Do We Need More Counseling in Schools?

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As understanding of the importance of mental health and social-emotional development grows, the role of schools in supporting students’ well-being becomes increasingly vital. Many students struggle with mental health issues as they deal with pressures from school and family. School counseling programs can significantly address these challenges by providing students with a safe and supportive environment to discuss their concerns, connect with resources and develop coping strategies.

A smiling school counselor meets with two students.

Despite the importance of counseling in schools, access to these resources isn’t universal. Many schools lack the funding, staffing or infrastructure to support a robust counseling program, leaving students without necessary support. Additionally, a lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits of school counseling programs can lead to their underutilization. Those who wish to advocate for supporting students should consider the benefits of an advanced degree in counseling.

Why Is Counseling in Schools So Important?

Schools are institutions for academic learning that play a significant role in shaping students’ social and emotional development. A school counselor can support students facing academic stress, mental health issues, social difficulties and family problems. Recently, counselors were instrumental in helping students navigate the impact of COVID-19. 

With the help of counselors, students can develop resilience, coping skills and self-esteem, improving their overall academic performance and enhancing their ability to deal with life’s challenges. School counselors can also help students identify and address their needs and any challenges they may be experiencing before they become significant problems.

School counselors may collaborate with teachers and parents, as well as members of the community, to ensure a supportive and safe learning environment.

How Many Counselors Should a School Have?

Determining how many counselors a school should have can be a complex calculation. Factors such as the size of the student body and the school’s available resources can affect the number. Additionally, how counselors use the time they’re given to work with students can also impact their success, regardless of the ratio of students to counselors.

Ratios of School Counselors to Students Matter

According to the American School Counselor Association, a workable caseload for a school counselor is 250 students. When they exceed this threshold, counselors may struggle to provide adequate support to all students, potentially leading to behavioral issues, diminished academic achievement and decreased social-emotional well-being.

How Counselors Spend Their Time Matters

Counselors who spend more of their time helping students and less on administrative and classroom duties outside the scope of their job descriptions can have a greater impact on student outcomes. By focusing on their core responsibilities of providing counseling services, school counselors can foster a more supportive and responsive school environment that promotes academic success and social-emotional well-being.

School Funding Matters

The quality of counseling in schools is also greatly affected by the level of funding at the school’s disposal. When schools spend less money per student, they may also struggle to provide enough counselors to adequately address the needs of the student population. This often leads to school counselors having very large caseloads. In these cases, students facing challenges who seek the help of school counselors, who are already struggling to meet the needs of a large number of students, may be unable to receive the support they need.

Investing in Counselors vs. Security Personnel

Research conducted by the Center for Public Integrity suggests that a policing approach can be especially detrimental to students who identify as people of color or have disabilities. When schools use resource officers or law enforcement to address issues with students, behavioral issues may become more prevalent, resulting in an increase in expulsions, suspensions and arrests. School security personnel are only required to have a high school diploma and therefore may not be trained to properly interact with students.

Counseling in Schools Can Help Prevent Tragedy

School shootings and other events often trigger officials to add security and school resource officers. However, it’s not clear that any evidence exists beyond anecdotes to support the idea that it makes a positive difference. Findings from the Center for Public Integrity suggest that school policing doesn’t significantly decrease on-campus violence and the occurrence of school shootings.

Students who perpetrate shootings frequently indicate that they suffer from mental distress or social isolation. School counselors may be able to identify at-risk students, provide counseling services and connect them with appropriate resources before a tragedy happens.

Help Meet the Demand for Counseling in Schools and Make a Difference

The demand for school counselors is on the rise as better student-to-counselor ratios are proven not only to improve student performance and reduce suspensions and other disciplinary action, but also likely help keep schools safe and prevent violent tragedies. Those who want to be a part of improving counseling in schools should consider the benefits of Wake Forest University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program.

This 100% online program includes a specialized master’s in school counseling that prepares graduates with the key skills they need to be effective advocates for students. Find out how you can help the next generation succeed with Wake Forest University.

Recommended Readings

Treating Anxiety in Children: Treatment Options & Tips for Parents

Types of Eating Disorders and How Counselors Can Help

What Is Neurodiversity? Definition and Resources for Teachers, Counselors and Schools


American School Counselor Association, The Role of the School Counselor

The Center for Public Integrity, “When Schools Call Police on Kids”

GoodTherapy, School Counseling

Indeed, “How to Become a School Counselor”

Indeed, “How to Become a Security Guard in 7 Steps (With FAQs)”