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Talking to Your School Counselor

Overwhelmed by class work? Scared because your parents are splitting up? Worried about a friend? Feel like you don't fit in?

Sometimes it's just not possible to sort through tough times alone. Problems can build up and you may lose sleep, find you can't concentrate on homework, or even become depressed. When you need to talk to someone, your school counselor (sometimes called a guidance counselor) can be a great place to start.

Counselors Help You Cope

School counselors know how to listen and help. They'll take your problem seriously and work with you to find a good solution. School counselors are trained to help with everything -- and it doesn't have to be just school stuff. A counselor can help you deal with the sadness when someone has died as well as advise you on taking the right classes to get into your dream college.

School counselors can give you all sorts of tips and support on solving problems and making good decisions. Chances are that whatever problem you have, your counselor has seen it before -- and has lots of good advice on how to help you work through it. Counselors can give you tips on standing up for yourself if you're being bullied, managing stress, talking to your parents and dealing with anger and other difficult moods. Counselors also can advise you on problems you may have with a teacher, such as communication difficulties or questions over grades.

It can help to know the different types of support your counselor offers -- even if you don't think you need it now. Some schools and school districts use their websites to explain what the counselor does and how to get a counseling appointment. You may find their services listed under headings like "student resources," "student services" or "student counseling."

How Do I See the Counselor?

You may have been assigned a counselor when you started the school year. Or your school may leave it up to you to go to the counseling office on your own. A counselor might also visit your class to talk about certain subjects and let you know when he or she is available. In some schools, teachers or school nurses refer students to counselors if they think there's something the student needs to work through. Different schools have different policies on putting students in touch with counselors.

Your school's website, administrator's office or a trusted teacher can also tell you how to contact the counselor for an appointment. In many schools, there's a guidance secretary who coordinates appointments. Many counselors are willing to meet with students at times that fit into the student's schedule -- such as before or after school or during lunch.

Student-Counselor Meetings

The most common setting for most students is a private meeting just between the student and the counselor. Most school counselors have offices where you can sit down and talk.

You don't need to know exactly what's bothering you when you talk with the school counselor. It's perfectly OK just to make an appointment because you're feeling bad or not doing as well in school as you'd like. It's the school counselor's job to help people figure out what's going on. In fact, it's often better to see your counselor as soon as you know something's up, even if you don't know what the trouble is. Chances are you'll be able to solve a problem faster when you have the skill and resources of the counselor behind you.

How often you meet with your counselor depends on the issue. Some concerns are dealt with in a one-time meeting. Others require regular meetings for a while. It all depends on the topic at hand and the plan that you and your counselor decide on.

How Confidential Is It?

When you meet privately with a school counselor, your conversation will most likely be confidential. The counselor isn't going to go blabbing your business around school. Different schools have different policies, though. So talk directly with your counselor about what he or she considers confidential.

In very rare cases, a counselor is unable to keep information confidential. A counselor who thinks that someone is at risk of being harmed is required by law to share that information. Even in these rare cases, the counselor will share that information only with the people who need to know.

People sometimes worry that other students will think they're seeing the counselor because they have major problems or they're in trouble. But in most schools the counselor deals with lots of school issues -- as well as personal ones. So you could be meeting to get career counseling or advice on which classes to take for college. Your friends and classmates don't need to know why you're seeing the counselor unless you choose to tell them.

School counselors are all about helping to make your school experience the best it can be. The role of the school counselor today is very different from what it was like when your parents were in school. Instead of just focusing on schoolwork and careers, today's counselors are there for students in a broader way. They help students handle almost any problem that might get in the way of learning, guide students to productive futures, and try to create a positive environment for everyone at school. So if you need a counselor's advice, just ask!

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