Ever wonder how you as a Christian counselor can connect with local schools and provide training and support? In preparation for AACC’s CounselTalk Webinar on Tuesday, January 29, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Tina Brookes about this very topic.
Laura: What can counselors do to partner with local schools in helping to create a safe community?
Dr. Brookes: Christian counselors must be willing to sit at the table when there is no crisis. First of all, be willing to attend some trainings with the school district. There has to be face time and trust—it’s not enough to give someone a phone call and say, “I’m here.” If that’s all you do, school staff probably won’t call on you when help is needed. As a school employee myself, I can say that schools must be very careful to protect their students. If we don’t know you, how can we trust you? And if we can’t trust you, you’re on the outside of our circle.
Counselors could offer to come in periodically and serve the school by offering a one-hour class or facilitating a class discussion. Offer to teach a faculty workshop on self-care or staff development. Faculty and PTO meetings might be open to a 20-30 minute training on a pertinent topic they are dealing with—like drug use, suicide risk, or bullying. Lead a group discussion in a high school class about high-risk behaviors or dealing with loss. In an elementary school setting, show up at the Dr. Seuss reading night and read one of the books to the kids.
Whatever the age group, it’s critical to make it a priority to invest in the school on a consistent basis—so they know who you are and they know they can trust you. It’s not a matter of just handing out your business card! It really all boils down to building meaningful relationships with area schools and staff when things are safe and calm. In the midst of chaos and crisis, this just isn’t feasible.
Oftentimes, a first step will be offering training and support to faculty and staff. Many schools will view this as a “trial period” before they will allow you to work with students and classrooms. With this in mind, be open minded to think about the entire school community. It’s not just the students that are affected by and need to be prepared for crisis—think about how you can serve the educators, faculty, staff, drivers, custodians, and even parents.
Laura: As a Christian counselor, how have you navigated relationships with both private and public schools?
Dr. Brookes: Sometimes, it’s tough. Schools are tightly regulated in order to protect their students. However, many school boards and faculty do want to use their community resources to address mental health concerns because it’s often overwhelming and outside of their scope of training. Doors are much more open to mental health help from the outside than ten or fifteen years ago, but Christian counselors must be the ones to initiate contact and build trust and rapport.
You need to let the school know that you can appropriately respond without pushing your faith on students. You must recognize and communicate to them that you are there as a mental health professional. You must be willing to say, in essence, “I understand that there are certain boundaries and I am willing to honor those…” Personally, I have been in more public education meetings that opened and closed with prayer than you can believe. It’s not that faith discussions are out of the question, but you must know the appropriateness.
This is really no different than ethical practice in working with a client who is not a Christ follower. Seeing the school system as your client, you have to establish a relationship, rapport, and trust. You must seek to listen and understand the school’s needs. This is not a time or place to impose your own spiritual belief system.
The school leadership must see that you offer competent training and counseling, while not hiding the fact that you are open to discussing spiritual/faith issues if this comes up. Believe me, when there is a crisis or disaster, many people will have spiritual questions!
Make sure you don’t miss our Counseltalk Webinar with Dr. Brookes—The Calm Before the Storm: Preparing Schools for Crisis and Disaster! Click here to registerand then make sure to join us on Tuesday January 29 from 6-8 PM, ET.