Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

An Exploration of School Counselors' Demands and Resources: Relationship to Stress, Biographic, and Caseload Characteristics

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

An Exploration of School Counselors' Demands and Resources: Relationship to Stress, Biographic, and Caseload Characteristics

Article excerpt

The study in this article examined the relationship of school counselors' reports of demands and resources in their work environment to perceived stress, biographic factors, and caseload characteristics. Participants were 227school counselors in Texas. Paperwork requirements and size of caseload were rated the most demanding aspects of their job, and other counselors were rated as the most helpful resource by participants. The perceived equality or inequality of work demands and resources also was assessed. School counselors classified in the higher-demand group reported having higher perceived stress, being less likely to remain in the profession the next year, and having higher caseload percentages of students with disabilities, lower academic performance, and poor attendance.


School counseling has evolved from a focus on vocational development and responsive services (Morrissette, 2000) to a proactive and programmatic philosophy closely aligned with the missions of schools (Dahir, 2009). The development of the profession is closely connected to changes in the educational system as a whole, particularly the current era of standards-based education (Dahir & Stone, 2009; Kolodinsky, Draves, Schroder, Lindsey, & Zlatev, 2009). The ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005) lists the many duties necessary for school counselors to fulfill their mission, among them service delivery (such as group and individual counseling), collaboration with teachers, interpreting tests, and designing student academic programs. The ASCA National Model also identifies potential problems associated with assigning school counselors inappropriate responsibilities such as administering student discipline, handling master scheduling, and doing clerical duties.

Given their many responsibilities, the various roles that school counselors inhabit, the importance of the work they do with students, and the complicated nature of the U.S. educational system, it is clear that school counselors are vulnerable to harmful levels of stress (Bryant & Constantine, 2006; Culbreth, Scarborough, Banks-Johnson, & Solomon, 2005). Chronic stress can be especially problematic, causing emotional and health problems at the personal level (Sapolsky, 2004), as well as occupational burnout (Lambie, 2007) and attrition at the professional level (DeMato & Curcio, 2004; Moracco, Butcke, & McEwen, 1984).

Even though school counselors face high demands and potentially excessive stress levels, it is clear that most find their jobs rewarding. DeMato and Curcio (2004) found that approximately 90% of elementary school counselors they surveyed in Virginia were satisfied with their job. Baggerly and Osborn (2006) found that well over 80% of the public school counselors they studied in Florida across all levels (elementary, middle, and high school) were very or somewhat satisfied with their jobs, though approximately 90% reported their jobs had become more stressful in the past 2 years.

A theoretically grounded understanding of the risk factors and processes that contribute to school counselor stress is necessary to help these professionals continue to function effectively in meeting the challenges of today's schools, to provide the best services possible to students, and to prevent the field from losing capable individuals to professional exhaustion and burnout (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006). The theoretical approach for this study was based on the work of Lazarus and Folkman (1984), who were the first to suggest a transactional model of stress based on the notion that when life demands are encountered, a reflexive cognitive balancing act ensues, in which perceived demands are weighed against the resources one has for coping with dehmands. According to Lazarus and Folkman's model, when people perceive that they do not have the resources to cope with a given demand, the stress response can ensue with its attendant emotional, physical, and psychological consequences (Sapolsky, 2004). …

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