A review of the school counseling literature for themes evolving from The Education Trust initiative.
The Education Trust conducted a series of focus groups in 1996 with school counseling stakeholders (i.e., school counselors, counselor educators, principals, counseling graduate students) and identified specific problems and solutions for school counseling and counselor education programs. The findings included the following: (Guerra, 1998a):
* School counselors focus too much on counseling students with serious emotional and social problems while denying students sufficient academic guidance and direction.
* Current counselor training programs offer a core of genetic counseling courses that do not provide counselors with the specific knowledge and skills needed to be effective in schools. For example, the vast majority of counselor preparation programs emphasize a mental health model with few connections to student achievement as an important indicator of student success. (p.36).
Following the publication of the Guerra (1998a) article, a firestorm of debate ensued about the education achievement vs. mental health focus identified by The Education Trust. Guerra (1998b) reported that many of the responses "centered around what focus and direction school counseling, and concurrently school counselor education, should take.... The Education Trust seemed to advocate what counselors were calling a 'guidance' model, other counselors were advocating for a 'counseling' or 'mental health' model" (p.2). House and Hayes (2002), on behalf of The Education Trust, further argued that school counselors must work to be proactive leaders who are effective collaborators in advocating for the academic success of all students. This means that school counselors' primary focus should be to close the achievement gap between poor students and students of color and their more advantaged peers. House and Hayes outlined a "New Vision" for school counselors, moving from a present focus as mental health providers to a focus on academic/student achievement.
This debate about the appropriate emphasis for school counselors has similarly been voiced in other recent Professional School Counseling articles with some authors advocating a need for a stronger mental health counseling perspective (e.g., Lockhart & Keys, 1998; Luongo, 2000; Taylor & Adelman, 2000) and others focusing on the educational achievement role (e.g., Sink, 2001, Guerra, 1998b).
The "New Vision" for school counseling put forth by The Education Trust was examined in a study conducted by Perusse and Goodnough (2001). This study was conducted to determine counselor educators' perceptions of the importance of the concepts defined by The Education Trust and the extent to which these concepts were reflected in their master's-level school counseling programs. The results of their investigation showed that, overall, counselor educators perceived that the concepts defined by The Education Trust vision for school counseling (i.e., education equity, access, and academic success, with a concentration on interventions that close the achievement gap) are important and should be included in school counselor preparation programs.
While the former investigation was designed to investigate counselor educators' perceptions of The Education Trust initiative, this study was designed to determine how The Education Trust National Initiative for Transforming School Counseling, which promotes academic achievement as the primary focus of school counselors vs. a mental health focus (House & Hayes, 2002), is reflected in the professional school counseling literature. While it is beneficial to the profession to understand how counselor educators perceive The Education Trust Initiative, it is also beneficial to determine how the concepts of education achievement and mental health are reflected in our professional literature.
Professional publications of any discipline reflect current issues, trends, and values of the profession as well as information deemed necessary for adequate practice (Flores, Rooney, Heppner, Browne, & Wei, 1999; LeUnes, 1974). One way to assess the information deemed relevant for practice by a profession is to review the professional publications. Additionally, professional publications typically serve as a primary forum for defining appropriate focus for the profession as well as providing guidelines for training professionals within the field.
This investigation included articles published in professional school counseling journals. The establishment of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) in 1952 led to the development of the first journal specifically devoted to the profession of school counseling, The School Counselor. In keeping with the trend started by the NDEA in 1958, a second journal, Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, was developed for school counselors. More recently, the ASCA merged the two previous journals into one, Professional School Counseling. Baker (1997) indicated a desire to maintain continuity in content and emphasis between the two journals while increasing the quality of manuscripts published. Professional School Counseling is the official publication of ASCA and, as such, serves as the gatekeeper of what is deemed important in the profession of school counseling. Articles published in the journal are cited in other professional journals, both nationally and internationally, as indicative of the current issues, trends, and values in the school counseling profession.
