Career Story: School Emotional Adjustment Counselor

School Emotional Adjustment Counselor

Job Title: School Adjustment Counselor

Type of Company: I work in a school district in suburban Boston.

Education: BA, Sociology and Psychology, St. Mary's College (Notre Dame, IN) •• MSW, Boston College

Previous Experience: I worked as a children's therapist in a residential treatment center for five years, and in three other school systems as a school adjustment counselor for elementary and middle school students. I also treated children with emotional problems in private practice for ten years.

Job Tasks: My primary responsibility is to attend to the social/emotional needs of the students in my elementary school. I see students individually or in groups to support those who are struggling with a variety of issues: making friends; controlling aggressive impulses in school; being able to pay attention in class; having family problems, such as divorce, unemployment or illness. I also consult with parents and the Special Education Evaluation Team about the social and emotional needs of students being tested for special needs. I attend the team evaluation meetings for these students, where it is decided whether they'll be eligible for, and receive, small group instruction or other specialized services to help them succeed in learning the curriculum. Because there's been an increase in the number of students who are thought to be autistic, I offer them small group learning about emotions, how to communicate these to others, how to manage "difficult" emotions like anger, sadness and fear, and how to "read" emotions on the faces of other people.

I teach two regular classes -- social skills to first graders; bullying prevention to 4th graders -- and participate in a community building "morning meeting" (Responsive Classroom) program with a 3rd grade class where the teacher and I address social and emotional concerns of the group. To prevent student anxiety about taking the state-mandated achievement test, MCAS, I developed and teach a PowerPoint presentation focused on test anxiety reduction techniques.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is the privilege of getting to know the inner lives of students who receive my services. I also love to teach social and emotional skills in general classes. It gives me a chance to do "preventive mental health" work and to get to know students who might otherwise never seek out the advice of a school counselor.

I most dislike the volume of the work I do, as it makes it hard to provide high quality service. I am the only mental health staff member in the school. My caseload, and other demands, are extremely high.

Job Tips: During your high school and college career, volunteer at as many human service and counseling agencies as you can so that you gain some knowledge about how agencies support families, since you will be making referrals to many of these. Be sure to do similar internships during your college years...and get clinical supervision in these positions if you can. You will need to be grounded in the fields of psychology and social work to be an adjustment counselor. Look inside yourself since being a good counselor requires you to understand yourself. Even being in counseling can be useful to better understand yourself before working with people on their problems.

Additional Thoughts: The most important personal qualities for success in a career as a school adjustment counselor are: a genuine interest and concern about other human beings, with no expectation for them to meet your needs, other than the enjoyment of helping others; ability to function independently (in most schools you are the only one doing this job!); ability to maintain your sense of humor; and a willingness to work many overtime hours without pay to meet the needs of your clients. You also want to be very organized.

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