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How elementary school counselors can meet the needs of students with disabilities.

This article presents the results of an ethnographic study that examined how three elementary school counselors meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities. For this study, the term "students with disabilities" included any student with a disability who was receiving special education services in each counselor's school. Counselor strategies, reliance on theories, and use of the ASCA National Model[R] are explored. Critical themes to emerge out of this study included the influence of the ASCA National Model, advocacy, the variety of counseling strategies, collaboration and teaming, and leadership. Implications for school counselors are presented.


In 1993, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) issued position statements on school counselor involvement with students with disabilities and suggested the following school counselor roles in working with students with disabilities: (a) advocacy, (b) transition planning, (c) behavior modification, (d) counseling parents, (e) making referrals to specialists, (f) improving self-esteem, (g) working as part of the school multidisciplinary team, (h) teaching social skills, and (i) serving as consultants to parents and school staff (ASCA, 1993). The most recent education and counseling reform movements--No Child Left Behind (U.S. Department of Education, 2002), the ASCA National Standards (ASCA, 2003), and the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2003)--have further increased the focus of meeting the needs of all students, including students with disabilities (ASCA, 1993, 2003; Baumberger & Harper, 1999; Milsom, 2002; U.S. Department of Education). These new national standards call for school counselors to "change their emphasis from service-centered for some of the students, to program-centered for every student" (ASCA, 2003, p. 18).

School counselors do not have much training in working with students with disabilities, despite the fact that reform movements call for increasing their involvement with these students (Astigarra & McEachern, 2000; Deck, Scarborough, Sferrazza, & Estill, 1999; Helms & Katsiyannis, 1992; Milsom, 2002). With pressure to change their role in schools to ensure that all students' needs are being met, school counselors will quickly need to focus their efforts on changing the services they provide to all students, including those with disabilities, and to provide evidence and data to support that their school counseling activities are effective.


Many young children with disabilities have unique personal/social needs in addition to academic issues related to their disability. Current research suggests a number of personal/social difficulties that come with a diagnosis of a physical disability, emotional disorder, or learning disability. Some of these issues include higher levels of stress and anxiety (Margalit, 1992), poor social skills (Okolo & Sitlington, 1986; Voeller, 1993), and learned helplessness and low self-esteem (Barton & Fuhrmann, 1994; Bender & Wall, 1994; Bowen & Glenn, 1998; Glenn & Smith, 1998). Students with disabilities often have negative school experiences (Kottman, Robert, & Baker, 1995), maintain an external locus of control (Bender & Wall; Omizo & Omizo, 1994; Tabassam & Grainger, 2002), and demonstrate ineffective anger management strategies (Baker, 2000; Garcia, Krankowski, & Jones, 1998).

There is also an increased risk of suffering from depression, conduct disorders, and substance abuse, related to a diagnosis of a disability (Brumback & Weinberg, 1990; Larson, 1998; Rodis, Garrod, & Boscardin, 2001; Spreen, 1988). It now appears that students with disabilities develop low self-concepts in more areas than just academics alone (Kloomok & Cosden, 1994). Kish (1991) maintained that students with disabilities become more handicapped by their lack of personal/social skills than by their academic skill deficits, and research indicates that strong personal/social skills are necessary for future success as an adult and that these skills can be learned (Schumaker, 1992).


This study examined how three elementary school counselors meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities, through the use of the ethnographic interview method of qualitative inquiry (Spradley, 1979). Qualitative methodology was chosen to obtain an in-depth account of the experience of elementary school counselors working with students with disabilities. The following questions were the main focus of this study: (a) Are these three professional school counselors using the ASCA National Model to guide them in their work with students with disabilities? (b) What strategies do these three professional school counselors use in their work with students with disabilities and how are they implemented? (c) What theories guide these three professional school counselors in their work with students with disabilities? And, (d) how do these three professional school counselors make a difference in the lives of students with disabilities? These four sub-questions help to answer the main research question of the study, "How do these three professional school counselors meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities?"



