International Counseling in Schools: New opportunities to learn from each other

 

Global Ed Leadership Distinguished Fellow Ian Martin shares his experiences about counseling in a variety of schools and educational systems…

Around this time last year, I was working with colleagues in Nigeria at the University of Lagos. We were conducting a study on counselor roles and activities within Nigerian schools. After collecting about 300 surveys, we ate catfish, drank beer and watched the sunset. I distinctly remember sitting there and wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” A surfer dude from California, in Nigeria, learning about counseling – How cool is that?

 

While I was very excited to learn about Nigerian school-based counseling, much of the current scholarly literature on counseling within schools in rooted in the western context. Examples of practice within other international settings usually involves a description of the status of counseling within a specific country or region. Unfortunately, these descriptions often involve some commentary on how far behind the country is in its development when compared to professional markers common within the US (i.e., university training, licensure, professional associations, accrediting bodies). While this is understandable, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the US operating as the gold standard for practice internationally.

First of all, as a former school counselor and current counselor educator in the US, I can tell you that accessing high quality school counseling services within the US system is not a given. Recent studies indicate that school counseling programming is not implemented consistently across the states. This means there are significant contextual differences that effect the practice of counseling from state to state. While the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) has had good success promoting the ASCA National Model (a programmatic model that encourages students’ personal, social, academic and career development), there is no official national curriculum and many states (nearly half) don’t even mandate or require counseling in schools.

Furthermore, one only has to spend a brief moment scanning the daily headlines or watching the nightly news to clearly understand that the US is struggling mightily with many sociocultural issues (e.g., racism, substance abuse, lack of mental health care, inhumane immigration policies, gun violence, access to equitable education, outrageous cost of living). Despite these significant national needs, it saddens me to say that counseling services in schools are largely not seen as a priority. It seems obvious to me that a country where school violence responses include very real plans to better arm teachers, should have its status as a world leader in school-based counseling challenged.

Mountain Brook Schools

While the US may have made advances in the organization and credentialing of the profession of school counseling, I believe we have a lot to learn in terms of designing services or creating arguments for counseling that are realistic and/or related to our true national needs. Over the years I have had the privilege of traveling to many different countries and witnessing counseling occurring in a wide variety of schools and educational systems. In many instances I was humbled and amazed by the level of practice or the highly contextualized ways practitioners solved issues within educational systems. This is where it became clear that we need to engage in more intentional international comparative study.

Unfortunately, comparative studies of international school-based counseling practices were nearly nonexistent. Fortunately, things are starting to change. I am happy to report two very exciting developments: 1) the publication of the International Handbook for Policy Research in School-Based Counseling, which includes contributions from 48 school counseling scholars from around the world; and 2) the creation of the Society for Policy Research and Evaluation in School-Based Counseling (ISPRESC). In less than two years, the society has launched a website, built a membership of nearly 400 (free membership), and created a peer-reviewed journal.

It is amazing to see this type of energy and enthusiasm for international school-based counseling in such a short period of time. While comparative studies in this area are still in their infancy, it represents a great opportunity to create a counter-narrative and enliven the conversation with ideas outside of the US context. Opportunities to learn from each other are becoming more authentic and action oriented. Just a couple of years ago I never would have thought it possible to collaborate on a survey with colleagues from 16 different countries. But here we are and I am sure I’m not the only one appreciating the ride and wondering, “How in the world did we get here?”

Meet Dr. Martin