This letter is a collective response from myself and the 11 students in the UW-Whitewater Counseling Foundations course to the June 30 story by by Catherine Idzerda, "'If not us, who?' Janesville School District hopes to provide therapy for struggling students."
Given that one in five students have a clinical mental health diagnosis, we appreciate the work implemented by the school district. By focusing on mental health, the grant moves the district forward by teaming with the Janesville Police Department.
Unfortunately, Ms. Idzerda qualified that students “sometimes need more than a listening ear—they need professional help,” which is dismissive of the prevention and intervention efforts provided by student service professionals. “Therapist” is a general, ill-defined and ineffective term to label many diverse roles, including school counselors. In fact, our counseling program has very similar training for clinical mental health and school counselors.
Ms. Idzerda does not acknowledge the significant barriers and challenges that school counselors face, including the Janesville district counselor-to-student ratio of 400:1 (American School Counselor Association recommendation is 250:1). This diminishes constraints school counselors have and puts counseling professionals in a hierarchy. These factors seem benign yet have an impact on how the public conceptualizes the systemic barriers in schools. Robust representation of mental health professionals is helpful, yet the issue of mental health is more pervasive and extends into the community.
School counselors and other student services staff are mental health professionals and should be represented as such.
UW-Whitewater associate professor and program coordinator for counselor education