The three school counselor participants all worked in a large metropolitan school system on the East Coast of the United States. There were two female participants who described themselves as Caucasian and one male who described himself as African American. Each of the school counselors had been a school counselor for at least 4 years and only one counselor had worked in the field of education before becoming a school counselor. Each of the school counselors held a master's degree and one was enrolled part-time in a doctoral program. All of the school counselors had a minimum of 440 students on their caseload, which included students with a variety of disabilities. None of their students was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and that was the only disability qualifying for special education that was not represented among their students.


Because of the newness of the ASCA National Model, it was important to choose a school system where school counselors had already received some training in using it as a guide. The three school counselor participants were chosen by reputational case selection through a joint decision between two of their county supervisors of guidance. Patton (1990) has described this type of sampling as sampling extreme or deviant cases to shed light on an issue, and Merriam (1998) has described this as the best approach to use when the sample is of interest because it is so unique or different. The supervisors had been informed of the purpose of the study and chose these school counselors because they felt they were actively involved in meeting the needs of students with disabilities, they were fully licensed school counselors, and they had received ASCA National Model training, thus meeting the criteria for involvement in the study. Dunn, Wood, and Baker (2002) indicated that not all school counselors actively work with students with disabilities, so it was very important for this study to examine school counselors who actively worked with students with disabilities.

The ethnographic interview method was employed over a 12-week period at the start of the school year and focused on gathering information from each school counselor through the use of an open-ended survey with vignette, three in-depth interviews, and journals that allowed the school counselor to reflect upon and provide important, relevant examples of issues (Spradley, 1979). This procedure allowed the collection of rich data to gain an understanding of how school counselors meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities and how they view their involvement with these students. Survey and interview questions were developed after a literature review as a multistep process and originally piloted with school counselors working in another school system before this study took place. Following the pilot study, an additional literature review was conducted; at this time, questions regarding the ASCA National Model were incorporated into the interviews and survey.

Data Measures

The school counselor survey was conducted along with the first interview in September at the start of the school year. The survey included demographic information from the school counselors along with information regarding their training and counseling activities and required a response to a vignette that focused on how they would work with a student diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (considered a higher-functioning form of autism) who was having difficulty at school.

Interviews were held during the 1st, 6th, and 12th week of the 12-week study. They were recorded and transcribed verbatim, which allowed for documentation and reflection upon the school counselor's native language (using the exact terminology that the school counselors used to describe their experience) (Spradley, 1979). Multiple reviews of the tapes ensured that transcripts were correct. School counselors were encouraged to provide a "full and accurate report that gave detailed, concrete material, rather than generalizations" (Weiss, 1994, p. 212). They were reminded of the purpose of the study before each interview and were given final copies of the product, per Spradley's recommendations for ethnographic interviewing. A definition of a "student with a disability" and a copy of the Executive Summary of the ASCA National Model were given to the school counselors to assist in answering questions and to ensure that all involved in the study would share a common understanding of terms discussed.

Following Spradley's (1979) research recommendations, the interviews asked descriptive, structural, and contrast questions to discover the cultural themes and native language (counseling terminology, such as using the term "personal/social skills" versus "social-emotional skills") that the school counselors used. Spradley has provided a "Taxonomy of Ethnographic Questions" (p. 223), which was used to develop the interview questions throughout the research process. An example of descriptive questions from the interview was, "Can you tell me about the last time you worked with a student with a disability? What kind of issues did they present? Describe for me what the counseling process looked like?" The following structural question was asked in one interview: "What words would school counselors use to describe these students?" Contrast questions were the last type of question and an example from the interview was, "Special educators often try to meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities by giving them work from a social skills training program. How do school counselors meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities?"

