As our society works to erase the stigma around mental health disorders, many students could benefit by having more access to counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals.
Christy Gauss, a school mental health facilitator for the Indiana School Mental Health Initiative at Indiana University, said that there is currently no accurate data about the number of schools that have mental health professionals available for students.
“This information and data is something our state has needed and there have been advocacy efforts to collect this for some time now,” said Gauss. “It is part of why the Student Services Coalition was created and would add school psychologists and nurses to this. During the last legislative session, a bill was passed in the special session that called for DOE to conduct an assessment.”
Indiana Code outlines many of the rules regarding school counselors and other supportive faculty in school settings. It should be noted that there are significant differences between guidance counselors and mental health professionals. Gauss believes there is a need to “differentiate roles and explain expertise and the need for all [of these professionals]…. The term “counselor” in Indiana is used as a catch-all [for social workers, mental health counselors inside and outside of schools, and guidance counselors]. This has caused much confusion.”
According to the Indiana School Counselor Association, the ideal caseload is 250 students per school counselor. Unfortunately, Gauss says that many of these professionals are often bogged down by administrative work.
According to Allen Hill, Jr., a school counselor and the executive director of the Indiana School Counselor Association, counselors come highly trained to work with students on a variety of issues, including applying academic success strategies, managing emotions and interpersonal skills, and looking at postsecondary options. School counselors earn master’s degrees and licenses that allow them to with with students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and they also meet “state-specific non-academic training requirements [such as suicide prevention], certification in CPR, the automated external defibrillator, and the Heimlich Maneuver,” said Hill.
Lori Desautels, an assistant professor at Butler University who prepares students to work with kids on a neuroscientific level, acknowledges that many traditional counselors and social workers in schools focus on career readiness and talk therapy. She would like to see a few changes in how adults counsel youth in general.
“We hope it will evolve into a more sensory approach, because we know that mental health or mental illness is not just about the brain; it’s held in the body,” said Desautels. “Any time you use breathing, movement, or sensory stimulation, all of those strategies that calm the nervous system, are beneficial.”