What Is School Counseling? 14 Roles & Goals of Counselors

School counselorFor many youngsters, school and life in general present an endless list of demands and challenges.

From trauma and learning disabilities to bullying and course selection, life can be difficult for students. A school counselor is there to help.

The basic role of a school counselor is to support students in their psychological, academic, and social development (Heled & Davidovitch, 2020; Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

However, the breadth of school counseling is expansive. One minute, the school counselor may provide a social-emotional lesson to a first-grade class, and the next, they collaborate with the administrative team on a new school-wide behavioral intervention system.

Let’s look at this diverse role and what the ultimate aim is for all school counselors.

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What Is School Counseling?

School counseling addresses issues that may affect students’ academic performance, which includes psychosocial and behavioral challenges (Gachenia & Mwenje, 2020). School counseling services are delivered by the school counselor.

A school counselor’s role addresses students’ mental, emotional, social, and academic development (Heled & Davidovitch, 2020; Popov & Spasenovic, 2020). Schools systems in different parts of the world have varying titles for school counselors (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020):

  • Australia – student or education counselor
  • Bulgaria – pedagogical counselor
  • Denmark – pedagogical-psychological counselor
  • Russia – pedagogue-psychologist
  • Croatia, North Macedonia, and Serbia – expert associate
  • Malta, Slovenia, UK, USA – school counselor
  • Ireland – guidance counselor

For more information on this important role in the United States, please refer to the American Counseling Association’s The Role of the School Counselor.

A 2020 study by Popov and Spasenovic showed that although the title or role of the school counselor differs somewhat, the key elements of school counseling can be summarized as:

  1. Supporting the psychological, academic, and social development of students
  2. Resolving conflicts between all actors in school life
  3. Helping students face personal problems
  4. Consulting with students, parents, teachers, and principals
  5. Coordinating various school activities.

Job Description: 8 Roles of a School Counselor

Counselor role“Advisor, advocate, agent, believer, collaborator, conductor, consultant, coordinator, diplomat, educator, enthusiast, expert, explorer, guide, initiator, leader, listener, mediator, mentor, navigator, negotiator, observer, pedagogue, professional, psychologist, researcher, specialist, supporter, teacher” (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020, p. 34).

These are just a few roles this multifunctional position may fill. It is important to note that the dominant functions of school counseling may also vary across countries. Let’s explore a few of these in depth.


Counselors help students identify their abilities, capacities, and interests, preventing dropout (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

The counselor may also act as a coordinator who advises students about their career orientation and decisions. In doing so, counselors may help students prepare for higher education and college admissions (Karunanayake, Chandrapala, & Vimukthi, 2020).

In Australia and Ireland, the role of the school counselor relies heavily on academic and career guidance and counseling (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).


There can be many tricky situations within the school setting, and the counselor may act as an advocate who guides and negotiates by diplomatic means.

For example, a student may feel that they are being treated unfairly by their teacher. The counselor may also act as a mediator between students who have just had a physical altercation. Prevention is the focus for school counselors in Russia (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020), and a school counselor may be able to prevent unfavorable situations with pre-teaching social skills lessons and counseling.

Social skills teacher

In teaching social skills, a counselor can act as a researcher, specialist, expert, leader, and consultant (Karunanayake et al., 2020; Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

The counselor must first seek a research-based social skills curriculum suited for their school demographic, deliver the content, and assist the general education teachers in utilizing the curriculum.


Sometimes all a student needs is a friend, and the school counselor can be there for the student in a professional capacity. With this professional friendship comes confidentiality and privacy.

Like a friend, the counselor may act as a mentor, supporter, advisor, listener, and believer.

Supporting students in their personal development and learning is the main role for school counselors in Denmark, Ireland, and the UK (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).


In some schools, the counselor may be the frontline point person for students who misbehave. When a teacher sends a student out of the classroom, the student may be required to see the school counselor to address their behavior. The counselor may then decide on the next course of action or consult the administrators.

Counselors may also have to address attendance issues by communicating with students or parents (Karunanayake et al., 2020).


In many cases, the school counselor may act as a school psychologist while delivering counseling sessions. School counselors may sometimes have to address student trauma or remedy situations involving bullying.

In the United Kingdom, mental healthcare is also a big focus (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).


School counselors may also be found in the classroom. They may assist the classroom teacher, provide consultation, or deliver lessons about social skills or emotional learning.

Just as the classroom teacher prepares lessons, the school counselor must also create and deliver engaging lessons while having good classroom management skills. Formatively assessing students’ knowledge during and after the lesson helps counselors to adjust the teaching or future content.


Collaborating with school staff and supporting the school organization and the teaching/learning process are also roles of the school counselor. The counselor must create and deliver a robust research-based school counseling program using data and student needs (Dimmitt & Zyromski, 2020).

Improving the overall functioning of the school, teaching, and school work is the main focus for school counseling in Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

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School Counselor vs School Psychologist

The roles of the school counselor and school psychologist are similar in that they aim to provide all students with meaningful access to the school curriculum. The biggest differences between these two professions could be the preparation/education and licensing.

Although both roles may differ between countries, states, or school districts, here are a few of the common similarities and differences.