Given the current debate about educational achievement and mental health, it seemed important to look at the primary professional publications in the discipline to categorize trends in content around educational achievement and mental health, over time, as described by The Education Trust. Educational achievement is defined as the preparation of all students for academic success via directed, academically focused activities designed to define, nurture, and accomplish academic goals (House & Hayes, 2002). Mental health refers to meeting the psychosocial needs of the student with an emphasis on personal and social functioning (House & Hayes). While both areas are necessary for student success, we were interested in identifying how these two areas are reflected in the flagship journals for professional school counselors. A review of the professional organization's journals was seen as a way to empirically assess how the school counseling literature reflects the model proposed by The Education Trust.
The first five volumes of the Professional School Counseling journal and the last three volumes of both Elementary School Guidance and Counseling and The School Counselor journals were reviewed. Only major contributions were included in this study. Introductory excerpts, editorial commentaries, book reviews, and theme-based forwards were excluded. A total of 537 articles were examined.
Two review teams evaluated the articles. Review teams were composed of a graduate student and faculty member. All researchers had formal experience in the area of school counseling. Two reviewers initially conducted an independent review of each article and categorized the articles. Their findings were compared to determine agreement between the reviewers. Percent agreement was calculated on the initial reviews for each pair of raters (team one = 90%, team two = 88%). When there was disagreement between the initial reviewers on categorization of content, a third reviewer conducted an independent review to serve as a "tie-breaker." Eight percent of the initial reviews required a third assessment for categorization. For all these latter cases, the third reviewer's categorization matched that of one of the two original reviewers.
All articles were reviewed in their entirety to categorize content. All articles identified for initial review were included in the study and used to obtain the reported results. The articles were categorized according to the following categories: 1) mental health only, 2) educational achievement only, 3) both, and 4) neither.
Mental health only. Mental health was defined as addressing the psychosocial needs of the student with a primary focus on personal and social functioning (House & Hayes, 2002). As such, articles in this category included content only related to student mental health concerns such as depression, self-esteem, self-concept/identity, sexual identity, emotional coping skills, cognitive behavioral coping skills, suicidality, grief and loss, and interpersonal relationship skills. Also included were articles addressing theoretical approaches to mental health counseling. These included counseling theory, specific interventions, therapeutic procedures, and dynamics of client- (i.e., students, parents) counselor relationships. In other words, the topics were specifically related to counseling interactions among clients and school counseling professionals, behavioral/emotional issues addressed within counseling sessions, and various methods/procedures used to assess and intervene with students' personal/social development.
Educational achievement only. Educational achievement was defined as the preparation of all students for academic success via directed, academically focused guidance activities designed to define, nurture, and accomplish academic goals (House & Hayes, 2002). Articles in this category included content only related to student educational achievement. Topics covered in this category addressed concerns with academic performance, school and classroom participation, college/career preparation, athletic motivation/participation, time management, school compliance, mentoring, extracurricular activities, and minority/cultural academic success or achievement. Also included were articles addressing the following: how counselors interact with student-peer advisors; how parents and/or tutors can monitor school-based performance; how collaborative teaching strategies can be used to impact the school environment; how counseling services influence curriculum development; and how counselors can assess academic inclusion needs of diverse and exceptional children. In other words, these articles addressed how counselors themselves promote the academic and professional development of students, how school counselors can work with students and school personnel to promote academic success, and specific procedures and interventions used to address academic success.
Both. Articles were assigned to this category if the content was determined to reflect both student mental health and educational achievement issues. For example, several articles addressed peer-related conflicts and how counselors could work with children involved in such conflicts. However, the content of these articles would not only discuss the feelings and behaviors involved with student experiences of conflict but also the impact that ineffectively managed conflicts could have on student academic performance and classroom participation. These articles did not solely focus either on the specific interventions, psychological well-being of clients, and relationships between counselor and client or on the issues related to the academic and professional development of students. Rather, significant attention was given to the integration of both mental health and education achievement perspectives. Articles identified as following this format were, therefore, categorized as relevant to both concepts of mental health and educational achievement.
Neither. Articles were classified in this category if the content did not reflect either student mental health or educational achievement issues. Such articles included content related to supervision of school counseling professionals, coordination of services with other school personnel, coping with work-related stressors, and discussion of administrative issues. Trend surveys, issues of professional development, and accountability articles were also classified in this category. In other words, these topics were not directly related to counseling students or meeting their educational needs but rather were procedural, training-based, or policy-focused. One example of this category was an article that addressed counselors' use of computer software in order to improve upon the recordkeeping and assessment of services provided to clients. Such articles did not contain information about how clients could use computers to learn academic material, prepare documents related to college/career placement, or take tests designed to address emotional issues.
