By: Divya Venkataraman
April is National Counseling Awareness Month, according to the Greater Baltimore Counseling Center. It is a time to not only honor the professionals in the counseling field but to also understand the importance of counseling and the vast benefits it can bring.
Counseling has made a huge difference in my life — thanks to my guidance counselor at Monta Vista High School (MVHS), Clay Stiver. Whether it be helping me with anything academic-related, with future career aspirations or even with social-emotional aspects, it is safe to say that a counselor’s presence while I navigate the strenuous years of high school has positively impacted my life. I truly appreciate being fortunate enough to have someone so vested in not only my academic success but my general well-being as well.
That being said, this month is a perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the often-overlooked profession of counseling and just how remarkable it can be.
Merriam Webster defines counseling as: “professional guidance of the individual by utilizing
psychological methods especially in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, and testing interests and aptitudes.”
MVHS Guidance Counselor Clay Stiver expands on this definition of counseling using his own experiences as a counselor.
“I look at counseling as a supportive collaboration towards a goal of some kind — [whether it be] academic counseling, college counseling or social-emotional counseling,” Stiver said. “The goal can be dealing with a crisis of some sort of working on long term goals — academically or social-emotionally.”
Stiver also shares his joys of counseling — and how they shape his profession.
“I really like helping people,” Stiver said. “And high school is such a big transitional time; I wanted to be a support for students — a conduit to success or social-emotional growth. It is rewarding.”
Along with being a counselor come responsibilities pertaining to the job; these responsibilities can vary depending on the specific type of counselor — since there are many. In general, Betterteam states that counselors are responsible for hearing what their patients may have to say, creating treatment plans for individual patients and developing strategies for coping.
Stiver describes his specific profession as a guidance counselor for MVHS — someone who handles three main domains when counseling students: the academic and college domain, the career domain and the social-emotional domain. He also outlines the responsibilities of his specialized counseling profession.
“[On] a surface level, my responsibilities cover the three domains of my profession,” Stiver said. “When it comes to academics, it is to make sure my students are on track to graduate [MVHS] and deliver [the MVHS] yearly guidance curriculum. But it is also to give support to parents, students or teachers — to be here for crisis situations and help find resources.”
The Benefits of Counseling
There is often a stigma surrounding counseling — that it exposes your weaknesses and is something that you should not engage in. Yet this is not true.
As Brené Brown — a research professor at the University of Houston — says in her novel Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable but they are never a weakness.”
Brown articulates the importance of sharing vulnerability rather than being scared of the act. Counseling is a way to do so — to help out instead of exposing weakness. Stiver shares the same sentiment; regardless of what one may be going through, counseling has the potential to offer some help.
“[Counseling] can provide new perspectives — a neutral third party,” Stiver said. “It entails having an advocate for, in my case, students who do not feel as though they have a voice. [Counseling] provides a listening ear as support.”
Clearly, counseling can have innumerable merits — and one can always reach out to get help. In fact, Stiver shares a few ways to do so.
“If I was a student, I would do one of three things — or all three,” Stiver said. “The first is to see one of the guidance counselors [at school] — a brief chat can help a lot, whether it be with resources or social-emotional support. [Another option] would be to go to my doctor and talk to them about what services they may know of or provide themselves. [The third option] is going to my parents — if appropriate given the situation — for help.”
Unfortunately, guidance counselors — although extremely valuable — are not equally accessible to some students across the United States of America, particularly low-income students. In fact, more than one-fifth of public high schools across the nation do not have access to even one guidance counselor, as reported by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in 2016. Though many protests have occurred to persuade districts to offer more resources — such as guidance counselors — for schools, progress is still quite slow.
“We can do better,” Stiver said. “We, as a school, say that we prioritize mental health — it is time to show it.”
Given that this month is National Counseling Awareness Month, it is important, more now than ever, to share the benefits of counseling; every student in the nation should have access to someone who can help them with their school careers as Stiver helped me with mine. Every student in the nation deserves someone to help them live up to their absolute fullest potential — someone who can give them the academic, career and social-emotion support they need.