In 1997, the American Counselling Association (ACA) adopted the following definition of professional counselling: ‘The application of mental health, psychological, or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioural or systemic intervention strategies, that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology’ (as cited in Marini and Stebnicki 2009, p. 16).

In literature, there are varying notions of what a school counsellor’s role is supposed to be. But we do observe that from a very narrow definition of a school counsellor’s role, gradually the scope for the responsibilities along with the demands for a school counsellor has been increasing. Much of the literature on school counselling and the role of the school counsellor is derived from studies done in various parts of the world other than India. Many of the studies referred to here have been done in the developed world, and not in developing countries. Some authors (Bemak 2000) have described school counsellors as being instrumental in the integration of community-wide mental health services. Other authors such as House and Martin (1998) have suggested that the school counsellor plays a powerful role in

  1. promoting student advocacy,
  2. developing higher educational and career aspirations in students,
  3. eradicating educational practices such as student tracking that inadvertently maintain inequities among disadvantaged student groups and stratify opportunities and
  4. using data to identify educational practices that may help or hinder student progress.

McLaughlin (1993) argues that counselling in schools has three elements: an educative function, i.e. to develop students personally and socially in the context of the school; a reflective function, which is the exploration of the possible impact of and contribution to personal and social development and mental health of practices in the classroom and other aspects of the school community; and a welfare function, which is the responsibility to plan for and react to issues which impact on students’ welfare.

School Counselling in India

A 2014 survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) found that a majority of private schools in the National Capital Region had been violating the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) guidelines on a mandatory provision for full-time student counsellors. The recent mandatory provision took into account the complexities that exist in the education system, as well as the different learning and psychosocial needs of children in their formative years. It also took into consideration the fact that children spend a majority of their time in schools, and the developmental tasks that they fulfill occur within the setting of the school. The role that teachers play in guidance is often limited and motivated by a more academic agenda, whereas the needs of the child remain much greater. The teacher-student ratio in India is also abysmal, with there being approximately 40-50 students with a singular teacher. As education also moves into a more market-oriented sphere, were profits determine the creation and maintenance of schools, the various learning needs of different
children are often standardized. The other interesting observation about school counselling, as opposed to other settings, is that the counsellor has many roles to play out, across different settings. The counsellor is often a remedial teacher, a special educator, an invigilator, an advocate, apart from his/her therapeutic and assessment duties. School counselling in India is often subsumed as guidance; with guidance being offered for careers and vocations. Counselling, which has a facilitative and curative function needs to be distinct from guidance. Both guidance and counselling are necessary in Indian schools today (Kodad and Kazi 2014; 168 Sindhura Tammana Ramakrishnan and Jalajakumari 2013; Sinha 2006). Sinha (2006) refers to the role of the school counsellor extending beyond school students to parents of students, who may feel the need of availing of counselling services to deal with issues stemming from their role as socialization agents.

While working, it also struck me as particularly intriguing, and slightly comical, that each facet of the school asks of the counsellor different things. The teacher expects the counsellor to ensure that the child remains disciplined and motivated in class, the administration wants the counsellor to ensure that cases come and go as quickly as possible, to maintain ‘efficiency’ of the system, and parents expect the counsellor to act as a stand-in for them within the premise of the school. The impression that I often got was that each subsystem This issue will be further spoken of when we talk about the oft-conflicting roles that a school counsellor is put into. The mandate, however, was passed by CBSE to ensure that counsellors provided the following for students:

  1. Academic Guidance: In helping students understand their learning needs and blocks, such as equipping them with study skills, doing semi-formal assessments for Learning Disabilities and Difficulties. Academic guidance is often necessary for children that are unable to get it at home, or have a paucity of resources to equip them with specific knowledge otherwise.
  2. Career and Vocational Guidance: While career guidance exists as a field in itself, school counsellors are generally required to keep abreast with career options as well as things such as entrance examinations, college requirements etc. More pertinent in Ma School counsellors can help by providing information on the various career and vocational options available. ii. School counsellors can guide the students in choosing the right career based on suitable aptitude tests.
  3. Issues with Peers: Issues such as bullying, clique formation, estrangement and infighting, are all issues that we worked with in our fieldwork setting. Within this, we saw how the teachers, administration and parents interacted to either mediate or exacerbate the situation as well as how it was developmentally crucial to resolve these issues.
  4. Psychosocial Problems: A school counsellor helps in early identification of problem behaviours and takes suitable steps to prevent the onset of psychosocial problems. In case of psychosocial problems detected after their onset, the school counsellor works towards finding suitable solutions, or due to the time constraints in school, looks at referring the child to a more suitable setting if the child’s home environment allows for it.
  5. Working with Parents: To enable holistic support and to ensure that the child’s home environment is secure and nurturing for her, as well as to keep the parents in the loop about the work done in counselling, and how to ensure that the results are maintained at home.
  6. Working with Teachers: Teacher meetings are extremely crucial in order to ensure two basic things 1) to keep the teacher in the loop about the work being done, and how to modify his/her behaviour accordingly, as well as for inputs about the conditions of the classroom 2) help the teacher manage his own workload, by providing them with skills such as coping skills or problem solving strategies or emotional unburdening.
  7. Working with School Administration

An Ecological Systems Perspective

The school is no longer a realm that is devoid of larger social structures. As mentioned above, the presence of a school counsellor often means that they often act as mediators between different subsystems of the school. Keeping this in mind, it is very important that an ecological perspective is taken into consideration. An ecology, by definition, takes into perspective all aspects: the organism, along with its geography, climate, influencing factors are all studied and considered to be not only interconnected, but essentially inseparable. Ecological systems also have subsystems: within larger systems, there are smaller subsystems. Within the school ecosystem, we have the administrative subsystem, the classroom, the PTA -much like a forest ecosystem can have the subsystem of a pond, plant life that can be looked at independently, but cannot exist wit

In Conyne and Cook’s (2004) Model of Ecological Counseling, which is grounded in Lewin’s (1951) field theory, Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) Social Ecological Model of Human Development, and the philosophy of deep ecology (Capra, 1996), counseling is defined as “contextualized help-giving that is dependent on the meaning clients derive from their environmental interactions” (Conyne & Cook, 2004, p. 6).

