role for special needs students should be similar to the role for all students. That is, the school counselor should be available to students for personal, ethical, and social counseling and guidance, to listen to the student’s point of view; to deal with any mental health issues that may arise for the student; to help students deal with transitions; to advocate for the student, and –to the degree possible—to teach the student to advocate for him- or herself.
3) The disparity between school counselors’ lack of training in working with special needs students and job expectations may have consequences for school counselors’ ability to effectively work with students with disabilities.
ASCA and Group Competencies
A.6. The professional school counselor:
a. Screens prospective group members and maintains an awareness of participants’ needs and goals in relation to the goals of the group. The counselor takes reasonable precautions to protect members from physical and psychological harm resulting from interaction within the group.
[The school counselor was not given the opportunity to screen group members. He or she was assigned to her based on Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals. The school counselor thought it was inappropriate to pull socially-challenged students out of the social environment to work on social skills with other students with the same social skill challenges. If the counselor had screened the group (class) members, he or she would not have been put in a group together without other students to act as role models.]
Essentially, redefining a classroom educational activity as a counseling group is erroneous. This identified group of students is too homogenous for a counseling group. For counseling groups, either the professional school counselor or the client selects the group.
D.1. The professional school counselor:
a. Supports and protects the educational program against any infringement not in students’ best interest.
[The school counselor does not feel it is in the students’ best interest to be in a separate social skills class. The IEPs were written to specify that social skills training would occur in the Special Education classroom taught by the Special Education teacher. The school counselor acknowledges that it would be best for these students to remain in the broader social environment for training and skill practice.
Likewise, the ASCA National Model (2003) states that the Delivery System-Responsive Services: Individual and small group counseling is for students expressing difficulties…. These group members did not express social difficulties. The counselor told them they were in the group based on their IEPs. Also, “Such counseling is normally “short term” in nature.” This group met once a week for the entire school year. Under this criterion, this is long term therapy or it is a class. Neither is appropriate for the professional school counselor.
The specialized training school counselors receive does not prepare them to teach special education classes, nor is their professional expectation that of providing primary educational interventions for special needs students.
d. Delineates and promotes the counselor’s role and function in meeting the needs of those served. Counselors will notify appropriate officials of conditions that may limit or curtail their effectiveness in providing programs and services.
[The counselor in this case has appropriately consulted with the Washington School Counselor Association Ethics Committee.]
e. Accepts employment only for positions for which he/she is qualified by education, training, supervised experience, state and national professional credentials and appropriate professional experience.
[The professional school counselor does not hold these special education teaching credentials]
E.1. The professional school counselor:
b. Monitors personal well-being and effectiveness and does not participate in any activity that may lead to inadequate professional services or harm to a student.
4) The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997)-Reauthorized Statute specifies requirements that special education teachers be “highly qualified”, which means that the teacher has obtained full state certification as a special education teacher or passed the state special education teacher licensing examination, and holds a license to teach in the state as a special education teacher.
[The school counselor does not hold state special education teacher licensing and is not a special education teacher.]
Counseling is listed in federal law (Section 300.22 of IDEA, 1997) as a possible related service a student with a disability may need in order to benefit from special education. Counselors must be involved with the IEP Team if the decision is reached that they are to provide services. This service must be specifically defined within the content of the student’s IEP and the school counselor’s true professional role.
By including disabled children in proactive classroom guidance programs, remedial small groups, and individual counseling sessions, and also consulting regularly with their parents and teachers, the school counseling program plan addresses the social-emotional needs of the majority of the students receiving special education services. Since all students receive the school counselor’s services, there is no need to identify specific school counseling services on the majority of IEPs.
Participation in an IEP team should be in response to a need for input by the counselor regarding specific issues or students. Additionally, participation in a specific IEP team should be based on whether or not the school counselor’s services can address the handicapping condition of the student. The use of a school counselor as a case manager for a student with an educational disability is not an appropriate use of the counselor’s time.
In view of the fact that all students are served by professional school counselors, the related services counseling needs of special education students are being met. In the rare event that a counseling goal requires more than the related services that already exist, it is recommended that IEP teams code this goal as “90, counselor consultation.” Using this strategy, IEP teams can identify the specific social-emotional needs of special education students, which can be appropriately addressed through a combination school counselor’s services. Rather than identify actual counseling hours, IEP teams are advised, through consultation, to determine the shape and time allotments for counseling services. Only in very rare cases assigned counseling hours may be included in an IEP and even then, the duration of services should be reviewed to determine the continuation of need for services.
