Spotlighting Stigma and Barriers: Examining Secondary Students' Attitudes toward School Counseling Services

By Auger, Richard W.; Abel, Nicholas R. et al. | Professional School Counseling, September-August 2018 | Go to article overview

Spotlighting Stigma and Barriers: Examining Secondary Students' Attitudes toward School Counseling Services


Auger, Richard W., Abel, Nicholas R., Oliver, Brandie M., Professional School Counseling


Considerable research has supported the value of counseling services for children and adolescents in schools (Fox & Butler, 2007; Reback, 2010; Whiston, Tai, Rahardja, & Eder, 2011). For example, analysis of a large national sample of elementary-aged students found that states with greater availability of school counselors, due to policies supporting elementary school counseling, showed higher third-grade test scores in math and reading and lower levels of internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors among students (Reback, 2010). Furthermore, a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of 153 school counseling interventions found a small to moderate effect size of d = .30, indicating that students who received school counselor interventions have measurably higher outcomes across cognitive, behavioral, and affective domains than students who do not receive those interventions (Whiston et al., 2011). School counseling services have also proven effective for a range of more specific issues and goals, from supporting immigrant students' career development (Watkinson & Hersi, 2014) to reducing the achievement gap by increasing the academic achievement of African American high school students (Bruce, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009). The broad finding is clear: Counseling in schools is an effective way to address a range of student issues (Reback, 2010; Whiston et al., 2011).

Despite the proven effectiveness of counseling for middle school and high school students, many adolescents have shown a consistent reluctance to seek and accept therapeutic help (e.g., Chandra & Minkovitz, 2006; Del Mauro & Williams, 2013; Gulliver, Griffiths, & Christensen, 2010). In fact, researchers have found that the willingness of youth with mental health issues to seek and accept counseling help dramatically decreases as they move through adolescence (Cuffe et al., 2001). Research inside and outside the United States reveals that more than half of all high school students may be reluctant to seek professional help for their problems (Heath, Baxter, Toste, & McLouth, 2010; Rughani, Deane, & Wilson, 2011). Reasons for this reluctance include the stigma surrounding mental health treatment, a fear that confidentiality will not be upheld, concern about being judged, a lack of faith regarding the effectiveness of counseling, and the belief that seeking counseling is a sign of weakness (Del Mauro & Williams, 2013; Fox & Butler, 2007; Gulliver et al., 2010; Rughani et al., 2011; Timlin-Scalera, Ponterotto, Blumberg, & Jackson, 2003). Adolescent boys--specifically African American boys--seem particularly reluctant to seek counseling services for social/emotional issues (Chandra & Minkovitz, 2006; Eliot, Cornell, Gregory, & Fan, 2010).

The findings above suggest that many adolescents are reluctant to seek help from counselors, even though counseling is a demonstrably effective service. Although a moderate body of research addresses general help seeking among adolescents (Chandra & Minkovitz, 2006; Eliot et al., 2010), minimal research has been conducted on middle school and high school students' attitudes toward services provided by school counselors, and much more information is needed to better understand this phenomenon. An important step in delivering effective counseling services in middle schools and high schools is to better understand the reasons students may be reluctant to see their counselor. The purpose of this article is to explore students' attitudes about school counseling services and examine barriers that may prevent them from seeking those services. To that end, we conducted a large, multistate study in which we surveyed middle school and high school students on their attitudes toward school counselors and school counseling services.

Attitudes Toward Seeking Counseling Help Among Adolescents

A large body of research indicates that seeking professional help for social-emotional problems is difficult for adolescents (Chan & Quinn, 2012; Corry & Leavey, 2017; Del Mauro & Williams, 2013; Fox & Butler, 2007; Raviv, Raviv, Vago-Gefen, & Fink, 2009). …

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