A school psychologist is tasked with the responsibility of helping students succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. This differs from the role of a school counselor in terms of their daily tasks and scope of support.

Regarding interventions, as an example, a school counselor may be responsible for the implementation of interventions, while the school psychologist’s duty includes administering, scoring, and interpreting psychoeducational assessments that help students qualify for specific services such as special education.

A school counselor is not licensed to perform such activities. In the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that a school psychologist is required as an individualized education program (IEP) team member to interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.

Watkins, Crosby, and Pearson (2001) found that many psychologists would prefer to administer fewer assessments and instead conduct more activities that mirror the school counselor’s role. Indeed, in addition to psychometrics, many school psychologists work with students and the school in the areas of positive behavior or conflict-resolution and bullying (National Association of School Psychologists, n.d.).

As much as a school psychologist may wish to spend more time directly with students, the school counselor will likely be providing individual, small group, class, and counseling sessions to students. In such instances, students are more likely to be referred to school psychologists only when in-depth mental health interventions are required (Wake Forest University, n.d.).

Both school psychologists and counselors may provide training to teachers to help them meet students’ diverse needs and engage with families, helping to connect them to community service providers or other crisis prevention and intervention services.

The graph below is by no means an exhaustive list, but demonstrates some of the differences and similarities between school counselors and school psychologists.

School Counselor vs School Psychologist

6 Goals of a School Counseling Program

  1. Fulfill lives
    School counselors help students live more fulfilling lives by addressing problematic issues (Gachenia & Mwenje, 2020). An example of a problematic issue may be a learning disability.

In collaboration with the general education teacher, the school counselor may be able to suggest strategies, implement interventions, or start the special education referral process.

  1. Assist students with challenges
    Students face a plethora of challenges. If a student has an issue with a particular teacher, the school counselor may speak with the teacher or act as a mediator to remedy the situation.
  2. Adjustment
    School counseling programs aim to help students attain self-awareness and adjust emotionally, socially, and psychologically (Gachenia & Mwenje, 2020).

A school counselor may create a “buddy” program that pairs a returning student with a new student to make them feel welcome. Additionally, a school counselor may prepare a student for a post-high school job, technical school, or college.

  1. Promote a positive school life
    According to a study conducted by Gachenia and Mwenje (2020), 87% of the students who participated in counseling sessions felt more positive about their school life.

A counselor is there to help students through difficult situations both in and outside school.

  1. Generating or supporting school-wide interventions
    In most schools, school counselors are tasked with the responsibility to support, if not entirely create, a school-wide intervention program. Constant evaluation must also accompany this systematic change to determine if the interventions are being implemented and if they are effective (Dimmitt & Zyromski, 2020).
  2. Mental health and social-emotional learning
    School counseling addresses mental health via school-wide lessons, social-emotional learning or individual counseling sessions. Counselors may address these needs through class, group, or individual lessons and counseling sessions (Dimmitt & Zyromski, 2020).

In sum, by addressing these goals, a school counseling program aims to improve students’ academic performance and social skills (Gachenia & Mwenje, 2020).

A Word on Ethical Boundaries

Role of school counselorSchool counseling is both a complex and delicate service within the school setting.

As a school counselor, it is important to be aware of legal and ethical ramifications of your actions (Herlihy, Gray, & McCollum, 2002).

For example, imagine a student confides that they thinking about hurting themselves. They urge you to promise not to tell anyone. While you want to practice confidentiality, ethical guidelines steer you in a different direction. Here are a few important points:

  1. Counseling relationship
    First, it is essential that the school counselor avoid harm at all costs. The counselor must know their own values and beliefs and ensure that they do not result in bias (American Counseling Association, 2014). Furthermore, it is the counselor’s duty to be mindful of cultural differences that may affect the counseling relationship.
  2. Confidentiality
    It is crucial that a school counselor can create a rapport with students and earn their trust. A counselor must respect the privacy of the students and provide a safe space to divulge sensitive information; however, it is also important to follow local laws.

Duty of care must be taken into consideration, and the counselor will need to notify the appropriate authority if a student is being harmed or plans to do harm (American Counseling Association, 2014; McGinnis & Jenkins, 2006).

  1. Maintaining boundaries
    As with many relationships within the school setting, it is crucial to maintain boundaries.

A counselor must not enter a nonprofessional relationship with a student or former student (American Counseling Association, 2014). Boundary Issues in Counseling: Multiple Roles and Responsibilities by Herlihy and Corey (2014) is an extremely good book to explore many ethical situations and solutions.


How school counselors’ roles have evolved – The Boston Globe

Positive Education & Counseling

Positive education is the combination of best-practice teaching and positive psychology. With the supreme benefits of positive psychology, it comes as no surprise that positive education and positive counseling would be just as transformational.

Uluyos and Sezgin (2021) examined the effects of positive psychology-based group counseling and found that this type of counseling reduced students’ tendency to lie.

Using the PERMA model, Martin Seligman’s intent is to educate students while fostering happiness and wellbeing. School counselors can refer to Positive Psychology in Schools and Education for Happy Students for ideas on how to get the most out of classroom conversations, various activities for emotional learning and mindfulness, and positive psychology exercises.

