Strengths-based school counseling and the ASCA National Model[R].
If school counselors are to impact all students in meaningful ways, they cannot continue to focus primarily on providing deficit-reduction services to a small percentage of the student population (American School Counselor Association, 2005). To serve all students, their focus must be on what other educators emphasize--programs that impart academic knowledge and life and career skills, or strengths promotion as we refer to it, to every student (Galassi & Akos, 2007). A strength "may be defined as that which helps a person to cope with life or that which makes life more fulfilling for oneself and others. Strengths are not fixed personality traits; instead, they develop from a dynamic, contextual process rooted deeply in one's culture" (Smith, 2006, p. 25).
In this special issue of Professional School Counseling, the articles focused primarily on strengths-based approaches for practicing school counselors although Lewis and Hatch also describe how to foster a strengths-based professional identity in school counselors in training. As these articles demonstrate, the six principles of the Strengths-Based School Counseling (SBSC; Galassi & Akos, 2007) perspective are not only compatible with the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005) but can strengthen what comprehensive school counseling programs (CSCPs) should attempt to achieve (Foundation) and how they should function (Delivery).
STRENGTHS-BASED SUPPLEMENTS AND ENHANCEMENTS TO THE ASCA NATIONAL MODEL
A Stronger Foundation
SBSC emphasizes promoting context-based development. In that regard, the Masten, Herbers, Cutuli, and Lafavor article, for example, reviewed theory and research on resilience in relation to competence development in children and adolescence and risks to positive development. The authors highlighted the central role schools and counselors play in helping students develop competence and resilience as well as the importance of emphasizing positive development and strengths in the mission of schools and school counseling.
The ASCA National Model provides a set of guiding standards together with competencies and indicators of what students should acquire in the academic, personal/social, and career development domains as a result of participating in a CSCP. However, the standards do not explicitly identify a research base for these competencies, nor are they developmentally sequenced or context-based. SBSC supplements the standards by identifying research-based student competencies (i.e., strengths) associated with positive development in each of these domains (Galassi & Akos, 2007). They also represent one example of evidence-based strengths that a school counselor should promote as they have been shown to transcend cultural differences and are related to positive development in the academic and personal social domains. In addition, Park and Peterson's character strengths represent a sound research-based foundation for the character education initiatives that are often included in comprehensive school counseling programs. Similarly, the articles by Masten et al., Pedrotti, Edwards, and Lopez, and Ponterotto, Mendelowitz, and Collabolletta provide additional examples of important evidence-based developmental strengths--resilience, hope, and the multicultural personality respectively--to incorporate in the foundation of a school counseling program because of their empirical relation to positive development in the academic, personal/social, and/or career domains.
Moreover, the "Perspectives" articles provide examples of promoting a variety of these empirically identified student strengths (competencies). Zyromski, Bryant, Deese, and Gerler's qualitative, online intervention illustrated an approach for fostering an academic success orientation with elementary school students of color, while Day-Vines and Terriquez demonstrated how African American and Latino students were empowered to increase pro-social behavior, resulting in a 75% reduction in the suspension rate in an inner-city high school. Dixon and Tucker emphasized increasing students' sense of mattering (feeling significant and needed/valued by others), and Kosine, Steger, and Duncan asserted the importance of enhancing a sense of purpose in students' career development. Adopting these strengths-focused objectives enable school counseling programs to truly serve all students in research informed ways.
As Smith (2006) indicated earlier, culture plays a major role in context-based development and in SBSC. Accordingly, Ponterotto et al. reviewed theory and research on multicultural personality development, a strengths-based construct, and its relationship to factors central to outcomes such as academic achievement, subjective well-being, and mental and physical health that school counselors seek to promote. Elsewhere, we have discussed the related concepts of racial/ethnic identity development and multicultural competence in SBSC (Galassi & Akos, 2007). As Ponterotto et al. observed, the current version of the ASCA National Model "reveals only occasional mention of issues related to cultural diversity." With forecasts of an increasingly multicultural student population in the 21st century (Ponterotto et al.), it is essential for cultural factors and multicultural personality development to play a more prominent and explicit role in the National Standards and the delivery of school counseling programs.
