My marriage break-up is affecting my son’s school work. Who can help?

Ask Brian: Guidance counsellors are qualified to provide one-on-one support

Guidance counsellors regularly provide one-on-one support to students in distress. Photograph: iStock

Guidance counsellors regularly provide one-on-one support to students in distress. Photograph: iStock


I was recently called into my son’s school by his principal, as his behaviour has deteriorated sharply. It coincides with my difficult marriage break-up. The principal suggested my child see the school guidance counsellor. Is this appropriate? And are counsellors qualified to deal with these issues?

I am a guidance counsellor working in a second-level school and am happy to put your mind at rest regarding the support services which I and my colleagues provide to students in schools.

All guidance counsellors are qualified teachers who have spent several years teaching their degree subjects, prior to spending between one and two years upskilling at postgraduate level in one of our universities.

Training covers the three aspects of our work: the personal, educational and vocational development of all the children in our second-level schools.

Most of the educational and vocational work is relatively straightforward and involves supporting students in navigating from first to sixth year, making the correct subject choices along the way. Our qualifications in psychometric testing and interest inventories enable us to do this work to the highest professional standards.

The third aspect of our work, personal counselling, is by far the most important. It can arise spontaneously in a one-to-one conversation with a student, or from referrals from weekly care team meetings with year-heads, senior school management and special needs teachers.

The post-graduate guidance counselling courses involve substantial input in counselling skills. Course participants also engage in one-to-one personal counselling, in addition to their academic training. Following qualification, most practising guidance counsellors go on to secure further counselling specific qualification, to consolidate their skills.

Most importantly, the Department of Education, through its teacher education section, funds and supports professional counselling supervision for all guidance counsellors working in our schools and further education colleges.

It is required professional practice for all persons providing counselling to clients in Ireland, whether in the community or in schools and colleges, to hold a professional qualification recognised by the State, and to remain in ongoing supervision of their work.

Regulation of counselling is essential to ensure vulnerable persons are protected.

You need have no concerns relating to the professional skills of guidance counsellors in dealing with a student in your circumstances as doing so is, sadly, a regular occurrence.

If the level of distress is of a level beyond the competency or time availability of the guidance counsellor, they will be the first to suggest to their principal a referral to an external agency.

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