Examining Discrepancies between Actual and Preferred Practice of School Counselors

By Scarborough, Janna L.; Culbreth, John R. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Examining Discrepancies between Actual and Preferred Practice of School Counselors


Scarborough, Janna L., Culbreth, John R., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


An ongoing issue within the school counseling profession is the discrepancy between the actual practice of school counselors and what is advocated as best practice (Brott & Myers, 1999; Burnham & Jackson, 2000). The implication is that what school counselors are actually doing in schools may not adequately address the needs of the students they intend to serve. One of the reasons for the discrepancy lies in the rich and diverse history of the development of the school counseling profession (Burnham & Jackson, 2000; Herr, 2001). Burnham and Jackson highlighted the problems associated with a history of divergent definitions of the roles of school counselors, "with long-standing discussions and discrepant viewpoints found in the literature, school counseling roles are often problematic in definition, interpretation, and implementation" (p. 41). Therefore, the historic lack of an organizing structure for school counseling programs has been a primary focus of professional associations, school counselor education programs, and research.

* Defining and Outlining Best Practices

This attention on defining an organizational structure has resulted in a focus on the development and implementation of a comprehensive, developmental school counseling program. The school counseling program has characteristics similar to other educational programs, including a focus on student competencies, activities, and interventions to assist students in achieving the outcomes related to these competencies, and accountability methods (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 1999). The ASCA National Standards for School Counseling Programs (Campbell & Dahir, 1997) outline the knowledge, attitudes, and skill competencies that all students should achieve as a result of participating in the school counseling program. There are four fundamental interventions related to a school counseling program: counseling (individual and small group), curriculum (classroom lessons), consultation (e.g., with teachers, parents, and other professionals), and coordination (the organization and management of regular and special program activities; ASCA, 1999; Borders & Drury, 1992; Myrick, 2003). These interventions can be further specified in terms of activities related to each intervention. Models exist that outline the components of the school counseling program, offer suggestions for its implementation, and provide guidelines for balancing time spent in each of the interventions (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000; Myrick, 2003). In 2003, ASCA published the National Model for School Counseling Programs. The comprehensive, developmental school counseling program is also emphasized through training standards in school counselor education programs (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2001).

Research indicates that this focus on an organized structural framework for school counseling has begun to have an impact on school counseling practice (Sink & MacDonald, 1998). Empirical research supports the benefits of the four overarching interventions put into practice by school counselors (counseling, consultation, coordination, curriculum; Borders & Drury, 1992; Whiston & Sexton, 1998). Research findings also reveal that more fully implemented comprehensive, developmental school counseling programs have positive effects on overall student development, including academic, career, and emotional development; academic achievement; and quality of life (Gysbers, Lapan, & Blair, 1999; Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001; Lapan, Gybers, & Sun, 1997).

* The Discrepancy Remains

   In spite of the best efforts of professional associations,
   accrediting bodies, and training programs to define the profession
   of school counseling, studies indicate that the actual functions of
   counselors in the schools do not always reflect what have been
   identified as the best practices in school counseling. … 

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