In SBSC, the focus is on strengths promotion rather than problem prevention and problem reduction, although the two latter functions do remain important in the school counselor's role. Strengths promotion often simultaneously accomplishes the twin goals of problem prevention and problem reduction. In contrast, preventing or reducing a problem is not necessarily accompanied by skill acquisition. Thus, preventing or reducing illiteracy does not necessarily result in acquiring a love of reading, but acquiring skills in and a love of reading prevents illiteracy.
As such, SBSC emphasis is on promotion of evidence-based strengths associated with positive development in the academic, personal/social, and career domains. Specifically, the article by Masten et al. detailed the "short list" of research-based, promotive/protective factors that schools and school counseling programs need to focus on in helping students develop resilience. Character strengths (Park & Peterson) and hope (Pedrotti et al.) represent important additions to that list. In fact, Wong (2006) has described elsewhere how character strengths are relevant in psychotherapy in harnessing clients' positive resources in culturally relevant ways. Karcher's cross-age mentoring programs (CAMPs), in which high school students mentor elementary and middle school students, provide an example of a promotion-oriented developmental intervention capitalizing on available resources. These CAMP programs have resulted in increased school connectedness, self-esteem, social skills, and academic achievement of the mentees as well as increases in school connectedness and self-esteem for the mentors. Also, Clark, Flower, Walton, and Oakley described a group intervention to enhance the learning environment for underachieving boys at the middle school level.
In addition to the articles in this issue, several recent publications have highlighted strengths-oriented practices that may be more familiar to school counselors. In a previous issue of Professional School Counseling, Amatea, Smith-Adcock, and Villares (2006) wrote about how school counselors can harness the resilience of families in their work. Contemporary school counselors might already assess client assets and utilize techniques like cognitive restructuring to reframe deficits toward strength-oriented language (Harris, Thoresen, & Lopez, 2007). Another familiar example, self-efficacy, is a promotion-oriented concept with a well-developed research base and "it strongly influences a person's effort to change" (Harris et al., p.4). Further, "by increasing this positive characteristic, counselors more efficiently reduce the negative state that is the explicit target of counseling" (Harris et al., p. 4). We suspect that most school counselors have been called upon to counsel (also known as "fix") students who have been referred for behavior problems. Often the relationship and interaction stays focused on the problem or deficit within the student who caused the problem. This type of deficit-focused approach "may also unwittingly generate a negative relationship" (Ahmed & Boisvert, 2006, p. 334), and perhaps reinforce noncompliance and a lack of connection. We have highlighted elsewhere (Galassi & Akos, 2007) the necessity to engage and create positive emotional states as a precursor for positive change. SBSC not only modifies what school counselors focus on, but also may adjust the ways in which they work.
Accountability: Evidence-Informed and Evidence-Based
Strengths-Based School Counseling emphasizes evidenced-based interventions and practice. This emphasis is totally consistent with the outcomes-oriented, accountability focus of the ASCA National Model. The latter stresses the importance of results reports that include process, perception, and results data at immediate, intermediate, and long-range points in time. This focus is especially important as the evidence base for best practices in school counseling is clearly limited at this point in time (Sexton 2001; Whiston & Sexton, 1998). SBSC enhances the ASCA National Model's accountability emphasis by focusing counselors on (a) promoting evidence-based student strengths, (b) promoting evidence-based strengths-enhancing environments, (c) selecting evidence-based interventions whenever possible, and (d) empirically evaluating the results of their interventions. Many of the articles in this special issue illustrate the evidence-based emphasis of SBSC. In a subsequent section of this article, some needed research to enhance that emphasis is discussed.