15 Best Positive Education Books and Positive Discipline Practices is an excellent resource to learn more about the art and benefits of positive education.

This resource is a must read if you found this article to your liking: How to Become a School Counselor: Top Degrees & Programs.

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PositivePsychology.com’s Tools

To fully comprehend school counseling and its history, you may wish to review What Is School Psychology? The article provides several fascinating facts and experiments.

The Top 28 Counseling Books for Practitioners and Beginners is an excellent source to explore books relevant to the field of school counseling. Beginning counselors may wish to review the “Best Books for Beginners” section, and experienced school counselors would benefit by investigating the “For Counseling Children” section, which includes three excellent sources for working with students.

Considering resiliency within the classroom, a school counselor can explore Teaching Resilience in School and Fostering Resilient Learners. This comprehensive article contains 100 activities for teaching resilience and specific programs used for teaching students this important concept.

As we already know, mindfulness can be beneficial and ease the effects of stress. Mindfulness for students is especially beneficial, encouraging self-awareness. School counselors may want to refer to Mindfulness in Education: 31+ Ways of Teaching Mindfulness in Schools.

Here are a few of the many worksheets available at PositivePsychology.com that may be helpful in your school counseling practice:

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

A Take-Home Message

School counseling is a multi-faceted, challenging, and rewarding position in the school system.

If you are empathetic and goal driven, enjoy working with students, and wish to help them be the best they can be in their academic career and as responsible citizens, consider a career as a school counselor.

Whether you enjoy working with students or young adults, in a classroom or in your own office, collaboratively or independently, with successful students or students with challenges, school counseling may be the profession for you.

If you encompass these qualities, you could be the one to make a positive change in a student’s life!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.


  • American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Retrieved June 20, 2021, from http://www.counseling.org/docs/ethics/2014-aca-code-of-ethics.pdf?sfvrsn=4
  • Dimmitt, C., & Zyromski, B. (2020). Evidence-based school counseling: Expanding the existing paradigm. Professional School Counseling, 23, 1–5.
  • Gachenia, L., & Mwenje, M. (2020). Effectiveness of school counseling programs on academic achievement of secondary school students in Kiambu County, Kenya. International Journal of Education, Psychology and Counselling (IJEPC), 5(35), 58–64. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from http://dspace.pacuniversity.ac.ke:8080/xmlui/handle/123456789/2927
  • Heled, E., & Davidovitch, N. (2020). An occupation in search of identity—What is school counseling? Journal of Education and Learning, 9(5).
  • Herlihy, B., & Corey, G. (2014). Boundary issues in counseling: Multiple roles and responsibilities. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Herlihy, B., Gray, N., & McCollum, V. (2002). Legal and ethical issues in school counselor supervision. Professional School Counseling, 6, 55–60.
  • Karunanayake, D., Chandrapala, K. M. N. S., & Vimukthi, N. D. U. (2020). Students’ attitudes about school counseling. Asian Research Journal of Arts & Social Sciences, 12(2), 21–31.
  • McGinnis, S., & Jenkins, P. (Eds.). (2006). Good practice for guidance counselling in schools (4th ed.). British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from http://youthcounsellinghull.co.uk/resources/BACP%20School%20Counselling%20Good%20Practice.pdf
  • National Association of School Psychologists. (n.d.). Who are school psychologists? Retrieved November 21, 2021 from https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/who-are-school-psychologists
  • Popov, N., & Spasenovic, V. (2020). School counseling: A comparative study in 12 countries. Bulgarian Comparative Education Society, 18, 34–41.
  • Uluyos, M. A., & Sezgin, O. (2021). Examination of the effect of positive psychology-based group counseling on lying tendencies. Spiritual Psychology and Counseling, 6(1), 29–46.
  • Wake Forest University. (n.d.). What’s the difference: School counselor vs. school psychologist? Retrieved November 21, 2021 from https://counseling.online.wfu.edu/blog/whats-difference-school-counselor-vs-school-psychologist/
  • Watkins, M. W., Crosby, E. G., & Pearson, J. L. (2001). Role of the school psychologist: Perceptions of school staff. School Psychology International, 22(1), 64–73.


What our readers think

  1. Dr. Timmons

    Your description of what a school psychologist does is terribly narrow. For example, many school psychologists provide direct counseling services but by putting this article out there you are perpetuating misinformation which ultimately results in confusion and students not getting the services they need.

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Dr. Timmons,

      Thank you for your feedback — it’s helpful as we’re really committed to providing the most accurate information we can here. We’ve now revised our description about the school psychologist’s responsibilities and included more references to support this.

      Thank you.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  2. merna

    content was very useful

  3. Christine

    I thank the team of Positive Psychology for the work that you are doing. Every communication is very helpful in aiding the work that I am doing. As I am tasked with career guidance and workplace counselling, your tools are very useful and I just want to commend you for the good work that you are doing.
    Thank you


    It is really an important information that guides more deeply towards the insight of counseling process.
    Thanking you
    Also I need above mentioned worksheets. That Wil be your kindness


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