Defining Mental Health Support
If you were at the WSCA conference in February you might have seen the clip of me on Madison's local TV station. The host asked me what was one of the most pressing issues facing school counselors today. Usually, my automatic response would have been “ Thanks for asking and I’d love to see more school counselors, especially at the elementary level. I'd love to meet the nationally recommended ratio of 1:250 rather than our 1:466.” But rather, I told her the biggest issue is serving students with mental health needs/concerns.
I have worked at the high school level and currently work at the middle level. Mental health needs will continue to be a part of our days, regardless of your level, or what part of the state you serve. Not only do we have students with mental health needs, we might work with co-workers or guardians having their own mental health concerns. So, it may be that we need to counsel a student living with an adult who is bipolar. Or, maybe we need to support a student whose sibling is living with autism. We can also play an important role in IEPs, 504s, or supporting students who are taking classes virtually due to a mental health concern. I would love to eradicate the stigma of seeing the school counselor as “something is wrong” with my child if they come to see me. I also think it’s important to keep school in our title of school counselor. There are outside mental health counselors or therapists, and I think it’s important to remind folks that we are not able to sustain mental health counseling in our busy days.
Professional development is an integral component to serving ALL students, regardless of ability. As a collaborative leader advocating for systemic change, we are all a part of the solution. We need to look at our local data and think ethically in serving people with mental health needs. We also need to wear our culturally responsive lens understanding how certain populations may or may not want us to help their students. How can we use technology to become better school counselors for those needing mental health support? This topic will be with us for years to come.
Positive Mental Health is Essential to Learning
As counselors we wear all kinds of hats. One of our hats is working with students who struggle with mental health issues. Research tells us that one in five school age children will experience a significant mental health problem in their educational years. Students who struggle with mental health often struggle with attendance, completing school assignments and frequently have more conflicts with their peers and adults. Where do these students receive help? Many receive their help from their school counselor. School counselors are trained in working with students who struggle with mental health issues.
School counselors develop and deliver a comprehensive school counseling program that meets the academic, career and personal/social developmental needs of all students. Counselors are proactive by providing education and prevention strategies to help students solve problems. Students are taught who and where they can turn to find help when facing a certain situations or when in crisis. In fact, school counselors may be the only counseling professional available to students and families. Counselors identify and address these student mental health issues.
A few ways school counselors meet the mental health needs of students;
· Individual counseling
· Facilitating mental health groups
· Short term counseling
· Crisis interventions
· Educating students regarding mental health issues to reduce the social stigma associated with it
· Developing specific plans to address mental health needs
· Collaborating with outside agencies who work within the school systems
· Referrals to community mental health agencies; agreements to share information
· Providing parents with names of community mental health agencies
· Collaborating with staff to monitor students’ plan of action
· Being available to students 24/7/365
· Involving families in the planning of intervention strategies for the students’ needs
· Helping students and parents discover how root problems contribute to surface behaviors.
Then formulating a plan which outlines strategies to address these concerns.
· Working with students through their errors of thinking.
As school counselors each one of us could write a book of our experiences of working with the mental health needs of students or at least publish several case studies. Because of our training and our unique position, we are qualified to educate, intervene, and provide mental health services to both students and their families. School counselors provide a guiding ray of light to struggling students who have been looking down a long, dark tunnel. Take time to reflect on students you have worked with and how you have positively changed their lives.
Students in the Driver Seat of Their Lives
Jenna Matzke: Middle School Vice President Elect
As school counselors we empower students to hop in the driver seat of their lives. We advise them which way to go, give them helpful hints from our own journeys and say good luck as they take off. We have the ability to monitor their progress for short periods of time and at some point they are out of sight. We hope our services will help them along the way, that they remember some of our advice and they end up enjoying life while being a contributing member of society.
Every student takes a different path, some student's have few barriers in their journey while others are not so lucky. Students’ with mental health needs may find it difficult to drive. They can do it with the right supports in place and with the right people in the car. Passengers may include, but are not limited to, parents, school counselors, teachers, community counselors, physicians and psychologists. With so many people in the car it is confusing for school counselors to find the right seat. Are we supposed to give directions? Be a vocal backseat driver? A strong quiet support just along for the ride?
The American School Counselor Association's offers clarification regarding The Professional School Counselor and Student Mental Health. ASCA advises school counselors to:
1. Provide responsive services including internal and external referral procedures, short-term counseling or crisis intervention focused on mental health or situation concerns with the intent of helping the student return to the classroom and removing barriers to learning
2. Deliver the guidance curriculum which enhances awareness of mental health; promotes positive, healthy behaviors; and seeks to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues
3. Provide individual planning with students that addresses their academic, career and personal-social needs
4. Educate teachers, administrators, parents/guardians, and community stakeholders about the mental health concerns of students, including recognition of the role environmental factors have in causing or exacerbating mental health issues
5. Advocate and collaborate with school and community stakeholders to ensure that students and their families have access to mental health services.
It is important as school counselors we recognize we are not responsible for curing or fixing the mental illness. We are trained to promote academic/career readiness and promote social-emotional growth, we are not trained to provide intensive individual counseling sessions related to mental health issues. It is also important to remember we do still have an opportunity to help the student be successful at school. It is vital to establish a relationship with stakeholders to inform everyone the school counselor is in the car, and willing to help.