Strength-Oriented Advocacy, Leadership, and Collaboration
Promoting evidence-based, strengths-enhancing environments is a key principle of SBSC. Often, change in existing systems is required in order to promote those environments. Correspondingly, systemic change, which is conceptualized as resulting from the dispositions, knowledge, and skills of leadership, advocacy, and collaboration, represents an important theme of the ASCA National Model (2005). Sink and Edwards' review of the research on different types of supportive learning communities provided evidence about the positive effects that those strengths-enhancing environments can have on student development in the academic and personal/social domains. The notion that a major role for school counselors is as systemic change agents is a relatively recent development for the profession. Clearly the theory, research, and practice of how to implement this level of intervention is not as well developed as it is for the more traditional functions such as individual and group counseling.
ASCA (2008) has noted the importance of collaboration by including it as part of its new School Counselor Competencies. These competencies include collaborating with school stakeholders to create learning environments that promote success for all students (ASCA). However, stressing the need for collaborating and promoting partnerships is not new. For example, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiting that every school implement partnerships by the year 2000 to increase parental involvement in the social, emotional, and academic growth of their children (National Educational Goals Panel, 1999). School counselors can be integral in creating caring and positive learning environments, but first they must be proactive in becoming partners, and eventually leaders and advocates for all children within their school system.
Literature about how school counselors can function effectively as leaders, advocates, and collaborators to improve the strengths-enhancing qualifies of school environments and implement an ASCA National Model CSCP is only beginning to emerge. In this issue, Lindwall and Coleman's qualitative study offered school counselors a conceptual perspective about how to develop caring communities at the elementary school level. On the applied level, Logan and Scarborough illustrated the potential of collaborating and coordinating a clubs program to enhance an elementary school environment.
These leadership examples illustrate the collaboration and partnerships needed to serve large, diverse caseloads. When effectively implemented, programs utilizing partnerships and collaboration can tap into the resources available in the surrounding systems, promote strengths-based environments that support all students, and truly exemplify the notion of shared guidance in a comprehensive school counseling program. Partnerships are successful when they build on the strengths of families (Minke & Anderson, 2005) as well understand the cultural needs of the students, their families, and other school stakeholders (i.e., communities and school staff) (Dimmitt, 2006; Simcox, Nuijens, & Lee, 2006). Schools have the most trouble developing partnerships when they fail to take into account the different cultural variables of the people involved in the partnerships (Ditrano & Silverstein, 2006). In utilizing a strengths-based perspective, counselors search for the assets of the school constituents and build on those assets to develop effective academic and social programs for their students and families.
Despite evidence demonstrating the benefits of partnerships, there are certain challenges that remain for school counselors who wish to develop and implement partnerships, such as a lack of trusting relationships with school stakeholders, including those with little incentive or motivation to participate (Palladino-Schultheiss, 2005); lack of knowledge, training, and experience in establishing partnerships (Paisley & McMahon, 2001); and lack of knowledge and awareness of diverse cultures (Minke & Anderson, 2005). However, these barriers can be overcome through counselor training programs and continued professional development. School counselor education programs already include courses to help combat these issues such as training in multicultural issues, effective communication, and developing interpersonal relationships. Upon graduating from counseling programs, school counselors can seek further professional development on family systems, educational policy, and related content that will build confidence in collaboration.
The articles in this issue demonstrate the leadership knowledge and skills that school counselors can employ in developing collaborative programs. They offer creative approaches to meeting the needs of their student population by developing and implementing collaborative programs based on the assets and strengths of the school, the students, families, and the community. They also demonstrate that the healthy partnerships and collaborations can promote healthy attitudes and academic success in diverse student populations, including low-income, Latino, and African Americans.