The counselors' journals provided additional data during the weeks that there were no interviews and they provided a way to triangulate the data that school counselors described in the survey and interviews. Writing down their thoughts and experiences during the weeks they were not interviewed assisted the school counselors in recalling counseling activities for upcoming interviews, and this reflection helped to provide more in-depth answers to interview questions (LeCompte & Pressle, 1993). The school counselors recorded their work with students with disabilities in journals each week; the journal was an opportunity to document their work and reflect upon their effectiveness and was an outlet for discussing frustrations and expectations as well as brainstorming new ideas.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

Each of the interviews was transcribed, coded, and then merged using a qualitative data analysis software program, NVivo (QSR International, 2003), which assisted with the development of themes and categories. The comparison and analysis of survey, interview, and journal data was ongoing to identify themes and patterns and to create additional questions per Spradley's (1979) guidelines for ethnographic inquiry, and coding matrices were developed and refined through ongoing interaction with the data. The constant comparative method of data analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) was used in this study to review all data sources and to systematically code examples into as many categories as possible.

Through ongoing interaction with the data, additional categories were developed and defined. Developing codes were analyzed to determine how the data relate to one another. The analysis of information was "issue focused," to describe what has been learned from all of the respondents about people in their situation and to achieve both local and inclusive integration (Weiss, 1994, p. 153). Categorical examples and non-examples also were analyzed and interpreted, and the researcher checked for alternative explanations and negative evidence and compared the results with existing theory. The researcher also shared the results with the school counselors in the study and with experts in the field. These methods enabled the researcher to effectively deal with the major validity threats to the study, which included bias in the selection of counselors and self-report bias.


As found in prior research, these school counselors all described personal/social difficulties in their students with disabilities that included difficulties with social skills (Okolo & Sitlington, 1986; Voeller, 1993), behavior (Bender & Wall, 1994; Garcia et al., 1998; Omizo, Cubberly, & Longano, 1984; Tabassam & Grainger, 2002), and low self-esteem (Barton & Fuhrmann, 1994; Bender & Wall, 1994; Bowen & Glenn, 1998; Glenn & Smith, 1998). The school counselors in this study found similar difficulties in their students in the areas of high stress and anxiety levels and ineffective anger management skills (Garcia et al., 1998; Margalit, 1992). School counselors observed how the deficits these students had in social skills resulted in rejection from their peers and less involvement in social activities (Gresham, 1992; LaGreca & Vaughn, 1992; Schumaker, 1992; Swanson & Malone, 1992; Tabassam & Grainger, 2002; Vaughn & Hager, 1994).

Previous research indicated that there was great variation in whether students with disabilities received counseling services (Deck et al., 1999; Helms & Katsiyannis, 1992) or whether school counselors had time to focus on the personal/social difficulties of students with disabilities (Dunn et al., 2002). However, the school counselors in this study considered students with disabilities "on their caseload" and actively sought out ways that these students could participate in counseling activities that would be helpful to them. Unlike Grigsby's (1990) evaluation of school counselors as having limited involvement and desire to work with students with disabilities, these school counselors felt they were important in meeting the personal/social needs of students with disabilities. The school counselors in this study did not defer the responsibility of meeting the personal/social needs of students with disabilities to other school personnel, as has been indicated by previous research studies (Deck et al.; Glenn, 1998).

Influence of the ASCA National Model

In the review of the data obtained from this study, several themes related to the ASCA National Model emerged (ASCA, 2003). Findings revealed that school counselors felt they were doing many of the things suggested by the ASCA National Model and were encouraging other school counselors to utilize the model. Themes that emerged from this study included the influence of the ASCA National Model, advocacy, the variety of counseling strategies, collaboration and teaming, and leadership. While this study examined school counselors' work toward meeting the personal/social needs of students with disabilities, it was apparent that the three school counselors were focusing on activities that supported all three domains suggested by the Foundation portion of the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2003, pp. 27-37). School counselors were using collaboration with other school staff to meet students' personal/social needs. They reflected on their efforts in working with students with disabilities to constantly monitor what was working, and they also were trying to find the best ways to collect and use data to monitor students' progress.

Under the Delivery System component of the ASCA National Model, school counselors were teaching the guidance curriculum, planning individually with and for students, providing responsive services, and using consultation and collaboration with others (ASCA, 2003, pp. 3944). The Management System portion of the ASCA National Model was used by the school counselors as they were monitoring student progress and using data to support action plans (ASCA, 2003, pp. 45-58). The school counselors felt they were being held more accountable for their work with students and they used data to demonstrate their success, although each one had his or her own way of documenting successes. They also had a few suggestions on ways to use data to demonstrate progress. Some of the ways they demonstrated success were using journals to record their work, gaining pre- and post-measures of skills, having students complete self-report measures, and using parent and/or teacher feedback forms.