A total of 537 articles were reviewed across the time span investigated. The total, number of articles by journal follows: Elementary School Guidance and Counseling (n = 114), The School Counselor (n = 160) and Professional School Counseling (n = 263).
Results (see Table) provide a summary of the articles categorized by journal into the four categories: educational achievement only, mental health issues only, both content categories, and neither content categories. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling published 29 articles (25.4%) related to educational achievement issues, and 48 articles (42.1%) related to mental health issues. Twenty-two articles (19.2%) addressed both educational achievement and mental health issues while 15 articles (13.1%) addressed neither. The School Counselor published 29 articles (18.1%) focusing on educational achievement and 63 articles (39.4%) focusing on mental health issues. Twenty-eight articles (17.5%) included both content categories while 40 (25%) included neither. Professional School Counseling published 44 articles (16.7%) emphasizing educational achievement and 106 articles (40.3%) emphasizing mental health issues. Thirty-two articles (12.1%) focused on both content categories and 80 (30.4%) on neither.
Articles in all three journals focused on mental health issues versus educational achievement at an approximately 2:1 ratio. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling and The School Counselor included a fairly equivalent number of educational achievement articles and articles including both educational achievement and mental health content. These two journals also had a ratio of approximately 2:1 mental health only articles to both content area articles. Professional School Counseling had a 2:1 ratio of education achievement to both content areas and a 3:1 ratio of mental health articles to both content areas.
Range in the percentage of articles from each journal in the first three content categories was fairly consistent: educational achievement 25.4 to 18.1% (difference = 7.3), mental health 42.1 to 39.4% (difference = 2.7), and both 19.2 to 12.1% (difference = 7.1). Articles falling within neither category showed the widest range across journals: 13.1 to 30% (difference = 16.9). The School Counselor and Professional School Counseling published almost twice as many articles falling within the neither category as compared to Elementary School Guidance and Counseling. Across journals, the category with the greatest number of articles published was Mental Health, followed by articles categorized as Neither, followed by the Educational Achievement category, and finally articles categorized as Both.
This study was designed to review articles published over the last 7 years in the flagship school counseling journals to determine how The Education Trust National Initiative for Transforming School Counseling is reflected in the school counseling professional literature. All articles were reviewed to categorize their content as either mental health, educational achievement, both, or neither of these two categories. Understanding the impact of professional publications is important to understanding any discipline (LeUnes, 1974), and journal content reflects historically what is seen as the appropriate emphasis within the profession.
Overall, the results of this study indicate there has been considerable consistency in content over the last few years within the flagship journals for professional school counselors. The highest percentage of articles focused on mental health issues alone. There were fairly equivalent numbers of articles emphasizing educational achievement alone and articles simultaneously addressing educational achievement and mental health issues. These two categories combined (i.e., education achievement and both) still account for less than the number of articles categorized as mental health only. Articles falling within the neither category showed the most variability across journals, with Professional School Counseling accounting for the largest number of articles categorized in this category.
The results of this study are one objective measure for mapping scholarly trends within the school counseling profession. There seems to be a consistent emphasis on articles addressing mental health concerns in the professional journals. One possible explanation may be that this pattern reflects the types of manuscripts submitted to the journals. Certainly, journal editors are limited by the number and focus of articles submitted for publication to the journal. It should be noted that Professional School Counseling does solicit a wide variety of manuscripts (see the Author Guidelines). A future study might assess the number of articles actually submitted in the various categories to ascertain trends in submissions and acceptance rates.
Another explanation may be that mental health articles reflect the needs and professional development interest of practitioners. Specifically, school counselors continue to express concerns about the increasing level of emotional and behavioral problems evidenced in the students with whom they are working. While the criticisms of The Education Trust are a wake-up call to the profession, school counselors pragmatically need to know how to conduct suicide assessments, make accurate diagnostic assessments, and develop appropriate intervention plans within school settings. It will be important for the professional journal to continue to provide students and counselors with article content and resources for developing their skills and identity as professional school counselors.
