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Q&A: School-based counseling

Suzanne Peterson
Blog Q&A
School bus

Q. Why provide services in schools?

A. The services offered by school-based counselors enhance the schools’ social/emotional learning efforts by helping at-risk and high-risk students develop the skills they need to become successful, well-adjusted young adults. YES partners with the Lake Washington and Bellevue school districts to provide school-based counseling to youth.

Q. How does school-based therapy work?

A. Students can be referred by multiple sources: school administrators, counselors, teachers, parents, other students — even themselves.

Once a counselor meets with a student, the counselor works with them to assess how to best support them. This may include providing comprehensive assessments to students who find themselves suspended for a substance-use issue; brief interventions that get the student back on track; education that highlights the risks of using; referrals to community resources; or establishing services for the student at one of YES’ office locations.

Q. What types of therapies are used?

A. Counselors use harm reduction and Motivational Interviewing strategies to assist students in being their own agent of change and in making thoughtful decisions about their behavior — while also making efforts to decrease harm to themselves and their communities. Support groups for those affected by substance use are often facilitated by counselors, depending on the needs of the school and its students.

Q. What issues are most common?

A. Common issues in schools include truancy, anxiety, depression, family conflicts/issues, substance use either by the student and/or their family members, legal problems and academic stress.

Many young people who are using substances also experience a mental health concern, and it’s considered best practice to treat these issues concurrently. In-school counselors are trained to treat both mental health and substance abuse issues, and their focus is on serving students who are experiencing both.

Q. How do counselors and school staff work together?

A. Not only do counselors provide support to individual or groups of students, they also serve as a resource to staff and the community as a whole.

Counselors collaborate with school counselors and administrators to create a wraparound approach to support students with significant needs. They educate school staff on the most recent drug trends, provide community presentations (e.g., PTSA meetings, parent nights) on mental health and substance use topics, and present to the school’s Health and Psychology classes.

Suzanne Peterson is a Co-Occurring Disorders Therapist for Youth Eastside Services. YES Counselors Coeleen Kent-Wilson, Nadya Kosanovskaya and Alex Iani also contributed to this article.

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