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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teacher, counselor, therapist: Is it too much?

As students' emotional and mental health needs soar, teachers are being asked to serve as ad hoc counselors, therapists and social workers, writes Holly Korbey on Edutopia. "Is it too big an ask?"


Teachers are not mental health professionals, writes Ellen Dahlke, a high school English teacher, who "desperately" wants to focus on teaching English. Teachers don't have the training or the time. "Even if more teachers developed trauma-informed instructional strategies," they wouldn't be as effective as trained professionals.


Half of schools said they lacked counselors and funding for mental health services, in a 2022 survey, reports Korbey. Most schools have one counselor to every 415 students, half the recommended number, and only 8 percent of districts meet the recommended ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students. The need keeps growing.

Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation among adolescents are alarmingly high, and were trending upward prior to the pandemic. Last year, according to the CDC, 37 percent of adolescents reported clinically high levels of anxiety and depression—and one in five said they’d seriously considered suicide, numbers that are marginally higher than those reported in previous years. Even students who aren’t in crisis are lagging in their social and emotional development, and incidents of school violence, including fights among students and physical attacks on teachers, have increased.

Congress approved $1.7 billion this summer to expand school-based mental health services and fund more counselors -- if they can be found. Meanwhile, schools and districts are "training teachers to recognize signs of distress and implementing intervention strategies like morning mental health check-ins."

Korbey fears asking teachers to do more is not sustainable. Teachers need to "stay focused on the academic success of students," she writes, while counselors, psychologists and social workers deal with students' emotional and psychological issues.

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4 Comments


Guest
Oct 28, 2022

I work in a small urban Alt Ed program. A couple of thoughts -


We actually have a significant counseling staff - guidance counselor, social worker, psychologist, a part time social worker, a teaching assistant who was hired to "mentor" students, and a principal who was a guidance counselor... For a program that has 110 students on paper but typically 40 in school on any given day.


Because of our principal's background, the teachers are effectively shut out of any major decisions... the school is run as a counseling center with education as a second priority... even though the instructional staff spend much more time with the students.


I, a teacher, don't want training about any serious mental health issues.…


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Steve Sherman
Steve Sherman
Oct 27, 2022

Since they probably can't do their main job adequately how would you expect them to do the other tasks

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Guest
Oct 27, 2022

We've found it hard to get in the door for many psych services and counseling--a call to a psychiatrist found the wait in the range of several months. There is a general lack of trained practitioners at all levels. I would hope some states specifically target scholarships towards psych training to help increase the supply of professionals, especially in underserved areas. Pay is also not great for many, so incentives to go into the field, and to attract men and minorities might be a good idea.

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Guest
Oct 27, 2022
Replying to

(same poster as Guest#d0fa)


Additionally, even in the age of zoom, many practitioners are limited by licensing to their state boundaries. This makes it particularly hard on young adults in college, who are moving between home and school, and internships, and jobs in different states. During covid, some of those cross-state rules were lessened, but they should be made permanent. A practitioner should have to show that they understand the reporting requirements of the remote state, then be allowed to see patients there online. Allowing practitioners to live where they want to live, and still work for underserved areas would help alleviate the shortage.

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