Marilyn is clearly a progressive leader in her field and I doubt there’s much about counselling in schools, she doesn’t know or a question she couldn’t answer. Her devotion to the cause (as we learnt) is summed up by the fact that she’s nearing completion her PhD on the topic.
There is a history and politics of counselling in schools that I suspect many folks (myself included) were not quite aware of. Marilyn walked and talked us through the decades of challenges where the fight continues to have school counsellors recognised on many levels.
Firstly – school counsellors are focussed on emotional education and whilst they can of course support children and young people in crisis and in need of therapy – their view on what their role is, extends beyond the immediate counselling setting. This is really key to the challenges.
Secondly – the role of ‘counselling’ in schools is being distributed to very sweet and often kind people, who sadly have been given in the region of 16 hours training. Whilst they can offer some level of support to the children and young people, therapeutic depths are strictly limited and therefore it’s a huge disservice to both parties, not being able to complete significant therapy.
Thirdly – in those schools who are fortunate enough to have a school counsellor present, it is very usual for that counsellor to only have 1 day a week at the school. This means the counsellor can only have a handful of sessions. Marilyn suggested that in many schools where they have set aside a room for the counsellor (even if she is there for 1 day a week) it validates their existence and seems to highlight the importance of the role. Obviously splitting services between 1 or more schools, greatly lessons the educational side of the role for the whole school cohort.
It sounded at times like the description of a turf war between school counsellors and educational psychologists! I think her main point for me was that the principal focus of the school counsellor is on the educational success of the pupil/client (and dealing with obstacles to this) rather than a medical/psychological perspective of giving labels and treatment.
There seems to be a complete lack of commitment by all bodies involved including the professional ones to counselling in schools and with young people. Marilyn was passionate about the good that can be done when early, effective and committed input is given to children who need it. She believed that compassionate, ethical and informed support for children and young people helped create fully functioning adults who were less like to be in need to mental health support as adults. I also had the impression that she felt strongly that counselling and psychotherapy should be included in and seen as a natural part of holistic education for all.
One member who attended the evening wrote….
“An excellent insight into working with children inside and outside of schools. The speaker was a ‘passionate and knowledgeable counsellor with a caring heart’ An extensive power point presentation wiith lots of information. Clear, thoughtful and thought provoking. Good mix of theory and discussion. Clear, moving and insightful.”
I think Marilyn’s journey to support this work, will no doubt continue always with the optimism that change is always possible, for schools, for the students who attend and for the systems that aim to support them.
Thank you Marilyn for sharing with us.