A look at the causes of a lack of communication between counselors and students.
Amidst college application season and worsening teenage mental health, counselors are a support system for students, whether it be school conflicts or academic challenges. Helping students with a variety of issues is the main objective of counselors, but students are hesitant. This raises the question: Why aren’t more students turning to counselors?
Kylan Dao (12) has routinely met his counselor during his junior year and is aware that many of his peers are uncertain and wary about visiting a counselor.
“Not many of the people I know go to counselors, but the people I know have been scared of reaching out. I know there’s a bunch of my friends who were scared to even send an email. They seemed overall fearful, nervous, they didn’t want to. But they still went ahead and saw the counselor anyway. They wanted to see the issue, but they seemed really nervous, or scared.”
Shriya Shankar (11) explains why students might be hesitant and afraid of meeting counselors.
“I’ve heard stories about people not having good relationships with their counselors,” Shankar states. “I’ve heard ‘this person’s been really helpful, they helped me put on my courses,’ But I’ve also heard stories saying, ‘I went to talk to them about something, and they didn’t do anything about it, or they called my parents when I didn’t want my parents to know.’”
Students have mixed views on the role of counselors and the part they play on our campus. Shankar theorizes that students rely on hearsay to determine whether to visit a counselor. She elaborates, “Hearing all these bad stories, it frames your opinion on a particular person. It’s like rumors. You hear something bad about someone and you think of them that way until you really get to know them.”
Ash Sample (12) shares her experiences from all the times she visited counselors during her freshman year. Despite some of her negative experiences, Sample recognizes the balance counselors have to find, and would still encourage people to visit one.
“I do think that the counselors themselves do genuinely want to help students and try to do their best to do so, but the school doesn’t really give them enough power to do anything. Students may kind of have this kind of bias or resentment for people working at the school, just because a lot of people are talking about how they don’t really do anything for students, and a lot of high school does tend to be negative for a lot of people, and that negative feeling could translate over to how they feel about people working at the school.”
Teens are naturally hesitant about talking to adults, so even reaching out to an adult they know would be difficult, let alone a counselor you may have never met. Even after taking the first step, a delayed response or an unread email could disappoint students when they express vulnerability in order to seek help.
Sample states, “It still is a two-way street, and I think that the counselors could try a little harder to take the first step and engage with students more.”
Ms. Sorensen has been a counselor at American High School for about nine years and sees the issue as a lack of communication between 2600 students and only six counselors. This means counselors may not always have the time or resources to reach out to every student.
“I think the biggest barrier that we have is that we’re a really large school. And so there are a lot of students and a lot of varying needs, and there aren’t as many counselors as are recommended based on the counseling standards. If your counselor isn’t available, it really is because we are supporting a large number of students. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be an appointment or a time available for you. I would say if it’s something immediate and urgent, and your counselor is not available, it is okay to see another counselor, it’s okay to see an administrator, it’s okay to go up to the front office, or check in with the teacher and say that you need immediate help.”
Mrs. Barwani has been counseling at American for about 6 years, and she is definitely aware that students don’t always go to the counselors, even when they need to. She sees a stigma around people getting help from an adult for their personal problems.
“There’s maybe a stigma towards coming to see the counselor about anything. There’s a concern, there’s lots of misconceptions that seeing the counselor will somehow be a negative mark. When you come and see the counselor, there is no negative mark on any permanent record. It is not information that gets sent to all colleges. It does not go on your transcript. We maintain confidentiality in our conversations. The limitations around that are to ensure student safety. If someone tells us about harm to themselves, or others, or someone else harming them, then we absolutely need to seek support to ensure safety is always going to be our number one priority” Mrs. Barwani shares.
Mrs. Barwani also recognizes that a single bad experience, such as an unfulfilled schedule change request, is sometimes a fault in the system.
“Schedule changes, while I understand, can be very disappointing, sometimes are far beyond our control as counselors,” Mrs. Barawani says.
Although the current relationship between students and counselors is a little shaky, counselors are here for students.
As Ms. Sorensen puts it, “I want to make sure that I create an environment where students feel comfortable coming to talk to me, because sometimes we might be navigating through things that are difficult or competent, like something they want to keep confidential, and I don’t want students to feel there isn’t a problem that is too small or too big that they can reach out for.”
One counselor declined to comment for this story and the others did not respond.