School counselors play a vital role in the welfare of children and the operation of schools, building effective and impactful practices based on lasting trust and their practical knowledge of counseling theory, techniques, and tools (Coleman & Yeh, 2011).
While there are guidelines, job descriptions, and school policies to follow, school counselors are driven to craft their role in response to their professionalism and the wellbeing of their students (Wright, 2012).
This article introduces techniques to help school counselors perform their valuable role and resources to support their students.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your students.
This Article Contains:
- Counselors’ Toolkit: 5 Valuable Resources
- 10 Counseling Techniques to Use With Students
- Top 8 Ideas & Topics for Counseling Sessions
- Useful Templates, Forms, and Questions to Ask
- Our 3 Favorite Books on the Topic
- A Note on Positive Education
- Tools From PositivePsychology.com
- A Take-Home Message
Counselors’ Toolkit: 5 Valuable Resources
School counselors should be optimists, believing in their own skills and the capacity and ability of their students to grow and develop (Wright, 2012).
Like all mental wellness and mental health professionals, school counselors benefit from practical, well-thought-out resources.
The following websites are beneficial both to those new to the role and more experienced counselors:
School-Counselor.org provides a wide range of information for individuals at all stages of their career, from those considering a role as a school counselor to those seeking tools to help them excel in their current position. These tools include anxiety and anger management, career counseling, communication techniques, and worksheets.
Elementary School Counseling was created by an elementary school counselor from the United States to provide resources and tools to run effective counseling programs. Along with tips and techniques for individuals, small groups, and classroom counseling, there is a list of blog and website resources that counselors will find invaluable.
The American Counseling Association offers policy, practice and research guidance, and support for school counselors in their role and profession. Topics of particular interest include managing stress, bullying, grief and loss, and LGBTQ issues.
Teachers Pay Teachers is a website that provides many helpful tools and downloadable worksheets created by teachers that are valuable for anyone performing a school counseling role.
The Confident Counselors website contains many downloadable worksheets to help maximize time and budget and support students and their families.
10 Counseling Techniques to Use With Students
School counselors (or teachers filling in for the role) rely on many counseling skills and techniques to enhance the “development of children and youth and in averting maladjustment for individuals at risk of mental disorders or other negative outcomes” (Coleman & Yeh, 2011, p. 381).
Among others, helpful counseling techniques for use with students include (Fagell, n.d.; Coleman & Yeh, 2011):
- Artful reframing
Making mistakes in class or being left out by peers can dramatically affect school children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Reframing the situation can help them see the problem differently – even positively. Asking the child to think about what advice they might give to a friend in a similar position can provide the psychological safety to reframe what has happened more positively.
- Relaxation techniques
Students should be encouraged to engage in self-care, mindfulness, and breathing techniques to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Open-ended questioning
Showing genuine interest and curiosity, using open-ended questions, and a collaborative approach to problem-solving build trust and a more authentic relationship.
- Goal setting
Agreeing on and working toward set goals can be motivating. Bigger goals should be split into smaller ones so that the student experiences an ongoing sense of achievement.
- Labeling feelings
Students may feel uncomfortable or ill equipped to label their emotions. They may be helped by learning to name their feelings, accepting the negative emotions, and being encouraged to focus and savor the positive ones.
- Challenging cognitive distortions
Catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, and negativity bias can influence how the child sees their situation and their lives. Recognizing faulty thinking can be the first step toward more healthy cognitive processing.
Even if you’re not in agreement with the student’s thinking, validation shows empathy and understanding, facilitating problem-solving.
- Active and reflective listening
Matching body language, concentrating, making eye contact, and aligning verbal and nonverbal communication can improve active listening. Consistency, honesty, and openness build stronger, more reliable bonds that lead to more positive outcomes.
- Providing psychoeducation
Psychoeducation group settings can provide the ideal opportunity to spread messages about mental health and share resources that can help.
- Incremental exposure
It is not realistic to attempt to remove all stress from a student’s life; however, it is possible to reduce triggers and provide them with more control over the situation. For example, they may be more comfortable at the edge of the exam hall or with access to a quiet room before a test begins.
Top 8 Ideas & Topics for Counseling Sessions
Students’ academic and personal development “occur within the context of a number of interpersonal relationships among peers” and the challenges brought on by the educational setting (Coleman & Yeh, 2011, p. 381).
As a result, there are plenty of ideas and topics for discussion in student counseling sessions. While led by the needs of the client, the situation they find themselves in, and the obstacles they are trying to overcome, the following socio-emotional challenges are important subjects for discussion (modified from Coleman & Yeh, 2011):
While research has consistently recognized the importance of friendships to overall psychological wellness and happiness, conflicts can arise. However, with experience, it becomes clear that occasional disagreements are less significant than how the disputes are handled.