Schools are part of an interconnected web of subsystems and suprasystems. Schools can be broken down into a multitude of subsystems, some of which are organizational and officially endorsed by the larger school system (e.g., classrooms, grade levels, sports teams, clubs) and some of which are more organic in nature (e.g., cliques). These subsystems operate under many of the same principles as the larger school ecosystem and are interconnected with all other systems. Schools are also part of larger suprasystems, some of which are related to the educational system (e.g., feeder patterns, school districts) and some of which are beyond the educational system (e.g., community).

Healthy, well-functioning school systems are dynamic, balanced, and flexible. Schools operate as a network of interdependently connected components and, like cells, ponds, and families, are in a constant state of change, yet they work to maintain a healthy balance within change. The process of maintaining balance while in a constant state of change is called dynamic balance (Capra, 1996); it requires semi permeable boundaries that are not only clear enough to distinguish separate within-school groups (e.g., teachers, students, administrators), but also penetrable enough to promote connection.

The following section will attempt to contextualize Orchids International School, the setting of my fieldwork, within an ecological framework, supplemented by literature as well as my own experiences.

Working with Teachers: “The Disciplinarian”

The school counsellor also acts as a mediator between the teacher, the student and the administration. It is very important to remain cognizant of the role of the teacher in the well being of the student within the school. The first thing that I had to negotiate with in my fieldwork setting was the belief system of the teachers: that became point A. In my work with teachers, it became apparent that we had to navigate the minefield that was labelling: labelling on the grounds of gender, caste, as well as psychosocial difficulties. Once a child was deemed “problematic” all explanations would flow from that narrative. Apart from meetings where these labels would be deconstructed, it became necessary to enroll the help of teachers in giving children what they needed in classrooms: more attention, relocation, checking in, a system of rewards. The capacity of the teacher along with her workload were always factors that went into creating plans for the classroom. The counsellor’s regular meetings with teachers not only helps the counsellor understand classroom behaviour and issues, but also helps the teacher be cognizant and appreciative of micro changes that might be occurring in class that otherwise go unnoticed.

Student Advocacy

One danger inherent in the industrial model of education is the number of students who do not fit the model’s vision of a successful student. In an ever-changing world where people from different backgrounds must work together and where new technology is being introduced at incredible rates, the concept of a “standardized learner” is simply no longer relevant. Moreover, at a time when student alienation from schools is a serious problem (Schulz & Rubel, 2011; Sciarra & Ambrosino, 2011), educators who internalize the industrial model’s vision of a successful student and place those expectations on their students may be exacerbating students’ beliefs that school is not for them.

It is, therefore imperative that the counsellor be aware multicultural perspectives as well as the different needs of various children. Clinging to a rigid perspective of a successful student only oils administrative gears: at Orchids, all “problem children” that were in counselling were sent there either with the aim of correction, or if that very linear and rigid definition of correction failed, to justify any action taken against the child. In addition, counselors who cling to a rigid perspective of successful students rather than understanding the cultural values inherent in that vision are missing a key piece of being a culturally responsive counselor (Brown & Trusty, 2005; Locke, 2003); they are also more likely to participate in troublesome practices such as inequitable scheduling and advising (Holcomb-McCoy, 2007).

Working with Administration

Grounded in the segmented, linear, and time-bound paradigm of the industrial revolution, many public schools operate similar to a factory here students are raw products that are run through the assembly line of education, exposed to different teachers who work independently to add their piece to the developing student before moving that student along to the next stop on the assembly line (Ayers, 2009). Within our fieldwork, the Orchids group has many schools spread cross the country that operate under it. Their counselling system is centrally located in Hyderabad and serves as a standardization for counselling practices across schools. This is the suprasystem that envelops many individual, but affected, subsystems. Such centralization looks at strict numbers: number of cases looked at, number of cases closed, and such a process severely undermines the freedom and the multiculturalism that a school counsellor needs to function optimally. Common activities that administrators described relying upon counsellors to perform were class scheduling, coordination of the standardized testing programme, coordination of the special education staffing and placement process, referral of students for outside services, and ‘pinch hitting’ as a disciplinarian, substitute teacher (Sindhura Tamanna, 2011).


Working in a school for me was both challenging and frustrating. It made me realize both the importance of the counsellor, as well as how enmeshed the role of a counsellor was in a school setting. Without proper involvement and integration of the various subsystems and suprasystems, therapeutic work remains incomplete. Systems-oriented school counselling in India has great potential for growth. It can cater to the emerging needs of the student community with globalization, drastic changes in family structures, changing social values leading to immense stress and strain on the students. The specialized skills of the school counsellor need to be tapped to prevent, and treat increasing psychosocial problems of the students and to provide a holistic development to the students.


McMahon, H. G., Mason, E. C. M., Daluga-Guenther, N. and Ruiz, A. (2014), An Ecological Model of Professional School Counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92: 459–471. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00172.x

Watkins, C. (1994). Whole-school guidance? British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 22(1), 143-150. doi:10.1080/03069889408253672

Sriram, S. (2016). Counselling in India: Reflections on the Process Reporter, S. (2014, January 22). “Only 3% private schools have counsellors”. Retrieved March 09, 2018, from




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