What is their training?
A licensed counselor can work in multiple settings. School counselors have a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited university. Counseling programs that are aligned with the ASCA (American School Counseling Association) are considered superior to other university programs. The ASCA model includes the following guiding principles for school counselors: proactive, in classroom, every student, and preventative. Thus, school counselors from ASCA-aligned programs focus more of their energy on serving the whole student body and on providing instruction in social-emotional health, rather than simply reacting when a mental health emergency occurs. School counselors must take a praxis exam and apply with the state board of education in order to begin practicing.
The other way to become a licensed counselor is to obtain a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) license. This license requires a master’s degree in counseling and about 2 years (2,000 hours) of supervised field work. In addition, licensed professional counselors must sit for the jurisprudence and the LPC licensing examination. Then, the LPC can file with the state in order to begin practicing. Continuing education credits are required to maintain one’s LPC credentials.
Some counselors choose to obtain the LPC in addition to the school counselor credential. Both of these licenses require specific training. To practice in both clinical and school settings, the counselor must complete all the licensing steps for both credentials.
When you need this professional, what do they do?
School counselors do not provide therapy or diagnose. However, they do have an understanding of clinical mental health. School counselors are the first people to approach when you have a concern about your child’s emotional well-being, particularly at school. If you have concerns about bullying, grades, completion of credits toward graduation, or if you notice a sudden change in your child’s behavior, a school counselor can help. They can either directly provide services or can guide parents to know where to go for additional help, if needed. School counselors run groups for anxiety, ADHD, social skills, grief & loss, and organization skills. Most school counselors teach curriculum within the classroom. These lessons might include the following topics: anti-bullying, emotional regulation, social skills, and academic skills. Additionally, counselors in middle school and high school provide lessons on career choice and the necessary skills required to reach vocational goals. In the high school setting, school counselors help to ensure that students are obtaining the needed credits for graduation and guide students toward university or post-secondary education. School counselors focus on the grade K-12 continuum, always thinking about how the work that they do is preparing students for the future.
Licensed Professional Counselors provide therapy, and they can diagnose certain disorders from the DSM-5. The diagnostic process is quite different than for licensed psychologists. Licensed Professional Counselors tend to diagnose only for the purpose of obtaining the appropriate diagnostic code for treatment. Generally, LPC’s will treat anxiety, depression, bipolar, addiction, and family problems. Most LPC’s have particular specialties in treatment. Unless they have specialized training, they will generally refer out for complicated clinical issues like borderline personality disorder, significant psychiatric issues, and autism spectrum disorder.
Can they diagnose?
Yes, Licensed Professional Counselors diagnose for the purpose of assigning the appropriate diagnostic code for treatment.
However, school counselors do not diagnose.
What they do not do
Licensed counselors are not Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists unless they have that credential and training as well. They do not conduct individual psychological evaluations. They cannot prescribe medications. They generally do not treat complicated clinically involved conditions.
School counselors do not diagnose or provide therapy. They may meet 1:1 with students for a limited number of sessions; however, they would refer out if a child needs more counseling. School counselors focus on the mental health competencies needed to fully participate in school. If the needs are more involved than can be addressed at school, treatment from a community therapist would be recommended.
How to find one
To find your school counselor, go to the school website or call the front desk at the school. For smaller schools, one school counselor may be assigned to all the students. At the high school level, students are assigned to school counselors by last name (e.g., last names starting with L-R sees one counselor while S-Z sees another), or grade level (all 6th graders see one counselor while all 7th graders see another).
To find a Licensed Professional Counselor, your insurance company may have a list of providers. In order to select from that list, check for the credential “LPC” and consider the areas of expertise. Make sure that the LPC works with children and focuses on the areas of concern for your child. Refer to www.nbcc.org for a list of reputable licensed counselors. You can also consider looking on-line at Psychology Today for a list of counselors in your area.