While ASCA provides a role description of how a school counselor can work with mental health conditions, we must keep in mind the uniqueness of each mental health concern. The role of a school counselor will look different depending on a number of variables. The role of the school counselor will vary depending upon the actual diagnosis, the impact the condition has on the student at school, the age of the student, the time frame of the diagnosis and the involvement of community partners. School counselors are not expected to be experts in the DSM, but we are expected to be experts in communication.
If we play to our strengths, we can communicate in every possible way to help the student. School counselors can initiate releases to communicate with community agencies, we can communicate with the student regarding individual student needs and we can communicate student progress and other concerns with parents. Being proactive and initiating conversations with all stakeholders will define our role as the school counselor in the car. The team can then encourage the student to take the wheel confidently and drive.
The Month of the Military Child
This month’s “DPI Corner” is written by guest author Shelley Joan Weiss, Wisconsin Commissioner for the Interstate Compact for the Education of Military Children.
The members of the Wisconsin Council for the Interstate Compact for the Education of Military Children are excited to announce that April is the Month of the Military Child. During this month we recognize the unique challenges that face the children of military families. We appreciate the special role school counselors, administrators, social workers, psychologists, and teachers play in easing the transition for military connected students as they enter and exit our Wisconsin school districts. There are approximately 1.8 million military connected children in schools across our country and throughout the world. Students move frequently, a stressful situation for individuals of any age. To further complicate their issues, the students are in stressful situations due to the deployment of parents and siblings. All too often the students do not know the details of the difficult jobs their family members are performing as military members. They have no control over the numerous moves their families make to serve our country. Compassionate, understanding educators are instrumental in helping military connected students feel safe and welcome in Wisconsin schools; and they are essential in helping other students, families, and community members understand the difficulties facing the children of military families.
We are proud that Wisconsin recognized the need to ensure that schools and districts were aware of their responsibilities outlined in law, regulations, and policy; and created legislation that led to the development of the Wisconsin Council for the Interstate Compact for the Education of Military Children in 2010. We appreciate the folks who volunteer their time as contributors to the Council: Senator Jerry Petrowski (29th Senate District), Lieutenant Colonel John Blaha (Representative for the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs), Rebecca Walley (Military School Liaison Officer based at Fort McCoy), John Hendricks (Superintendent, Sparta School District), Tony Evers (State Superintendent, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction), Janet Jenkins (DPI Legal Counsel), Gregg Curtis (Liaison, DPI School Counseling Consultant), and Shelley Joan Weiss (Commissioner). This group meets twice per year to discuss issues related to military children, and they host a website (below) through which they share information with others.
Council members are excited that most schools create activities to celebrate the contributions military connected children offer. We are eager to hear how you celebrate April - the Month of the Military Child in your school and district. Please feel free to share your celebrations with Commissioner Shelley Joan Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will share information with the State Council and the National Commission.
If you would like additional information, please contact any of the members of the Wisconsin Council. We are also attaching a variety of resources that may be helpful to you. Thank YOU for your strong support of the children of military families and all children in Wisconsin schools.
Trena Loomans, NCSC, LPC: WSCA Board Secretary
I am starting my 3rd year as WSCA Board Secretary. Being the Board Secretary has allowed me to see what a difference our profession truly makes not only at the local level, but also how school counselors can impact many initiatives at the state level. Currently, I am a high school Professional School Counselor at Stevens Point Area Senior High and have been in public education for over 18 years. I am a true data geek and always looking at hard numbers to see what improvements can be made in school counseling programs. My first true eye opener with accountability was when I achieved my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the area of School Counseling seven years ago. One thing I absolutely love about being in the high school is the wide range of students that I have the honor to get to know and watch turn into young adults. I get equally excited about sharing and learning about new programs with other professionals that have proven results to make a positive difference for students!!!
Olin Morrison: Elementary Vice President
Where to begin… my journey with the WSCA Board started with a “no,” that was my response when Past President Lori Peacock asked me to join as the Technology Chair. After some persistence on her part and some consideration on mine I decided to join; now I never want to leave. I am currently the Elementary VP, since I was appointed to this position I was able to run for it this year. Here’s hoping for two more years! As a board member I have become increasingly passionate about what school counselors in Wisconsin need to be successful and what WSCA can do as an organization to support that. I enjoyed speaking with a lot of you at the conference about your ideas about what WSCA can do to support you as members. As a school counselor I work at Greenwood Elementary School in River Falls, WI. Simply put, I love my job, thank you John Holland. Other than learning WSCA’s direction from you, I love to talk with people about building intrinsic motivation and grit in young people. I would love to hear from you.
Where: Memorial Student Center, UW-Stout Campus-Menomonie, WI
Save the Date: Wisconsin School Counselor Association 2014 Fall Summit: Academic & Career Plans and Data Driven Counseling with SPARC-W
In This Edition
Defining Mental Health Support
By Lisa Koenecke
Topic of the Month: Student Mental Health
Board Member Spotlight
Upcoming Events & Announcements