School counselors 101: how they can help

ARE SCHOOL BULLIES GIVING YOU A HARD TIME?

Is the thought of that geometry midterm making you nauseous? Or maybe you need help coping with the death of a pet. Whatever the problem, if it’s something you can’t turn to your family or friends about, consider talking to your trusty school counselor.

A Master of All Trades

What do school counselors do? What don’t they do? School counselors help students with social and emotional problems, career and life planning, and academics. They do whatever is necessary to help teens succeed in school and plan for the future.

School counseling involves a lot more than just handling college applications, telling students which courses to take, and meeting with kids who cause trouble–though counselors do all of that too. Counselors can help you deal with all the stuff that can make being a teenager tough, such as peer pressure, drug abuse, depression, school violence, eating disorders, disagreements with teachers, and your home life. A counselor’s office is the perfect place to blow off steam. You can talk to your counselor and know that what you say will never leave the room.

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An All-Access Pass

Sure, most students meet with a school counselor at least once a year. But the truth is, the better you know your counselor, the better service you’ll receive. Some counselors are available most of the time; others have to juggle hundreds of students and need to manage meeting times and frequency.

If you don’t want to get lost in the crowd, take the first step. Here are some tips to keeping your counselor in the loop.

Start by saying hi. You may be one of 1,000 students your counselor deals with, so reach out. Within the first eight weeks of starting high school, stop by and introduce yourself. “Tell me how it’s going,” says Marcy Van Dyck, a school counselor at Middleton High School in Middleton, Wis. “Then come back at the end of the second semester and tell me how it went.”

Focus your visit. At some schools, each student gets only a short period of time with a counselor. “Be able to articulate the problem and what you want,” says Terry Mitchell, who with another counselor oversees 370 students at Corinth, Maine’s Central High School. “It’s really frustrating when a student talks about everything else but [his or her] problem … until [he or she is] ready to walk out my door.” If you are nervous about seeing a counselor, ask whether you can bring a friend.

Let your counselor be your personal GPS. School counselors can help you navigate through a maze of health and social services. “Maybe you break your leg and can’t access your classroom on the third floor. Or you are making all A’s but have nowhere to live. Or someone is bullying you. A school counselor is also trained to handle the nonacademic problems you can’t figure out and help you access the system,” says Jeffrey Freiden, a counselor at Ridgeway High School in Memphis, Tenn.

Get the 411 on 9-1-1s. See a counselor before a problem becomes an emergency. “We can facilitate communication between a student and a friend, parent, or teacher,” explains Mitchell. Counselors can refer you to other school services such as tutors or, if needed, outside help such as doctors or community agencies. You can even tell a counselor if a friend is having a problem. Don’t be afraid: Counselors won’t reveal what you discuss unless someone’s in real danger of serious harm. Consider a counselor’s office a “safe zone.”

Finish what you start. The last two years of high school are critical for exploring post-graduation options and figuring out how to get where you want to go. Mapping a future is no easy task, so be sure to visit your counselor for advice. Whether you choose college, vocational school, the military, or a job, a counselor can help you achieve your goal.

Remember: It’s OK to switch. Sometimes you and a counselor just don’t click or you’d prefer someone of a different gender. Though most students have the same counselor throughout high school, you may be able to make an appointment to see another one. But don’t bounce around just because you hear a new counselor is younger, the same race as you, or considered “cool.” If things aren’t working out, try to talk to an administrator or a teacher about switching, or have a parent make the call. (Different schools’ policies vary.)

Listen to a voice of experience. It’s a school counselor’s job to listen to you. Tell your counselor what you want, not what you think he or she wants to hear. Be honest and open. At the same time, listen and have an open mind about what he or she has to say. Expect your counselor to ask questions and to give you options instead of telling you what to do. “We’ve all been there,” says Mitchell. “I’ve been dumped by a girl and gotten into a fistfight. I remember what it was like to be a teenager.”

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A Friend Indeed

Never spoken to your school counselor? It’s time to change that. A counselor is the one person who sees the entire picture of your high school career. He or she can bring everything together to get you where you want to go. Think of your counselor as a great resource, a mentor, and a friend.

How Do I Ask This?

Your school counselor is the go-to person for information about academics and post-graduation options, social services, tutoring, mental health counseling, dealing with a parent or guardian, and more. Don’t be afraid to spill your guts. Counselors say almost nothing shocks or surprises them. Here are some topics you might discuss.

1. Can you help mediate between a family member (or teacher) and me?

2. I’m worried about telling my parents my sexual orientation. Can you help me talk to them?

3. What’s a good way to deal with peer pressure?

4. How do I help a friend who is doing something risky, such as taking drugs, or who is talking about suicide?

5. I’m being bullied or picked on. Can you help?

6. Can you get me help fast for alcohol or drug use, or for physical abuse?

7. Can you help me keep my job from bringing down my grades?

8. I think I might have a learning disability. Can you help me to get tested?

9. I feel lonely and depressed all the time. What should I do?

10. Can you put me in touch with anyone who has tackled the same issues as me?

Before Reading

* Remind your students where in the building their school counselors are located, how they can be reached, and when they are usually available.

Discuss

* What kinds of problems can school counselors help students with? (in addition to exploring college and career possibilities and managing academic progress, school counselors can assist students with social and emotional problems.)

* How can you make the most of a visit with a school counselor? (Focus closely on the problem or question you have.)

* What qualities do you think a school counselor should have? (Answers will vary.)

Resources

* TeensHealth www.kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/school/school_counselors.html

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