Guidance counsellors play vital role
Sir, – A recent opinion piece published in the Irish Times (“We need a co-ordinated approach to mental health in schools”, February 1st, 2019) calls for a holistic approach to how we address “the rising rates of emotional distress” in our children and young people.
This already is in place. The Irish guidance counselling model that operates in our schools is a holistic model which includes educational, vocational and personal counselling. In reality, Irish guidance counsellors are at the coal face triaging mental health issues in schools nationwide on a daily basis. We operate in the school equivalent of an emergency department for emotional distress.
This article states: “All children and young people having access to counselling services within their schools – this should be non-negotiable.”
In article 9(c) of the 1998 Education Act, it states that recognised schools shall use their available resources to: “9(c) ensure that students have access to appropriate guidance…”. This is already in place; the issue is one of resources.
Our Government needs to fully restore the guidance hours it cut in 2012 and allocate them to the professionally qualified guidance counsellor. It makes economic sense to properly resource the qualified guidance counsellor already in the school, the professional who attends counselling supervision and continuous professional development regularly. Why not relieve us of our additional teaching duties so that we can devote our full energy and time to our young people?
The article goes on to state that: “[A] study found that if mental health, and seeking help, were to be ‘normalised’ in the school setting, along with targeted mental-health promotion inputs, that help-seeking would be viewed as less stigmatising, and its rates would increase.”
Guidance counsellors prepare students we are referring out for the transition from attending guidance counselling from the familiar face of their guidance counsellor in the familiar building of school to divulging intimate details to a stranger in an unfamiliar building.
They trust and know us; we are approachable; they regularly refer their friends or siblings in distress to us.
Without the guidance counsellor in situ the number of referrals and of students attending counselling outside of schools would drop significantly.