Guidance Counselling

Downloads of interest to Guidance Counsellors

Problem Cases

Our teaching colleagues have a massive job.  Every day and almost for every hour of every day they face rooms full of young people.  Managing their classwork and making it interesting are full-time jobs. ‌ However, seated at each desk is a young person making her or his way through the teenage years.  It’s a time of growth, exploration and many anxieties.  It is helpful to remind teachers now and again about the turbulence that can be going on beneath the surface in their classrooms. ‌ It is also important for our colleagues to realise that we as guidance counsellors deal with a lot of these issues in our counselling sessions.  This too should be one of the ways we publicise our role. ‌ The attached exercise is one I designed for use mainly with staff but it could also be used with a parent group. ‌ After such a session a typical and understandable question is, “what can we do?”  ‌

Here are some possible answers: ‌

  • Be sensitive to the more hidden lives of your students.
  • Watch out for those who are going through a rough time.
  • Changes in behaviour are often the first signs that something is amiss.
  • Present yourself as someone they could talk to if necessary.
  • Know how to refer students to the guidance counsellor.

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Leisure Activities

This is a checklist showing hundreds of leisure pursuits. Feel free to use this in any way you wish and you may need to add to it as new interests are emerging all the time.

There are several ways you might use this checklist.

INDIVIDUALS: Use the list to help students identify what they are already involved in and what they might like to try in the immediate future.

GROUPS: In a classroom setting the students can be asked questions that help them process the list in more detail. Which activities are indoor/outdoor, costly/cheap, teams/individuals, easy/difficult, available locally/not available.

When suggesting to people to try a new activity, keep it simple. Help them make a plan that has a 95% chance of succeeding. If more than one student is interested in trying the same new activity, they could work together as a team. Encourage them to use internet searches to find local clubs or experts.

I spent six years at school in Belfast back in the middle of the last century (honest), and even then they had the custom of organising a hobbies exhibition every two years. This was an amazing event and we would see hobbies that did not normally surface in the daily life of the school. I recall a group of senior students who used to launch small rockets near Lough Neagh and they measured the distance travelled using on-board transponders. The model railway enthusiasts used to bring in all their bits and pieces to make the biggest train layout I have ever seen. Now there’s an idea.

Why not try the checklist on yourself? This could be the start of a whole new area of interest.

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Problem Checklist

I would not use a problem checklist routinely in counselling but it has its uses. It comes into its own when a student is in distress but is not sure what the matter is or, as is often the case, does not have the words or the courage to express the problem.

A word of warning. A problem checklist is exactly that, a problem checklist. It is a list of problems. It cannot and should not have a “score”. One person might have 20 of these problems and be living a well-balanced life while another individual might have only one of the listed problems and be in great distress. There are, of course, research instruments that produce scores, profiles and even standardised results. They are for research purposes and, as such, are not intended to be part of a counselling process. Of course, such a research instrument could sometimes be used as a simple checklist.

Although scoring is not relevant in a problem checklist, some categorisation of the problems ticked by an individual could be helpful. For example, if a person had ticked ten family related problems and only a small number in other categories, we might assume that family is the major issue. This can only be an assumption and would need to be checked out. Any one of the other problems could be the most critical one in the eyes of the client.

The attached Problem Checklist has over 200 items. These cover quite a range of issues but, undoubtedly, new problems can and should be added from time to time. When used with an individual it is important to respect privacy. Offer the person a quiet spot to read through the list. You might say, “have a look through this list and see if there is anything you want to talk about”. Your client might not feel comfortable marking items on the list.

A problem checklist can also be useful in a group context. Issue a copy to each student in a class. They don’t need to write on the paper and the lists can be collected afterwards for use with other groups. A big advantage of this exercise is that the young people realise that many of the problems they thought were unique to them have in fact been recognised in this list. It helps reduce the sense of isolation. This can also help a young person bolster up the courage to go and talk to someone about a problem.

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Talk to Somebody

“Suicide Prevention” is not a term I’m happy with. It’s a bit like renaming a health course, “Death Prevention”. There’s only so much stark reality we can take! So what can we do instead?

Almost everybody, at one or more points in their lives, will encounter a situation where they do not know what to do. Depression or despair are such situations. The key component is the sense of helplessness, of not knowing how to fix a situation that is going badly wrong. These are situations that appear to have no hope, no solution. Perceptual bias kicks in and everything begins to take on a dark pessimistic look. The temptation to end it all can easily follow on from such thoughts. I believe that we can prepare people for these moments, helping them explore their options at such difficult times.

So, what do you do when you don’t know what to do? There is really only one solution and that is to get more information. Many people make the choice to do nothing, to wait and see, to hope that something will change. A healthier choice would seem to be to seek new information actively.

Nowadays, when invited to speak to young people, I always include this exercise. Just as education is about preparing people for life and that means helping enrich their resources for living, I see this exercise as a way of helping them program their own minds for the times when they are stuck.

I start by reminding them that they will all experience times when things have gone wrong and there does not seem to be any solution, a dark painful place to be. What can they do? Some might suggest “getting help”. I prefer to call it “getting more information”. Of course, I explain, you might go to someone for extra ideas and they tell you to catch yourself on. This, I explain, is a clear signal that you need to talk to someone else! In fact, I point out, you might need to go to several persons before you hit on the one who can provide what you need.

I then suggest a list of possible resource people: friends, uncles, aunts, neighbours, relatives, guidance counsellor, ministers of religion, doctors, nurses, parents, teachers, grandparents. You can add to the list.

Then comes the key part of the exercise, I say something like: “I’m going to give you about a minute to think about this. In your own head choose one or two people you might turn to if you were well and truly stuck, if you had a big problem with no apparent solution. I am not going to ask you who you choose and I recommend that you do not share this information with anyone, not even your best friend.”

I allow the space for the students to reflect on this and then quietly continue with other parts of my presentation. I have planted the idea of getting new information when things look otherwise hopeless and, hopefully, I have helped them identify resource people in their own lives.

The attached poster is an additional way of encouraging young people to talk when the going gets tough. I like to ask students to put some of the phone numbers into their own mobiles just in case they or their friends ever need them. Feel free to make copies of the poster for every notice-board in your school.

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