Working Together on Self-Care: School Counselors and Teachers

As the school year progresses, school counselors are met with increasing demands and full caseloads. Students and teachers are transitioning into the school routine and counselors may see an increase in work demands. They are also dealing with new students and scheduling conflicts. The end of the school year brings new challenges with college preparations, summer school schedules, and required end of year paperwork. Self-care and the prevention of burnout are especially important during the beginning and end of the school year. Teachers can be just as busy throughout the school year addressing learning concerns in the classroom, communicating concerns with parents, and meeting state academic standards. A school counselor and teacher collaboration, for these reasons, can be helpful in identifying and preventing burnout throughout the entire school year.

School Counselor Burnout

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines burnout as an exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. According to Herbert J. Freudenberger, the concept of burnout is used to explore the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in the helping professions. The concept of burnout affects cognitive, judgmental, and emotional factors.

Factors That Contribute to Burnout

There are many variables that can impact and contribute to school counselor burnout. The most common factors include increasing job demands, an overwhelming work environment with role confusion, and a lack of time to provide direct services to students. Many school counselors have larger than recommended caseloads. While the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a 250:1 ratio, most school counselors see an average of 471 students.

Personal problems can also impact and contribute to counselor burnout. The College at Brockport: State University of New York states that many counselors are also dealing with personal mental and emotional impairments that contribute to school counselor burnout. The research conducted by the College at Brockport shows that an estimated 10-20% of school counselors are not currently satisfied with their jobs. These school counselors and others are susceptible to burnout from professional and personal factors.

Identifying the Signs of Burnout

Christina Maslach, the creator of the career burnout inventory, defined three key signs of burnout:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Depersonalization
  • Reduced personal accomplishment

The specific symptoms of career burnout can include any of the following: low energy, a change in sleep patterns, a change in eating habits, headaches, elevated blood pressure, boredom, detached feelings, resistance, denial, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Behavioral impacts include a decline in work performance and job satisfaction, impairments in social and other interpersonal relationships, and an overall withdraw from the job, both physically and emotionally.

The Importance of Self-Care in Burnout Prevention

The American Counseling Association (ACA) recommends developing a self-care program for the whole self. This taskforce for counselor wellness suggests that a self-care program should take on a holistic approach toward preserving and maintaining wellness. The holistic approach includes cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness.

Working Together in Education

Teachers also experience many of the same factors as counselors that contribute to job burnout. For more, read Teach100 Mentors: Teacher Burnout Causes, Effects, and Remedies. School counselors are in a unique position and can provide teachers with the appropriate tools and methods of self-care that can be an integral part in preventing teacher burnout.

Teachers are under a lot of stress and pressure to meet ever changing deadlines and educational guidelines. Rose F. Kennedy once stated, “Neither comprehension nor learning can take place in an atmosphere of anxiety”. School counselors can assist teachers in helping them recognize their own professional impairments. Additionally, school counselors can support their educational colleagues by offering the following ten supportive methods:

  1. Help teachers to understand the student as a whole being.
  2. Offer professional advice regarding troublesome students.
  3. Assist with tackling classroom problems, before they get out of hand.
  4. Act as an empathetic listener to both student and teacher concerns.
  5. Guide students in important decision making.
  6. Work with teacher to implement counseling into academic lessons.
  7. Continually develop a collaborative professional relationship.
  8. Offer mediation services to students in conflict.
  9. Provide career guidance and exploration to students.
  10. Offer professional advice, based on education, on a student’s mental health.

Reducing Teacher-Student Relationship Stress

One of the most important roles of the counselor in the school counselor and teacher collaboration is to strengthen the teacher-student relationship. In some cases, troubles within the classroom persist. Because a strong relationship between the teacher and the child is important to success, it can be considered a role of the school counselor to provide effective interventions that will improve the teacher-child relationship. According to Dee C. Ray, Ph.D, two common methods include child-centered play therapy and teacher consultation, with both interventions showing success in strengthening this important relationship.

School Counselor Consultation with Evidence Backed Theories

School counselors are trained in the most effective methods of human development and human interaction. The teacher is professionally trained in the academic improvement of students. With a school counselor and teacher collaboration, insight can be provided to teachers on the whole-being and development of their students. The primary goal of this collaboration is to help teachers respond in an effective and productive way to situations that might arise within the classroom. School counselors can utilize learned interpersonal skills and evidence based theories to consult and empower teacher, which may, in turn, prevent teacher burnout.

Rational Emotive-Social Behavioral Consultation Theory

One specific evidence based model, the Rational Emotive-Social Behavioral (REBT) theory is especially effective in school counselor consultation. REBT was developed by Albert Ellis in 1955 and eventually led the way to cognitive behavioral therapy. This theory was built on the idea that how we feel is a direct result of how we think. REBT includes interventions such as reshaping core beliefs and looking at irrational versus rational thoughts. This theory and many of the accompanying interventions of REBT can be applied to improving the teacher student relationship with the consultation of a professional school counselor. A Specific REBT intervention that may be used in the school setting is the ABC(DE) technique. This technique challenges irrational thoughts by exploring activating events, evaluating both irrational and rational thoughts, discussing consequences, disputing thoughts, and developing a more effective way of thinking.

Social Cognitive Consultation Theory

Social Learning Theory, developed by Albert Bandura in 1977 was soon followed by the development of the Social Cognitive Theory in 1986. These theories follow that cognitive processes are determined by human functioning. The resulted cognitive processes are also responsible for behavior. Both teachers and students thought patterns about a situation can be affected by their environmental surroundings. Through school counselor consultation, teachers can learn how to overcome these environmental influences and achieve self-regulation. According to Psychology Today, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest. It is the conscious and personal management that helps control what we think, say, and do.

When to Consult your School Counselor

It is important to learn when school counselor intervention or consultation is needed. Student concerns are the most common reason for teacher visits to their school counselor’s office. While there are many concerns that might arise about a student, the following are the most common: suicidal threats, home issues, bullying, and substance abuse. Additionally, a teacher may also face student concerns regarding classroom actions or academic difficulties.

A teacher may also consult with a school counselor when dealing with difficult parents. When a teacher finds it difficult to effectively communicate with a parent, seeking assistance from the school counselor can help with improving communication lines. The interpersonal and communicative skills of the counselor can be an important mediation tool.

The school counselor and teacher collaboration is a valuable relationship that is necessary in identifying and preventing burnout. Through counseling theories, interventions, and consultation; the school counselor has proven to be an effective tool for burnout prevention and student academic success.