- Social networks
Students’ relations go beyond individuals and out into larger cliques and crowds. Students’ social status and identity can be a source of great perceived self-worth or result in a sense of isolation or lack of self-belief and self-acceptance.
Individuals can be stereotyped by their attitudes, behaviors, style of dress, musical taste, or cultural background. While not always negative, it can leave students feeling marginalized or unfairly judged.
A sense of rejection can result in students feeling aggressive or withdrawn. Those students experiencing aggressive rejection are more at risk of dropping out and may intentionally hurt others’ feelings, reputations, and relationships. Withdrawn-rejected students are more likely to experience feelings of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
- Romantic relationships
“The prominence of dating and romantic relationships in childhood and adolescent life are very important as evidenced by their depictions in popular culture” (Coleman & Yeh, 2011, p. 594). These interpersonal relationships are not trivial and can be the source of great happiness or upset – often impacted by expectations.
- School failure
The pressure of performing well in front of peers and school staff can place a considerable burden on the student. Perceived failure can be a significant source of anxiety and stress and detrimental to wellbeing. It is vital to avoid placing the responsibility for poor results solely on the shoulders of the child, instead of addressing the system or structure to which they belong.
- Family factors
Often unseen by school staff, families can have a tremendous impact on what happens to students within schools, including academic performance and relationships. Family cohesion, structure, discipline, and monitoring (academic and otherwise) are all impactful factors.
All too commonplace, victimization and bullying can profoundly affect students and their time at school. Bullying behaviors must be seen as unacceptable and dealt with swiftly and firmly to provide an environment of psychological and physical safety for the entire student body.
School counselors adopt many roles and must be empathetic in dealing with students’ wide range of issues. While guided by instinct and what they are told when students are referred, counselors should remain open to what the student has to say (Coleman & Yeh, 2011).
Useful Templates, Forms, and Questions to Ask
The following downloadable worksheets comprise helpful templates, questions, and intake forms for counselors to use with students, as homework, or by others referring the student for help.
Student Referral Form
Students often arrive at the student counselor as a result of referral – whether identified as needing help or following some form of crisis.
The Student Referral Form can be made available for those needing to refer students for support and includes details about the student, the referrer, and the reasons for referral.
Using the ‘I-Message’ to Manage Emotions
Communication is an essential tool to learn and can help us share feelings and behave more appropriately. When we get angry or upset, it can be difficult to explain clearly how we feel (Peters, 2018).
The Using the I-Message to Manage Emotions worksheet can be helpful for students attempting to understand and share their feelings and can lead to more controlled communication.
Ask the child (work with them if needed) to complete the worksheet to create a statement for identifying and sharing how they feel:
- I feel (name the emotions, for example, sad, upset, angry, jealous, etc.)
- When you (describe the behavior or circumstances, for example, shout at me, tell me what to do, etc.)
- Because (why, for example, I feel scared, don’t know how to react, etc.)
Students can share the completed statement with others to share their feelings more easily and effectively.
Student Session Notes
Time spent discussing issues, problems, and obstacles in students’ lives is essential; the counselor must take care to record details of the issues and goals discussed and the steps taken.
The Student Session Notes form should be completed with the student and made available for them to take home and review. It includes student and caregiver details, counseling goals, and progress made.
There may be times when students themselves recognize a need to seek support and guidance from a school counselor.
The Student Self-Referral form should be made available for all students so that they can request help.
It includes asking the student their degree of urgency and where in their lives they are having issues (for example, school, home, other kids, or whether they simply want to talk).
Self-Esteem Checkup for Kids
Students go through many physical and mental changes and experience the beginning and end of many social relationships during their time at school. Such uncertainty and feelings of lack of control can affect self-esteem and self-confidence.
The student can fill in the Self-Esteem Checkup for Kids to understand how they are feeling about themselves, for example:
I am just as important as everyone else.
I believe in myself.
I would rather be me than anyone else.
I can handle my mistakes.
I respect myself.
I love myself even if others reject me.
I am happy being me.
I know what my positive qualities are.
The student is then asked to provide an overall rating of their self-esteem.
Self-Awareness Checkup for Kids
Self-awareness is vital for starting and maintaining healthy relationships and managing behavior. For most of us, our self-awareness develops during our school years, making us ready for further education, our professional career, and adult relationships (Goleman, 2006; Adams, 2016).