For example, the elementary school counselor in Bryan and Henry's impressive school-family-community partnership initiative demonstrated the step-by-step leadership and systemic change procedures that resulted in a major systemic impact on a Title 1 school as reflected in reductions in absences and discipline referrals. In the most ambitious example of systemic change, the Boston Connects program is a school-community-university partnership located in 14 elementary schools. It promotes healthy development (academic, social-emotional, and physical) for all children, reduces learning barriers, and improves the strengths-enhancing characteristics of urban elementary schools. The program has resulted in reductions for special education referrals, decreases in the students' needs for intensive services, increases in strengths-based resources and services, and increased linking of students with community agencies.
Advocacy, which partly involves removing systemic barriers that impede academic student academic success, constitutes another of the new and essential themes of the ASCA National Model (2005). "Advocacy promotes equity and access to rigorous courses and a quality curriculum for every student" (ASCA, p. 25). The SBSC version of advocacy enhances the proactive part of this ASCA National Model theme. In SBSC, the counselor's focus is on promotion-oriented developmental advocacy at the school level. Thus, the school counselor's focus on lobbying for practices, policies, and environments that enhance student developmental strengths and supportive environments as a necessary, perhaps more important complement to lobbying against policies that restrict opportunities for development. While the latter is clearly important, removing a developmental barrier does not necessarily culminate in fostering a developmental strength. In this issue, an example of promotion-oriented advocacy is provided by the case of a Mexican American girl who had been overlooked for valedictorian status in her high school.
Geltner and Leibforth's illustration of advocacy in the Individual Education Plan process is another example of advocacy that impacts the various systems in schools. Previously, Gleason (2007) described a similar process for school social workers in applying the strengths-based approach in determining eligibility for disability services. She emphasized observing what students can do and describing the context when a student succeeds in order to provide a holistic picture of the student. Further, her example detailed how social workers can engage parents about when the student is most successful in order to replicate environmental factors that might be useful.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND RESEARCH
We have discussed how incorporating the six SBSC principles into the foundation of the ASCA National Model increases the likelihood of meeting the developmental counseling-related needs of all students. We have also alluded to how these principles supplement, enhance, and extend both the foundation and delivery systems of those programs, but several issues related to practice and research warrant additional comment.
First, a downward extension of comprehensive school counseling programs in the 21st century seems needed if not overdue. As the number of students who have special needs and do not come to school ready to learn due to limited English proficiency, living in poverty, and so forth continues to increase, the need for earlier intervention by educators and community agencies continues to increase. Moreover, the impact of early developmental cascades (e.g., early competence in one developmental area begetting subsequent competence in other areas; Masten et al.) and the positive developmental impact of preschool programs also suggest the need for early developmental intervention by counseling professionals. This also provides an early opportunity to partner with parents and inform and engage them (e.g., advisory boards) in counseling programming. Currently, it is not uncommon for Head Start and preschool programs to be attached to public elementary schools but to receive little or no programming from school counselors. Articles about preschool counseling (other than play therapy applications) are rarely encountered in the literature.
Similarly, the current version of the ASCA National Model is directed almost exclusively to school counseling programs at the K-12 level with only a rare mention of pre-kindergarten applications (i.e., ASCA, 2005). With the increasingly important role that early education will play in the school success of the more diverse student population of the 21st century, the importance of extending the ASCA National Model to the preschool level, as well as of extending school counselor preparation to that level, is apparent.
A strengths-based perspective also implies changes in the emphases within some of the components of a CSCP delivery system as well as in the balance of those components. With respect to responsive services, for example, the focus of individual counseling changes in a strengths-oriented CSCP. As the examples Saleebey provided illustrate, the type of questions that we must employ in counseling shifts from a deficit-reduction to a strengths-identification emphasis. Similarly, the time that we devote specifically to reducing deficits in individual and group counseling decreases in comparison to the time spent increasing student strengths. With respect to the guidance curriculum, our emphases shift as well. Our focus should be on empirically based student strengths and on evidence-based interventions that promote those strengths. In an increasingly multicultural society, for example, promoting multicultural personality development (Ponterotto et al.) would appear to be an important factor in student success as would the empirically based character strengths discussed by Park and Peterson.