The county school system currently is reviewing the Accountability portion of the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2003, pp. 59-66). The school counselors have been collecting their own information, knowing that they are held more accountable than they were in the past, to demonstrate to their county supervisors the work they are doing with students. At this point, however, the school system has not told counselors what to collect and they are just collecting data on their own. The school counselors feel that they are holding themselves more accountable to all of their students, and their conscious effort to meet the needs of students with disabilities is more a result of holding themselves accountable than of having a supervisor tell them they are accountable.

These particular counselors have been collecting data to measure their own effectiveness. They felt that the biggest areas of change since the ASCA National Model have involved measuring effectiveness and collecting data. One of the counselors described the model as an "extra focus on what they are already doing." The counselor further explained that they already used data to demonstrate that their activities were effective, instead of using data solely to demonstrate how often they did a particular counseling activity. Now they would be sharing their data with their supervisors instead of using it for their own self-reflection. They felt they were prepared to demonstrate their effectiveness to others because they were already measuring it for themselves through their self-evaluations, counselor checklists, observations, and parent/teacher checklists or interviews.

After the data were examined, it was apparent that school counselors were beginning to feel the influence of the ASCA National Model in their work with students with disabilities. While many of the different aspects of the ASCA National Model have not taken full effect in their school system (e.g., a change in the evaluation of school counselors, the management system, and a mandated school system-level collection of specific data), the school counselors seemed to agree that there is an increased demand for demonstrating effectiveness and using data and that they are held more accountable for their work with all students than they were in the past.


The next theme that emerged from the study was advocacy. Advocacy is one of the ASCA National Model's main themes and the use of advocacy was indicated as a strategy that counselors employ to meet the personal/social needs of their students with disabilities. Advocacy was demonstrated when the school counselors focused on looking at the individual needs of students with disabilities and used individual planning to create personal goals to meet their needs. Therefore, school counselors viewed students with disabilities as individuals and as part of the larger school group. Advocacy also was demonstrated when counselors made sure to include students with disabilities in all of their counseling program activities, not just ones they created for groups of students with disabilities. Counselors also made certain that students with disabilities were included in school-wide activities, not just those activities that were counselor created.

Counselors were proactive in that they were very cognizant of the unique personal/social needs of these students and they watched out for areas of concern. They sought out ways they could collaborate with other professionals to increase their own training to better work with these students and they actively found additional school staff and professionals to assist them in meeting the needs of their students with disabilities. These counselors reinforced the belief that it was their job to meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities and they encouraged other school counselors to focus on meeting the personal/social needs of their students with disabilities.

Variety of Counseling Strategies

All data sources provided examples of counseling strategies that the three school counselors used to meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities. These strategies included (a) individual planning and individual counseling; (b) goal setting for students; (c) actively making sure students with disabilities are included in activities; (d) refusing to accept the "duplication of services" idea (the idea that students with disabilities already get help from special education, so they are not on a counselor's caseload); (e) modifying classroom guidance lessons; (f) developing behavior management plans; (g) providing specific skills training (e.g., social skills, behavior management, anger management); (h) collaborative counseling; (i) counseling with art, books, and play; (j) counseling with social stories; (k) leading groups (e.g., social skills, anger management, coping with divorce, lunch bunches for friendship); (1) developing connections with students; (m) doing active collaboration; (n) training parents and teachers; and (o) participating in Independent Evaluation Plan meetings.

While the school counselors seemed to have an eclectic approach to choosing strategies for working with students with disabilities, each of the three counselors provided examples in which they (a) served as an advocate, (b) provided training, (c) collaborated, (d) used group counseling, and (e) communicated with others. Each of the school counselors indicated that he or she worked with students with disabilities every week through classroom guidance, group counseling, or individual counseling when necessary. It is important to note that none of these counseling strategies or activities was specifically designed to be used only with students with disabilities. The counselors all explained that whether or not they would implement the strategies was based on their personal exposure to, experience with, and ease of comfort in using each of the strategies.

