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Arkansas State University

How Can School Counselors Involve Families to Improve Student Outcomes?

Young people are greatly influenced by their surroundings. Whether it’s a positive or negative influence, the large or small events happening around them, from the COVID-19 pandemic to home life, can directly impact their academic performance.

“Divorce, substance abuse, child abuse, poverty, violence, and suicidal thoughts are among the social stressors placing numerous students at risk of educational failure and dropping out of school,” points out the American School Counselor Association in an article for AdLit. “A guidance program that provides direct services and is directed by a professionally trained school counselor is a critical component of a school’s prevention efforts in the 21st century.”

As educational landscapes continue to evolve, the role of school counselors has grown in significance. These professionals play a crucial role in supporting students’ academic, social and emotional development. However, the impact of school counselors can be further enhanced when families are involved in the counseling process. Dealing with families can be daunting, but with the right training and approach, it can be quite fruitful for students’ academic growth.

By including courses focused on family counseling, for example, programs such as the Arkansas State University (A-State) online Master of Science in Education (MSE) in School Counseling – General Concentration help counselors acquire the tools to best guide their pupils and families.

Understanding the Family Counseling Landscape

“Family counseling, or family therapy, is a method to develop and maintain healthy and functional family relationships,” writes Louise Morales-Brown for Medical News Today. “The goal is to identify and address problems in the family. These issues could be emotional, psychological, or behavioral.” School counselors, armed with the knowledge and skills of family counseling, can extend their reach beyond the individual student and create a more comprehensive support system.

Several concepts and theories in family counseling are particularly relevant to school counselors. The family systems theory, for example, views the family as an interconnected unit where each member’s actions and emotions impact others. Counselors can then work collaboratively with families to address issues affecting the student.

Another interesting approach is transgenerational therapy which, according to the ReGain editorial team, “Most often works on the conflicts between different generations by breaking down any communication barriers that exist and cultivating understanding, despite different cultural mores or expectations.” This can be a very poignant approach for children of migrant parents who have to bridge the gap between two cultures.

The authors note that “[t]his particular modality usually suggests that most familial conflicts come from the differences between generational behaviors and expectations, and soothing these differences can be a simple matter of improving communication and encouraging open-minded attitudes.”

Collaborating With Families for Effective Counseling

School counselors can adopt several best practices to ensure effective collaboration:

  • Open and respectful communication: Maintaining open lines of communication with families fosters trust and a positive working relationship. School counselors must actively listen to family concerns and show respect for their perspectives.
  • Strength-based approach: Focusing on family strengths rather than deficits empowers families and promotes resilience. Acknowledging their existing resources helps families build on those strengths to address challenges effectively.
  • Inclusive decision-making: Involving families in decision-making regarding their child’s counseling goals creates a sense of ownership and commitment to the intervention.
  • Cultural sensitivity: Recognizing and respecting the diverse cultural backgrounds of families is essential. Cultural competence allows school counselors to deliver counseling services that align with the family’s beliefs and values.

Benefits and Challenges

Involving families in the counseling process can yield numerous benefits for students. Family support enhances the effectiveness of interventions and can lead to sustained improvements in students’ well-being and academic performance. When families are actively engaged, the school and home environments work in synergy, reinforcing positive behaviors and fostering a sense of stability.

However, potential complications may also arise. Some families may resist counseling or have conflicting views on appropriate interventions. School counselors need to approach such situations with sensitivity and patience, working to build rapport and trust over time.

Learn more about A-State’s online MSE in School Counseling – General Concentration program.

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