1) Professional school counselors must define their role to fit within the mission of the school and community and refuse to settle for ambiguous job descriptions and duties. Sears and Granello (2002) explained that counselors should not be willing to take on inappropriate activities such as covering teachers’ classes, clerical tasks, lunch duty, or any other duties assigned by administrators that need help.
2) Because school principals and school counselors often disagree on counselor roles and responsibilities (Lampe, 1985), knowing the perceptions of administrators regarding the role of the school counselor is important because it helps counselors anticipate areas of agreement and conflict when they attempt to get administrative support for the counselor’s role (Fitch, et al.). Educating the principal about the counseling function within the school community is the counselors’ responsibility.
3) School counselors need to assert themselves and clearly explain their roles and boundaries to others (Sears & Granello, 2002).
4) School counselors need to balance the immediate needs of the school with the long-range goals of the comprehensive counseling program. The counselors themselves must become self-defining in their role.
5) School counselors can reject evaluations that are related to teaching duties and not counseling duties.
The professional school counselor must be firmly grounded in the professional standards, build a strong working relationship with their principal, and advocate diligently that the comprehensive counseling program provides the best means of serving their students. Collaboration between counselors and principals is essential for the optimal delivery of services for students and the most likely achievement of the school’s goals (Niebuhr, Niebuhr, & Cleveland, 1999).
On-going discussions between the principals and school counselors are paramount. Such a simple step may be the most basal method of changing the principal/school counselor relationship. These discussions can include roles clarification.
American School Counselor Association (2004). The role of the professional school counselor. Retrieved
on September 25, 2009 from http://www.schoolcounselor.org/content.asp?contentid=240
Baker, S. (2001). Reflections on forty years in the school counseling profession: Is the glass half full or
half empty? Professional School Counseling, 5(2), 75-83.
Campbell, C. & Dahir, C. (2001). Sharing the vision: The national standards for counseling programs.
Alexandria, VA: American School Counseling Association.
Cunanan, E. & Maddy-Bernstein, C. (1994). Office of Special Populations’ Brief, National Center for
Research in Vocational Education. 6(1). University of California, Berkeley.
Dietz, S. (1972). Counselor role, function, and job satisfaction. NASSP Bulletin, 56(363), 72-75.
Fitch, T., Newby, E., Ballestero, V. & Marshall, J. (2001). Future school administrator perceptions of the
school counselor’s role. Counselor Education and Preparation, 41(2), 89-100.
Gysbers, N., Lapan, R., & Blair, M. (1999). Closing in on the statewide implementation of a
comprehensive guidance program model. Professional School Counseling, 2(5), 357-368.
Herr, E. (1999). The impact of national policies, economics and school reform on comprehensive
guidance programs. Professional School Counseling, 2(5), 236-245.
House, R. & Hayes, R. (2002). School counselors: Becoming key players in school reform.
Professional School Counseling, 5, 249-256.
Niebuhr, K., Niebuhr, R., Cleveland, W. (1999). Principal and counselor collaboration. Education,
Ross, W. & Herrington, D. (2005-2006). A Comparative Study of Pre-Professional Counselor/Principal
Perceptions of the Role of the Counselor in Public Schools. National Forum of Educational
Administration and Supervision Journal. 23 (4E).
Schmidt, J. (1999). Counseling in schools. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Sears, S. & Granello, D. (2002). School counseling now and in the future: A reaction. Professional
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Submission of a question and/or the written responses should not replace the professional school counselor’s own consultation with other ESA certified school counselors, the ASCA ethical guidelines, school building administration, or the district legal support.
Ethics chair, Terry Rainwater is an Assistant Professor at Eastern Washington University. Committee members include other counselor educators as well as practicing school counselors at various levels and districts in Washington State. If you have an ethical concern that you would like considered for publication, please contact the chair at email@example.com
The Washington School Counselor Association Ethics Committee invites WSCA members to submit ethical questions or dilemmas related to the practice of professional school counselors. Submissions should be double spaced, one page or less, and submitted to WSCA Ethics Chair, Terry Rainwater (under 300 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One submission will be chosen per WSCA newsletter to print with a reply and discussion. Responses will be written by the WSCA Ethics Chair in consultation with the WSCA Ethics Committee, the ASCA Ethical Guidelines, and ethical decision making models. Submissions should honor confidentiality and not provide any identifiable information. All submissions are considered for print in the WSCA newsletter.
Unfortunately, the ethics committee is unable to reply to each submission. Submission of a question and/or the written response of the ethics committee should not replace the professional school counselor’s own consultation with other ESA certified school counselors, the ASCA ethical guidelines, school building administration, or the district legal support.