The school counselors all described learning and using more strategies the longer they were a school counselor. The counselors learned two of the strategies (sensory box and social stories) from collaborating with other school personnel (occupational therapist and special education teacher). The sensory box was a school box that had been filled with items (gel bags, rice bags, silly-putty, etc.) that students could use that may help them reduce overstimulation from the classroom environment and calm down. Social stories, which often are used with students with autism, are easy-to-read stories that help students to learn routines or deal with upsetting situations.

Counseling Theories

All of the school counselors had difficulty responding to questions regarding how counseling theories influenced their choice of activities with students with disabilities, for two reasons: (a) They were not looking at theories specifically for students with disabilities, and (b) they tended to look at specific counseling strategies in their work with students rather than relying on specific counseling theories to guide their practice. During the first round of interviews, school counselors made comments such as, "There may be theories guiding it, but it would be subconsciously," and, "I wouldn't have a clue as to what a counseling theory regarding counseling special ed students would even entail." When struggling to find helpful activities for a student with a disability, they would collaborate with other school personnel or "use trial and error."

The counselors indicated that they could pull activities from any of the counseling theories, such as Adlerian/play (Corey, 1996; Seligman, 2001), brief/solution focused (Amatea, 1989; Thompson & Littrell, 1998), person-centered (Goor, McKnab, & Davison-Aviles, 1995; Williams & Lair, 1991), or reality choice theories (Garcia et al., 1998), but they maintained that they were choosing counseling activities based on the activity, and not based on reliance on a particular counseling theory. The school counselors each advocated using an eclectic approach when working with students with disabilities.

Collaboration and Teaming

Collaboration and teaming is an important theme in the ASCA National Model and one that was demonstrated in each of the data measures in this study. The school counselors collaborated with other school counselors and staff to plan, participate in collaborative counseling, and obtain new ideas and strategies. They communicated with doctors and outside therapists to coordinate services for their students and connected parents who needed assistance to outside sources. When asked to describe their work with students with disabilities, one counselor said, "Collaborative, because almost nothing you do with special ed kids are you doing on your own. There are a lot of other professionals helping, so you have to keep the lines of communication open. So it's a collaborative process." Each of the school counselors described collaboration as "very effective" at meeting the needs of students with disabilities, especially in developing goals for students and in monitoring student progress.

The following is a list of individuals with whom the school counselors could collaborate: (a) regular education teacher, (b) special education teacher, (c) gifted education teacher, (d) parents, (e) other school counselors, (f) behavior specialist, (g) special education counselor, (h) supervisor of counseling, (i) school administrator, (j) occupational therapist, (k) speech teacher, (1) physical therapist, and (m) school psychologist.

As the school counselors spoke about the need for collaboration, they mentioned that collaboration was the best advice they could give to other counselors who were interested in developing their skills in working with students with disabilities. These counselors suggested collaborating to develop their own support system for the following reasons: (a) "It is very difficult working with students with disabilities, because you don't always see the positive results and sometimes they are hard to find"; (b) "there will always be things or issues that come up that you don't know how to help and the important thing to do is to keep trying until you find the fight person to ask"; and (c) collaboration helps one to "continue to grow professionally."

One counselor described how her initial attempts to collaborate have led to increased collaboration with school staff as they hear about her collaborative efforts. She suggested collaboration with special education teachers to learn more strategies for counseling students with disabilities and gave the example of using social stories with nondisabled students:
 All the different special ed strategies, you can
 use in all aspects of your job. You can use them
 in a group that nobody has labeled special ed,
 but [where] they could all benefit from a
 social story, especially kindergarteners. They
 don't have to have Asperger's to benefit,
 because it's pictures. And that is what is going
 to work for any kindergartener who is trying
 to learn a routine.

