Being a guidance counselor no longer means sitting behind a desk, making schedules, or passing out flyers about feelings. Guidance counseling has grown and developed with the educational system to become a keystone in tackling issues from Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills, to student violence. It is so important that there are staff ready and properly trained to handle the emotional fallout of active shooter drills, and (unfortunately) actual gun violence.

 

As Steven Berkowitz, director of the Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery put it, gun violence leaves students in a state of hyper-vigilance where they “tend to perceive danger even where there is none, much like combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

 

 

Drills that have students hiding in dark closets and against walls in fear of a pretend threat of violence can create a lot of anxiety in students, which is only reinforced by news cycles of those fears realized across the country.

 

How are Guidance Counselors Prepared Today?

 

Becoming a guidance counselor requires earning amaster’s in school counseling, and state certificationor license. Many states have continued learning and education requirements(CLEs) for school counselors to keep them current on how to approach rising issues. The process of acquiring these credentials qualifies them to address the personal, educational, social, and emotional problems of today’s students. It’s worth noting that counselors work not only in elementary, middle, and high schools, but also hold college and district supervisor positions — meaning they impact the growth of students over the course of their entire educational experience.

 

As Bethany Bray put it in her article, The counselor’s role in ensuring school safety, “School counselors need both preventive and reactive tools in their toolboxes.”Counselors are uniquely tasked with being preventative in identifying and mitigating risks of violence in schools, and reactive in supporting students through processing and recovery after an incident has occurred. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA), which helps support the continuing development of school counselors, has even aggregated a toolkit for school shootings.

 

Preventative Action

 

The counselor’s primary goal is to develop an ongoing curriculum thatmaximizes student success. They work to create a safe and confidential learning environment where students feel prepared for the pressures and challenges of reaching their full potential. This includes encouraging students to connect with each other, recognizing when students are facing abusive environments in school or at home (physical or emotional), and providing students with the vocabulary, skills, and support to find a positive path forward.

 

The Manhattan Early College School for Advertising is a great example for infusing EQ skills into core the core curriculum including consistent reinforcement of their “core values”, half of which are empathy and responsibility:

 

Empathy– We strive to cultivate our ability to embrace the views, beliefs, and needs of others.  We commit to respect and learn from their experiences.

 

Responsibility– We take ownership for our words, actions, and choices.  We act as members of a community and commit to looking out for the safety and well-being of others.  We make a personal commitment to putting forth our best efforts at all times, especially in the face of complexity, challenge, and change. “

 

Creating a safe environment for the student to feel comfortable expressing themselves can lead to an emotional trust and bond between counselor and student. This is an environment the student may not otherwise have. Their home life is often difficult, or they suffer from bullying at school. One of the best ways for them to deal with their struggles is in a counseling situation, where they receive help and feel heard. For some students dealing with mental illness or depression, their self-harm may be prevented by counseling and learning coping mechanisms for feelings of hopelessness and other factors affecting their mental stability. A school counselor simply checking in could save a life.

 

Reactive Support

 

Many crisis response plans account for physical needs, but fall short of addressing emotional and mental needs in crisis situations. There are plans for getting students out of buildings, into hospitals, and managing the temporary displacement of students after an incident has occurred.

 

But equally important is helping students (and staff) to process these situations act activities as they are moved. Counseling and guidance can have an immense impact in the hospital/emergency rooms, immediately after, and long term.

 

The ASCA recommends the following to help students immediately after a crisis:

  • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
  • Limit exposure to television and the news.

  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.
  • Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.

Taking Action

 

These incidents can create anxiety for adults as well, if you are looking to take action and learn more about how to help, consider encouraging your local school to include mental health considerations in their crisis response plans – and take some time yourself to read through the resources available in this post.

 

 

Note from the Author: I was inspired to write this piece after coming across a piece on this site by Mike Jones https://anxietypanichealth.com/2017/03/23/childrens-mental-health-one-of-the-most-pressing-issues-of-our-time/ 

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