However, support for the education achievement model stems from the increasing achievement gap between poor students and students of color and other American students (Education Trust, 2001; Jencks & Phillips, 1998; National Center for Education Statistics, 2001; Reyes, Wagstaff, & Fusarelli, 1999). School counselors are being encouraged, through the efforts of The Education Trust, to serve as mentors, personal support systems, and advocates for disadvantaged and minority students within the educational setting. Additionally, it has been suggested that in order to best serve these students' needs, school counselors need to play a key role in school reform efforts (House & Hayes, 2002). Articles reflecting this content would have been included in the education achievement or both content categories, and these categories were emphasized less than mental health alone. The challenge for our profession is to integrate this new vision into existing school counseling programs.
The results of this study have implications as well for school counselors in the areas of scholarship and professional identity development. Issues of scholarship are central to shaping the direction of the profession. The results of this study would suggest that consumers of the literature (i.e., school counselor trainees, school counselors, school counselor educators) would find more articles focused exclusively on mental health issues vs. education achievement available to shape the nature of classroom discussions and professional development. The ASCA national model for school counseling programs (ASCA, 2003) offers suggestions for integrating these two areas. Consequently, the question should not be whether or not to emphasize mental health issues over educational achievement issues, but how to integrate these issues within our research and article submissions to address the needs of all students in the context of the national model for school counseling programs (ASCA). Given the significance of these two content areas to the new vision of school counselors and their relevance to practice, it will be important to integrate these content areas in the literature published within our flagship journal.
The results also have implications for school counselor preparation programs. Students in school counselor preparation programs are in the process of identity formation. As such, they rely heavily on the professional literature for skill development and identity formation. School counselor preparation program faculty members should continue to encourage their students to be avid consumers of and contributors to the literature. The professional literature can be used to foster a professional identity among school counseling students, one that integrates both a mental health and educational achievement perspective. Integration of these two aspects is what separates school counselors from other professionals practicing in the schools. In an era where school counselors are struggling to maintain their uniqueness while finding their jobs being replaced by other professionals, it is imperative that we clearly define ourselves as distinctive from other professionals within the school system and that we are committed to the academic success of all students.
LIMITATIONS OF THIS STUDY
These findings are limited to the journals included for study, and the journals reviewed were restricted to those identified as the "flagship" journals of the school counseling profession. School counselors readily have access to and use other journals not included in this review as resources, for example the Journal of Counseling and Development. Future investigations should similarly examine the content of other publications and journals widely available to school counselors. Second, the authors of this study made a broad categorization of the content of articles and emphasized the categories of mental health and education achievement. This broad categorization did not address specific content within each category and might have obscured important information. This is particularly true for articles falling within the Neither category. By focusing on the two broad categories of mental health and educational achievement, this review may neglect other relevant content areas for the role and function of school counselors. It would be important that further research evaluate the content of articles included in the Neither category to identify other salient variables of school counseling. One could argue, for example, that articles focused on issues such as staff development and accountability are indirectly related to the identity of school counselors.
Finally, ASCA's national model of school counseling programs (ASCA, 2003) supports the integration of both mental health and education achievement to better serve the needs of the individual child or specific populations of children. The national model supports school counseling programs that are about: counseling, leadership, assessment, technology, managing resources, teaming, collaboration, data-driven decisions, and advocacy. Future theoretical and research articles published in Professional School Counseling should reflect the integration of mental health and educational achievement in order to meet the needs of the whole child within the school system. This integrated perspective would contribute to a definition of school counseling as a unique profession.
Number and Percentage of Articles Published by Each Journal Content Categories Journals Educational Achievement Mental Health Both Neither n % n % n % n % Elementary 29 25.4 48 42.1 22 19.2 15 13.1 School Guidance and Counseling The School 29 18.1 63 39.4 28 17.5 40 25.0 Counselor Professional 44 16.7 106 40.3 32 12.1 80 30.4 School Counseling Total 102 18. 9 217 40.4 82 15.2 135 25.1
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Charlene M. Alexander, Ph.D., is an associate professor. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Theresa Kruczek, Ph.D., is a assistant professor.
Adam Zagelbaum and Maria Chase Ramirez are doctoral students in the Counseling Program and School Psychology Program respectively. All are with Ball State University, Department of Counseling Psychology and Guidance Services, Muncie IN.