Counselling in Elementary Schools: The Tension Between Ideals and Practice

Posted by: Guest on March 31, 2011 2:59 pm

I did my training in school counselling at OISE/UT in 2006. It provided me with a broad, rich background in a whole host of theoretical orientations and modalities. It also reaffirmed some of the deeply held beliefs I held about the importance of trust in healing relationships.   But what it did not, and perhaps could not, provide me with was a full appreciation of the difficulties I might encounter in trying to apply those values and  principles to the real-world setting of an elementary school. Below are a few examples of what I mean.

1. Relationship vs.  Caseload. There can be no doubt the primacy of the therapeutic alliance when trying to help students cope with social/emotional difficulties they encounter in the school setting.   This alliance is founded on trust, which can be a difficult thing to win from some students, particularly those from high-risk populations.  Building that requires a steady, consistent presence in their lives. Yet I have found from my experience that this kind of regularity and consistency is extremely difficult to deliver.  With five different schools to service over the course of a week, and with a sizeable caseload at each, I am often hard pressed to see even half of my students in any meaningful way. When field trips, assemblies, and critical incidents are factored in, my contact time with them is even further eroded. The end result is that three weeks or more can often go by before I can meet with some students again, by which time the rapport we have developed has often suffered.

2.  The School as the Client vs. the Student as the Client. According to the legal and ethical guidelines of the B.C. School Counsellor’s Association, the counsellor’s first responsibility is to act in the best interest of the students.[1] I have consistently operated under this assumption, believing that my role is fundamentally to be on the side of the student. What I had not appreciated, however, was the kind of resistance I would encounter to this stance in the school setting.  Specifically, I often find that some teachers or school officials automatically expect me to adopt their understanding of the reasons a child is encountering problems in school. They expect me to endorse their suggestions for interventions.  Often this is possible.   But often times it is not –particularly when extenuating factors are at play, or if I feel that that a teacher’s style of interacting with the child is a contributing factor. The result is that even the most diplomatic attempt to suggest an alternative explanation or course for intervention is often met with opposition.  I am regarded as someone who simply does not or will not understand the situation at hand.

These are just two areas where I struggle to maintain my ideals as a counsellor in the context of the realities of the school system in which I work. I am not sure this struggle will be over soon, given the ongoing crisis of educational funding in B.C. But I am sure it is worth hanging in there and doing the best I can.

The author wishes to make clear that the views expressed above are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the C.C.P.A., its members, or affiliates.

Adrian Juric is a District Elementary Counsellor for School District #48 in Squamish, B.C. He works with students at five different elementary schools each week. Before becoming a school counsellor, he spent thirteen years teaching in private schools in Finland, Ecuador, Singapore, and Egypt.  Adrian is an ardent reader, kayaker, and fan of anything Ken Robinson or David Whyte has to say.   His agrees strongly with Rabbi Schmuley’s belief that ‘counselors bring kids out of darkness into the light, out of career into calling, out of doing into being’.

[1] B.C. Association of School Counsellors.   Legal and Ethical Guidelines.   Retrieved Mar.30 from

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

1 comment on “Counselling in Elementary Schools: The Tension Between Ideals and Practice”

  1. Sandra Waddle says:

    As a School Psychologist I often struggle with these very issues, in particular keeping the child as the primary client. It can be a real push-pull at times in the school setting!

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