Stigma? What stigma? Why behavioural counselling is a step in the right direction

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am


My son's school has advised me to give permission for him to see a counsellor to help with his social problems. I am aware that he has some difficulties, but a counsellor sounds serious.

We all appreciate that the development of social skills is vital for children. And teachers instinctively understand that their students' ability to interact positively and co-operatively with their peers is a crucial precondition for being part of an active, lively school community.

Under normal circumstances, a teacher's input can be as simple as keeping students on task or being aware of potential disputes or personality clashes. However, there are occasions when things become more serious than that, and it is at this point that other professionals, such as line managers or senior personnel, become involved. This may lead to a referral to an out-of-school professional when appropriate.

Although you are not specific about your son's situation, it is important for parents to realise that it is not just disruptive behaviour that triggers schools' concerns about the success or otherwise of social interaction. Sensitive and experienced teachers also recognise that a student who is quiet or withdrawn could be masking problems in his or her capacity to relate to others.

Although most teachers are not qualified counsellors, they generally do an excellent job observing and monitoring students' behavioural patterns. It is rare for them to miss something that might lead to more complex issues.

Parents should keep the school informed of anything at home that might affect their child's behaviour or state of mind.

Some schools employ counsellors to be on hand to address issues as they arise, and this has become a normal part of the educational landscape. Other schools may seek professional help only when a problem becomes significant or critical. It is generally agreed, however, that not only is access to such a resource useful on a day-to-day basis, but also that a trained professional can nip potential problems in the bud.

Modern schools are busy places, and the resulting stress and strain can affect all members of the community. Consequently, qualified counsellors are sometimes called on to help teachers and assistants as well as students when, and if, appropriate.

In addition, if a student's problems can be related to a difficult situation at home, it can be useful to have the potential for family counselling that benefits everyone and places the student's problems in a wider and more meaningful perspective.

In short, don't be alarmed at the invitation for your son to see a counsellor. Treat it as a positive step. There is no stigma attached. Just be sure to get as much information from the school as you can. They will gladly give a detailed explanation as to their reasons for seeking your written permission for counselling. You need to know exactly what the school's concerns are and how best you can support your son at home.

Julie McGuire is a teacher at a local international school