Thursday, October 20, 2011

School Counselor (yes!) vs. Guidance Counselor (no)

I often get the question when talking about my career, especially from individuals not in the field, "What's the difference between a guidance counselor and school counselor?" I'll sum up the difference in just a few minutes but first a little history lesson. :) A few decades ago counselors were introduced into schools to assist students with occupational/vocational choices, college preparatory support, etc. They were teachers that simply took a few extra classes and were then called 'guidance counselors.' Fast forward to today and you'll find that we have state and local professional organizations (The American School Counselor Association- ASCA) that support us professionally and legislatively, standards we're required to follow, a requirement of (at minimum) a master's degree in counseling, and oftentimes counselors have specializations in other areas. A far cry from the persona of those that play counselors on television, in movies, and those that many of us experienced when we were in high school.

There is a wide array of responsibilities that make up the job description of a professional school counselor and they mainly focus on the proactive, pro-social development of a child. School counselors work with conditions that interfere with a student's social, emotional, and learning process. A school counselor encourages successful academic, career, and personal/social development to ensure every child succeeds. This is accomplished through a variety of methods but mainly through individual counseling, group counseling, and classroom guidance. School counselors also work collaboratively with students, teachers, parents, administration, and community members. For more on what a school counselor does, their standards, and why they are an integral part of the school community click here.

After participating in a counselor tweet chat, I found that many counselors are still faced with the frustrating and oftentimes annoying challenge of being referred to as a 'guidance counselor' below are some of the wonderful and BRIEF explanations of why we should be called school counselors and NOT guidance counselors:

* (classroom) guidance is only ONE component of a counselors job
* guidance is a service, school counselors provide a program

* it's outdated terminology that does not represent the broad scope of what counselors do

* To me I feel that anyone involved in a child's life provides 'guidance' in some way, my expertise allows me to do more than just point them in a productive direction and give a 'quick fix' to a problem their presently working through. My education allows me to assist them in seeing where they've been, what they want to change/keep the same, where they want to go, and help them take the steps to get there. By assisting children through problems they are currently experiencing, it's my hope to teach them the skills and strategies to not only work through their current problem but also those that will present themselves in the future.

So now I hope you have a better concept of the difference between guidance and school counselors. With that said, please stop making us cringe, and start calling us by our appropriate title!  :)


  1. Thanks For The information. I have graduated with a BA in psychology and I want to continue on to get my masters to become a school counselor. Do you have any advice on how to get experience in the field so i can have it to get a job because I read what the requirements are and experience is a must. How do I get the experience?

  2. In the state of Iowa, they removed the requirement to have teaching experience before becoming a school counselor shortly before I started my masters program. I had training as a social worker and had worked in the school setting for various reasons before starting the program. When applying and interviewing for jobs, I focused on the fact that I knew how the school system, red tape, etc. worked and how to work as a member of the team of professionals who were looking out of the good of the student. I also spoke of the knowledge and experience I had gained as part of my school counseling practicum experience (nearly 1000 hours at the elementary and secondary level.) If you want additional experience, I would suggest finding a school that you can volunteer at, really in any fashion, working with students. In an interview, you can reference the learning you gained from the experience and how you dealt with certain situations. I think that is really what the interviewer is most concerned with.