The Self-Awareness Checkup for Kids can help build self-awareness in students, identifying their strengths and weaknesses in a non-threatening way.
It includes prompts such as:
I am strong in these areas …
I struggle in these areas …
My favorite thing about school is …
My least favorite thing about school is …
My most difficult part of the day is (and why) …
I would like some help with …
Our 3 Favorite Books on the Topic
We have chosen three of our favorite counseling books on school counseling below:
1. Handbook of School Counseling – Hardin Coleman and Christine Yeh
This handbook is a detailed and extensive review of school counseling theory and practice.
This book is a valuable addition to any school counselor’s library, especially in their early years when forming a deep understanding of the subject and their profession.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. Career and College Readiness Counseling in P-12 Schools – Jennifer Curry and Amy Milsom
This detailed and practical text is written for those studying school counseling as an undergraduate or new to the profession.
The book includes plenty of guidance and ideas on how to work with and support students at each grade level.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. Introduction to School Counseling – Robert Wright
This comprehensive text prepares the reader for the responsibilities of being a school counselor and includes plenty of practical interventions for subjects as diverse as racism, bullying, disabilities, and beyond.
The real-life examples and case descriptions take the reader outside of the theory, preparing them for what they might expect in the role.
Find the book on Amazon.
A Note on Positive Education
Positive educational experiences that encourage motivated, growth-minded students foster deeper learning and a greater understanding of the subject matter (Ritchhart & Church, 2020).
We have plenty of resources that explore the application of positive psychology in schools, including:
- Applying Positive Psychology in Schools and Education: Your Ultimate Guide
- What Is Educational Psychology? 6 Examples and Theories
- Fostering Intrinsic Motivation in Students: 27 Tools and Tips for Your Classroom
- Positive Psychology in Schools and Education for Happy Students
- What Is Positive Education, and How Can We Apply It?
Tools From PositivePsychology.com
To support mental health professionals working with students and children, we have a huge range of tools in our Toolkit, but also provide free worksheets as well.
Free resources include:
- I Love My Classmate
A perfect game for school-aged children that promotes kindness and helps build resilience.
- How to Apologize
A lesson plan for students and children to understand how to spot when someone is upset and apologize for their actions.
- Friend Wanted
Helps students identify the characteristics of a good friend.
- Understanding Empathy
Helping students to understand what empathy means and how it looks in specific situations.
More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:
- The Self-Compassion Box
Students can learn to develop self-compassion through daily practice by showing themselves warmth and kindness, accepting imperfection, and practicing mindfulness.
Students can be helped to:
- Step one – Identify when they are being hard on themselves.
- Step two – Select items that remind them to be more self-compassionate.
- Step three – Redirect attention toward self-compassion.
- Self-care Vision Board
Self-care activities are highly beneficial for young people, ensuring personal needs receive regular focus.
This activity involves students gathering images, illustrations, and words to create a self-care vision board that promotes self-compassion.
17 Positive Psychology Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
School life can be challenging for students. It is a time of dramatic physical and psychological change where children learn about the ups and downs of social relationships while navigating the school curriculum.
A school counselor can provide valuable guidance throughout the school years and offer urgent interventions and support when crises form. The services they provide will vary based on the needs of the students and the situations they find themselves in.
It is paramount that counselors remain optimistic and open, hearing students’ problems without bias. Initial facts may not truly or comprehensively represent the situation; instead, experienced professionals listen to what the child has to say and understand the context of the incident or behavior.
A good theoretical knowledge of developmental psychology and techniques that can help deal with challenges and foster a growth mindset are crucial.
Explore the article’s material, techniques, tools, and books for a more complete understanding of the role and areas for further research, study, and practice.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Adams, M. (2016). Coaching psychology in schools: Enhancing performance, development and wellbeing. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
- Coleman, H., & Yeh, C. (2011). Handbook of school counseling. Routledge.
- Curry, J., & Milsom, A. (2017). Career and college readiness counseling in P–12 schools (2nd ed.). Springer.
- Fagell, P. L. (n.d.). Eight counseling techniques every middle school educator can use. Association for Middle Level Education. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://www.amle.org/eight-counseling-techniques-every-middle-school-educator-can-use/
- Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional intelligence. Bantam Books.
- Peters, S. (2018). My hidden chimp: Helping children to understand and manage their emotions, thinking and behaviour with ten helpful habits. Studio Press.
- Ritchhart, R., & Church, M. (2020). Power of making thinking visible: Practices to engage and empower all learners. Jossey-Bass.
- Wright, R. J. (2012). Introduction to school counseling. SAGE.
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