In the review of the information obtained from the school counselors, collaboration served two purposes. Collaboration helped to better meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities, through having other staff brainstorm and work on the same goals. Collaboration also served to provide school counselors with additional strategies they could use in working with their students.


The last theme that emerged from this study, leadership, is yet another theme encompassed in the ASCA National Model. These school counselors were chosen to participate in this study based on their reputation of leadership, of actively working to meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities in their schools when not all school counselors focus on working with these students. These school counselors described working with students with disabilities as challenging and unclear, and even though they felt undertrained, they continued to focus on working with these students and took the initiative to learn more about the students and their disabilities.

The fact that these school counselors have been moving their counseling programs toward an increased focus on students with diverse needs demonstrates in itself the excellent leadership skills of the school counselors. These counselors also have been taking steps to implement the recommendations of the ASCA National Model into their counseling programs even though they had not been mandated to do so, had not received much training on the ASCA National Model, and had not been given specifics on how to do this at the time.

These school counselors have been serving in leadership roles within their schools. They actively made certain that students with disabilities were included in all school activities, not just in counseling activities. They went against the status quo and attempted to make improvements in how these students' needs were best served. They assisted in training school staff and parents in how to work with these students. Through the influence of their data collection and reflection, they consistently tried to improve their school's counseling programs.

Additional Factors That Influence Working with Students with Disabilities

Several issues that surfaced during the study illustrated additional challenges faced by school counselors working with students with disabilities. One major issue was in counselors describing how some school principals place a greater emphasis on the school counselor working on academic improvement over personal/social issues in students. If a school counselor was working for a principal who was more focused on academic success, it may be more difficult for that counselor to spend time focusing on the personal/social needs of students.

Another issue discussed in the study was time. School counselors found it difficult to schedule groups around guidance counseling activities because students with disabilities were already being pulled out of the classroom for additional supportive services such as speech and occupational therapies.

The overabundance of reform initiatives was the next issue. At the time of this study, the state was in the process of creating its own set of guidance standards. Counselors were distracted by the recent development of the state guidance standards that were currently in draft form. While these were closely aligned with the ASCA National Model, the counselors had to remind themselves which one they were talking about during the study because they were receiving information on both at the same time, along with information on No Child Left Behind. School counselors seemed to be inundated with new guidelines and materials at this time as the school system was attempting to sort out the school counselor's role in working with students and in response to recent legislation.

The fourth issue of "duplication of services" was described by the school counselors as an issue that they reject but one that many counselors consider. The idea of "duplication of services" suggests that students with disabilities who are involved in counseling activities are getting double services, once from special education and another time from the counselor. One counselor mentioned that some school counselors make it a point not to actively counsel students with disabilities because they feel that they are already getting services from special education and that special education students are not on their caseload. While the counselors involved in this study disagreed with this idea, they felt that some students may not be served if their counselor agrees with the idea of "duplication of services."


The ASCA National Model asks school counselors to examine "how students are different because of school counseling" (ASCA, 2003, p. 17). The school counselors involved in this study stated that students with disabilities are different because of school counseling for several reasons. These students make a connection with the school counselor and have someone who will advocate for them when necessary to make sure that the student is included and involved in all school activities. Student with disabilities can better deal with their personal/social difficulties because they are learning coping skills, such as improving self-esteem and behavior, from the school counselor. They learn to feel comfortable in who they are and to not see their disability as a limitation. Classroom guidance helps students with disabilities because it focuses on treating others with respect, fairness, and dignity and it incorporates anti-bullying lessons.

In summary, these school counselors meet the personal/social needs of students with disabilities through an eclectic counseling approach. They use classroom guidance and both individual and group counseling activities that focus on teaching students how to improve behavior and social skills and increase their self-esteem. These counselors help students by going against the status quo, providing activities that help the students feel better about themselves, and teaching students coping skills.