The amount of time to devote to the various components of a CSCP delivery system and to program management as a whole will necessarily vary depending on the needs of the student population and the school community. In general, however, the recommendation is that counselors devote 80 percent of their time to direct service to students, staff, and families. The objective of this recommendation may be to protect the counselor from non-counseling duties like test coordination. Even so, the 20% devoted to the support component of the delivery system seems to encompass a wide range of activities (e.g., professional development, consultation, collaboration and teaming, partnering with staff, parents or guardians, community relations, and community outreach) that may be more influential in stimulating systemic change. Developing effective school-family-community partnerships, collecting and analyzing data about school environments, and basic program management tasks (e.g., updating mission statements, advisory council) that are involved in the counselor's role as a systemic change agent are time-consuming for school counselors. The implication of this is that being an effective systemic change agent may well necessitate a shift in the balance of program management and indirect service (perhaps leadership).
Elsewhere we have discussed the evidence base for Strengths-Based School Counseling in the academic, personal/social, and career domains (Galassi & Akos, 2007). Nevertheless, as in school counseling as a whole, empirical support for SBSC and especially for the effectiveness of strengths-based interventions is a top priority, and a number of the articles in this special issue can be used to illustrate examples of where research is headed. For example, Ponterotto et al. summarized data that multicultural personality factors are related to positive student development in the academic and personal/social domains. They also noted that promoting multicultural personality strengths in students requires a developmental and multifaceted approach. Elsewhere they outlined multicultural programs and exercises appropriate at the elementary, high school, and community levels. Thus, Ponterotto and his colleagues provided a persuasive and evidence-base argument for promoting multicultural personality development in a CSCP. What is needed in addition, however, is outcome research indicating which recommended multicultural intervention or program and what exercises actually impact multicultural personality development, the components of those programs that are effective, and research identifying the processes by which desired changes occur.
A similar conclusion also can be drawn with respect to some other strengths-based constructs discussed in this special issue. Pedrotti, Edwards, and Lopez provide a convincing evidence-based argument for school counselors to promote hope in students. In addition, they discussed the promising initial results of outcome research on group hope interventions with elementary, junior high, and high school students. In general, increases in hope scores were obtained immediately following intervention. In addition, there was some evidence of maintenance of results six weeks later. This outcome research provides a useful beginning for exploring the impact of hope interventions. Hopefully, future research in this area will focus not only on the impact of these interventions in increasing hope but also in increasing other strengths-related variables in one or more of the three domains of student development. Hope interventions also would seem to have an important role to play in protecting or mitigating depression in students and promoting an orientation toward future education and career possibilities, and future research in these areas seems indicated as well.
The other area in which major initiatives in theory and research are needed is with respect to the overarching themes of the ASCA National Model--leadership, advocacy, collaboration and teaming, and systemic change. In general, these are relatively new areas of practice and research both for traditional and strengths-based school counselors and counselor educators. Not surprisingly, our experience and evidence base for how to be effective in these areas is limited at this time. As such, we may find it helpful to draw upon knowledge and expertise derived from other educational professions such as educational leadership and school psychology to supplement our efforts in practice and research initiatives in these areas.
We know that counselor education and counseling psychology have claimed an orientation toward strengths and assets (Gelso & Woodhouse, 2003) or wellness (Myers & Sweeney, 2006) for some time. Even so, a review of previous research (Lopez et al., 2006) demonstrated that less than a third of scholarship in counseling psychology has been focused on strengths-oriented topics. We suspect that the percentage of strengths-focused research published in Professional School Counseling is even lower. However, we are optimistic that the research and practice focus on strengths and strength-enhancing environments in school counseling will increase and ultimately that students in pre-K-12 schools will benefit. As Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association, has intimated, strength-building work may lay a foundation for helping and actually have more powerful effects than any specific strategy (Harris et al., 2007).
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John P. Galassi, Ph.D., is a professor, Dana Griffin, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, and Patrick Akos, Ph.D., is an associate professor with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org