Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Addressing Student Mental Health Needs by Providing Direct and Indirect Services and Building Alliances in the Community

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Addressing Student Mental Health Needs by Providing Direct and Indirect Services and Building Alliances in the Community

Article excerpt

Given that 20% of students experience mental health issues that interfere with school performance and most of these students will turn first to their school for help, school counselors need to consider how they can best serve this population. This article describes how school counselors can address the mental health needs of students by providing direct services, accessing community resources, and working with school staff and community service providers. The article provides case examples and guidelines for building alliances.


Approximately 14-20% of school-aged children are diagnosed with mental health or behavioral disorders (National Academy of Sciences, 2009). Even more alarming is the fact that the mental health needs of students are unmet (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008). Estimates are that between 70 and 80% of school-aged children with a diagnosed mental disorder do not receive treatment (Greenberg et al., 2003; Mendez, Carpenter, LaForett, & Cohen, 2009). Parents, teachers, and students seek help from the school and the school counselor, yet the school counselor's ability to respond can be limited by large caseloads, inadequate training, or lack of awareness of community resources (Kaffenberger, 2011). The challenge to school counselors is how to meet the increasing mental health needs of students, given the barriers to service provision.

According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the primary responsibility of school counselors is to provide direct and indirect services, 80% or more of the time, to students (ASCA, 2012a). Direct services are delivered through the cote curriculum, individual student planning, and responsive services including individual and small group counseling interventions to address social, emotional, and mental health needs of students. Indirect services include making referrals and consulting and collaborating with others to serve students. ASCA's position statement on student mental health states that, to adequately provide services to all students, school counselors should "advocate and collaborate with school and community stakeholders to ensure that students and their families have access to mental health services" (ASCA, 2009). Given the number of students requiring mental health counseling, school counselors must identify resources and build alliances in their communities to increase their ability to help more students and increase access to mental health services. This article shares the story of one elementary school counselor who addresses the mental health needs of her students by providing direct services, building alliances within the school and community, and accessing community resources. The authors offer suggestions for providing services and building alliances.


As stated above, providing direct and indirect services to address emotional and mental health issues that keep students from being successful at school is the primary responsibility of the school counselor (ASCA, 2009, 2012a). The school counselor is often the first person in the school to hear the concerns of teachers and parents, or to hear directly from the student (Farmer, Burns, Phillips, Angold, & Costello, 2003; Teich, Robinson, & Weist, 2008). Short-term counseling and crisis intervention services can be provided to students individually and in small groups. The school counselor works directly with students to assess the mental health concerns and, when appropriate, works with the family to make referrals to community resources for ongoing services.

Although school counselors are charged with assisting all students by addressing their social/emotional, academic, and career needs (ASCA, 2007), barriers exist that can prevent school counselors from adequately addressing the mental health needs of their students. Three of the barriers that interfere with the school counselor's ability to serve students include increased number of students in need of services, limited access to community mental health services, and issues related to school counselor caseloads and training (Kaffenberger, 2011). …

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