It is important to note that the school counselors do not see the counseling strategies they use as strategies that are specific to working only with students with disabilities, but rather as strategies that they have added to their repertoire for all students. This is advantageous for those who are concerned about becoming more skilled in working with students with disabilities. These school counselors are adapting their current counseling activities to meet the needs of these students, not having to acquire numerous new techniques and training that requires years of experience to develop skills. They are building on their professional expertise with other educational staff present in their own schools. They have found that through their desire to learn more about disabilities and through collaboration with other school professionals, they have gained additional counseling strategies that could be used with a variety of students.

Despite the newness of the ASCA National Model, it was interesting to note that many of the activities described by these school counselors as part of their repertoire of working with students with disabilities are those same activities encouraged and recommended by the model as part of ASCA's vision of successful and effective counseling and guidance programs.


Limitations to this study include the small number of participants and the fact that the ethnographic interview method is designed only to provide information as to how these individual elementary school counselors meet the needs of the students with disabilities at their schools. The fact that these school counselors were chosen based on purposeful sampling and reputational case selection indicates that they were considered exemplary for their work with students with disabilities and that they do things differently than other school counselors. Therefore, these results most likely do not represent what other school counselors are doing to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The school counselor survey is another limitation as it was created by the researcher and is not a standardized measurement based on psychometrics. This study is unique and there is limited research on the ASCA National Model from which to compare this study's results.

The study and survey also could be criticized for looking at students with various disabilities, rather than looking at specific counseling strategies for particular disabilities. Another limitation comes from the use of self-report measures in the journal, vignette, survey, and interview questions. While efforts were made to triangulate the data through asking questions in different formats--that is, survey, journal, interview--and with different phrasing, the researcher was not present in any counseling session and did not observe the events that school counselors described.

Researcher bias is also a possible limitation to this study. While the researcher has experience with collaborative counseling and is enrolled in a counseling program, this researcher is a special educator. Efforts to control for this possible bias included receiving input from dissertation committee members on survey, interview, vignette, and journal question formats, including member checks throughout the process, and asking descriptive and contrast questions throughout the interviews. In fact, interview questions clearly focused on this issue and asked school counselors to describe their role compared to the roles of other school personnel in working with students with disabilities.

Implications for Practice

The school counselors in this study felt there was still more they would like to learn in regards to working with this population. Therefore, in-service training could be developed that would provide school counselors with counseling recommendations so they don't have to generate counseling strategies on their own. School counselors could develop in-service training to help principals and school staff better understand the counselor's role in working with all students, including those with disabilities, and assist in making certain their counselors had training in working with this population.

School counselor preparation programs could incorporate counseling internships that include more exposure to working with students with disabilities, specific counseling strategies and materials that are successful with students with disabilities, and strategies that encourage collaboration with other school personnel. An increased effort could be made within these courses to link counseling strategies for students with disabilities to specific counseling theories. In this way, school counselors could feel more comfortable in relation to counseling theory and their chosen interventions as well as be certain they were using counseling strategies that were supported by research.

Examining the existing beliefs and attitudes of school staff as well as counselor beliefs about their roles would be important in making certain that all involved in meeting the personal/social needs of students with disabilities were performing and doing so with specific awareness of their unique roles in meeting these needs. Additional training on the ASCA National Model and in strategies for working with students with disabilities also would help school counselors reluctant to work with students with disabilities to understand that these students are part of their caseload, thus refuting the "duplication of services" idea.


This study demonstrated that school counselors are providing activities to students with disabilities to meet their personal/social needs and that the activities they use with these students are in accordance with the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2003). In order for schools to best meet all the needs of their students with disabilities, the academic, career, and personal/social needs of students with disabilities must be better recognized and addressed. When school counselors work with students with disabilities, they are following the ASCA National Model's guidelines for meeting the diverse needs of all of their students. The work that school counselors do to meet the needs of students with disabilities (collaboration, serving in leadership roles, advocating for students, and using a variety of strategies) is not a supplemental or discrete task required of school counselors. Rather, it is an example of school counselors using the ASCA National Model as it was intended--to guide forward the tasks of the counselor and to serve as a framework to help all students experience success.


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Helen Nicole Frye Myers, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of education, Bridgewater College, Fredericksburg, VA. E-mail:
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Author:Myers, Helen Nicole Frye
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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