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WHEN NOTHING CHANGES
Parents and school personnel expect to see changes in behavior and attitude when students attend counseling. Counseling is known to help youth improve in social and academic areas, but it is a process that takes time. People (including the students who come to session each week) are looking for a “quick fix.” Most youth who need counseling often present with a history of problems that didn’t begin suddenly; nor will they end suddenly.
Sometimes a youth has been a source of trouble at home and at school, to the degree that even if improvements begin to occur, the adults who work with the youth daily “miss” the progress. The counselor may be helpful for the adults who are dealing with the youth as well – as “venting” might be needed so that continued work with the youth is possible. It is understandable that teachers and parents, while working with a youth who has a history of acting out, to be frustrated by the time counseling services are initiated.
Improvement may appear in minor areas, for example, a quiet and withdrawn student Bmay begin to participate in class or becomes more talkative in the home; a youth who gets two or three office referrals each week, shows signs of calmer and slower reactions; aggressive (verbal or physical) youth might begin to speak with a softer voice tone. Progress will likely be evident, at some degree, even if it begins at a lesser degree than originally expected. There are times however, when some youth who begin counseling actually “get worse.”
WHEN YOUTH GET WORSE
That a youth deteriorates during the course of counseling is unfortunately a possibility. And as disappointing as such deterioration seems to be at the time, there’s often good reason for increased behavioral, social, and academic problems. Youth in counseling, just like adults, are encouraged to confront aspects of their lives that they have often tried to avoid.
Example: If a child is dealing with stress there are often only two choices in resolving it: 1) run away from it somehow, or 2) walk through it one step at a time. Whether the child “runs” or “walks through it,” it is likely that a degree of social and academic upset will occur. Once the stress response is functionally addressed and resolved the youth will show signs of progress.
There is one other possibility to be aware of: some youth who are referred to counseling make a great deal of improvement over the course of the school year, and just as the year ends, the child regresses. Such a scenario may suggest other problems confronting the youth, but regression may be related to the termination of counseling.
In either case, if you’re seeing a youth “get worse” or if you’re seeing a youth who is making great strides, it is probably something to discuss with the counselor. Strides need to be reinforced and deterioration needs intervention.
CAN I BRING INFORMATION INTO A SESSION?
The answer to this question is usually “no.” Unless the counselor requests a meeting with a parent, or school personnel it can be assumed that a meeting is not therapeutically necessary. That does not mean a meeting cannot take place with adults who are involved with the youth and the counselor. Meetings can be requested at anytime. Meetings are not the same thing as a counseling session; counseling sessions are therapeutic, and as such are covered under the standards of confidentiality. If anyone attempts to enter a session (individual or group) who are not treated by the counselor - they will be asked to leave. Such a request by the counselor is not meant to negate concerns or interests in helping youth succeed, it is an issue of keeping sessions therapeutic.
WHEN STUDENTS MISS CORE CLASSES
In order for counseling to be effective, a consistent schedule must be followed. It is understood that the same principal holds true for a youth to be successful in reading, writing and arithmetic (or any other class). At times these two consistency issues conflict with each other. It is important to remember that the counselor wants the child to succeed just as much as the school. But because the counselor is at the school a short time (usually one day each week) it is nearly impossible to see every child and NOT interrupt a core class. Sessions include discussions about “fun” classes and “hard” classes – when students report Science as a trouble spot the counselor will do what’s possible to keep the youth in the class.
Counseling sessions usually end 5 – 10 minutes prior to classes, and the student is prompted to return to class and get missed work. If you’re concerned that counseling might cause a youth to fail, it may be necessary for you to contact the counselor directly to discuss the issue. Between needs for counseling and needs for core classes, there is likely middle ground.
WHEN A YOUTH SKIPS
In the event a youth is not reporting to the appropriate office for counseling, there are several issues that are going to be considered and addressed with the youth: 1) is there a reasonable cause for missing session, 2) does the youth expect that tardiness and/or skipping will be tolerated, 3) is something happening in the missed session that is/was expected to be particularly difficult for the youth, and 4) does the youth want to continue to participate in counseling? But even with these considerations, the school should know that the counselor will notify them as soon as a problem is noticed.
To be sure, there are youth who will be called to come to session, and simply “fail” to show up. If this happens the teacher will be notified (usually within 10 minutes) and at that time the missing youth can be marked absent, tardy, or noted for “skipping” according to the normal practices and policies of the school. The counselor cannot mark a student tardy or absent for missing counseling, but the teacher likely can mark the student absent for not being in their class (which is where the youth should be, if not attending session).
There are also times when youth come to session 10 or 15 minutes late – but they are not skipping. Again, the counselor cannot mark a student tardy, but the teacher can expect to be notified of all late arrivals. In general, if a student comes to session late (and before the counselor has had a chance to notify the teacher) the youth will be informed that a second such arrival to session will necessitate a contact to the teacher.
Lastly, any student who leaves counseling (unless it is in between classes) will have a school issued pass that is dated, signed, and the time will be marked on the pass (allowing the student up to 5 minutes to get from the session back to the class). The pass will usually indicate that the youth is coming from Guidance (it will not say counseling).
I HAVE A COMPLAINT
The goal of the adults, who are entrusted to serve youth, should remain focused on their success. It is important that you feel comfortable with the counselor, so that if concerns arise, you can address them with the counselor. Often times most concerns can be resolved with a phone call directly to the counselor or with an email to the counseling program supervisor; you can also request a meeting.
If concerns have not been addressed to your satisfaction it would be a good idea to contact school administration and ask for their assistance. However, if after you have contacted school administration you still feel there is a problem, you may want to contact the school district and discuss your concerns with them.
Ultimately, there are measures you can take to address professional and ethical concerns that might require assistance from outside sources. Kurt LaRose is licensed in the State of Florida as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (Lic. #SW9297). If you believe that the counseling that is being provided by LaRose is not happening according to the standards of care, the Code of Ethics, or Florida Law you may contact various entities. The National Association of Social Workers provides for sanctions related to substantiated ethical violations and the Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counselors provides for sanctions related to substantiated cases of legal violations. It is appropriate to contact the NASW and/or the State Board for violations related to professional ethics and state law with any counselor – and you should do so if a violation has occurred.