One of the greatest perks of being a school counsellor is that along with working with the infectious energy of adolescents, I also learn and gain clarity on my own conflicts as a 14 year old.
Now, adolescence is essentially a stage of identity formation. It is very common to see them feeling conscious about being seen visiting a counsellor. Many also feel hesitant to approach me on their own. As a school counsellor, this worries me. I feel those who really require a helping hand, tend to miss out on receiving the appropriate support. Through my association with the school system as a counsellor for the last three years, I have to keep devising creative and ‘non-threatening’ ways of reaching out to students.
I have come to realize the powerful role of group work with adolescents. Group work, through ‘circle time’ or group based workshops provide an ecosystem of peer support and reassurance. You are among others your age, and everyone is in the same situation. Group work provides a safe space for adolescents to address their concerns and be heard without feeling singled out. Observing and learning one’s own peer group facing similar challenges, is re-assuring.
Discussions that emerge within the group might even be sufficient for coping with concerns, therefore being an equally helpful alternative to individual work.
For me, group work is also important because it “breaks the ice” between me and the students.
I have personally observed students gauging their comfort level with me and feeling motivated to approach me individually after the group session.
There are many areas I have used group work with; the themes are boundless. We usually address issues that are pertinent to the school situation, such as bullying, study skills, team work, stress management and relaxation. On the other hand, we also equip students in areas that they might face challenges in such as growing up and body image, gender sensitization, self-awareness, healthy peer relationships, conflict resolution – and these are only to name a few!
Group work is not a magic wand, though. It demands my practice as a facilitator of the session to be active, empathetic and energetic. It is necessary to establish boundaries and expectations (I don’t like terming them “rules”) with my students.
No student should feel unsafe or threatened.
So to make the boundaries more concrete, I write them out on the board. Some boundaries that I look out for are- confidentiality, no teasing/mocking anybody who shares, listening with respect, accepting differences in opinion and raising ones hand to speak. Something that works very well with adolescents is to allow the choice of anonymity. In my sessions, I provide children with the option to write down their thoughts/queries on paper anonymously which is then discussed with the whole group. This encourages students to share without feeling threatened of how others would view them in the group.
There have been times when as a facilitator, I have found myself participate in discussions with my own experiences. Bringing in my story to the theme that is being discussed allows me to connect strongly with my students, and we all share a mutual feeling of empathy.
I feel a part of the group, and the group includes me as one of them.
There have been times when I do not agree with things that are being said in the group, my opinions differ. However, as a facilitator it is also necessary that I be open-minded and flexible. Adolescents might not always be interested in what is happening – think about the time when you were in school! I always make sure I have a backup plan.
All in all, working as a school counsellor has been an experience that is equally demanding and rewarding all at the same time. It is extremely demanding in terms of the plethora of issues that come along with the many students I counsel individually. Further, the role of a counsellor goes beyond individual sessions with students as we need to work regularly and closely in collaboration with parents and teachers.
Additionally, great planning goes behind the conduction of frequent theme based workshops with students, parents and teachers.
All of this keeps my day very busy and eventful. Nonetheless, working as a school counsellor is an extremely rewarding profession when you see the impact you can make in assisting children realize their potential in the counselling space and beyond. Adolescents need a safe adult whom they can trust and use the relationship to explore and work on their deepest anxieties.
To know that I am that safe adult who can make that difference makes my entire journey as a school counsellor so meaningful.
As Ron Taffel rightly said, “Even as kids reach adolescence, they need more than ever for us to watch over them. Adolescence is not about letting go, it is about hanging on during a very bumpy ride”. It is the result of hanging on to them during a bumpy ride that makes it all worthwhile!
Priyanka Gupta is currently working as a senior school counselor in Gurgaon. Apart from enjoying her work with adolescents, she loves traveling, steamed dimsums, laughter and spending time with her loving nieces and nephew.