The Role of School Counselors in School Safety

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Bullies erode the confidence, success and safety of a student’s school experience. They manage this outcome in both subtle and overt ways, impacting everyone around them and leading to a lost perception of safety in the environment as a whole.

Almost three quarters of today’s young people have witnessed bullying in schools, and half of all students feel unsafe at school whether they are victimized or not, demonstrating the massive impact of bullying on a school culture.

School counselors play a critical role in changing these statistics and children’s perceptions of their academic setting.

To learn more, see the infographic below created by Bradley University’s Online Master of Arts in Counseling degree program.

School Safety R2

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Some Statistics on Bullying

A school counselor could face the following situations at a typical middle school in the United States. About a quarter of students are being bullied every day, not including those who have emerged from past encounters with bullies. The primary reason they are bullied is because of their outward appearance, which includes body shape. A student’s race is the third most common reason he or she is bullied or harassed at school, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics 2015.

Types of Bullying

Many people believe they have never seen abuse, struggle to identify the key to their harassment or deny they themselves are abusers because the bullying is not physical. Most instances are not directed at the victim as a form of obvious violence; instead, perpetrators employ subtle, sometimes invisible forms of harassment, often in groups. About a quarter of middle school students reported they were the objects of sexual comments and gestures, which left them feeling vulnerable. A little over a quarter of students experienced a form of bullying in which they were threatened, had items stolen from them or were isolated from social groups. Spreading gossip and teasing accounted for more than one-third of students’ experiences, whereas cases of hitting or pushing and shoving had each been experienced by a little under one-third of middle school students.

These examples of bullying can be classified into four categories: physical, verbal, social and damage of property. Verbal and social are the most popular. Victims don’t carry bruises; authority figures cannot see what is going on or find evidence in the form of bruises or cuts.

Effects on the Student

School counselors must intervene in bullying situations as early as possible because they hurt the student emotionally and also create problems with schoolwork. In fact, the grades of students who suffer harassment are often lower than those who do not. These harassed students also participate in the classroom less than their peers, fearful of the response they will receive when they expose themselves. These individuals suffer from anxiety, depression and sleep problems, and they fail to adjust to expectations and changes in their school lives.

Counselors focus on victims, but they also must work with everyone who touches the victims’ lives. Those individuals include the bullies, school leaders and teachers. Young people rarely realize the impact of a student intervention on a peer who is being harmed. Although not advised to get involved by challenging the bully with physical violence, peers are encouraged to intervene by speaking up and standing beside their fellow students. This scenario could mean simply prompting others to ignore the bully or contradicting a hurtful statement without committing one’s own act of abusive behavior in the process (that is, speaking hatefully toward the perpetrator). More than 50 percent of bullying issues go away when peers intervene — and not necessarily as friends but as an act of respect by students who are simply unwilling to allow another student to be subjected to abuse. Standing by a harassed student is another demonstration of how powerful a subtle act can be, in a positive and peaceful sense.

School counselors are committed to teach these facts to the student body, to suggest ways to peacefully intervene and to create educational opportunities that tackle bullying within the school. Counselors must support victims of emotional and physical violence, educate every member of a school (students and educators) as to the nature of violence and how to identify instances or victims. Counselors also should follow up by teaching coping strategies to victims.

Teaching to Report

If bullying makes one feel unsafe, then reporting is a terrifying prospect. Students, however, must be encouraged to report acts of bullying. The actual incidence on bullying might be higher than reported, but it is often the case that violence goes unreported because students have trouble recognizing precisely what has made them feel uncomfortable at school. Victims of bullying are afraid of telling someone that they are unhappy and why because the bullies will know who “told on them” and will do worse damage than before. These situations are some of the reporting challenges school counselors face, and until a student is willing to confront what is happening to him or her, there are limited ways to address the problem.

Emotional Healing: Two Methods

School counselors frequently utilize two strategies: one to teach the student body and another to help abused individuals cope. The former is called PATHS or Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies. The latter, CBT, stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

PATHS, a form of social and emotional teaching, is taught in the classroom by counselors. This technique teaches individuals to feel empathy for their fellow students, to find peaceful methods for dealing with conflict and to learn to handle one’s emotions in positive ways.

CBT is used frequently by counselors and mental health professionals in numerous contexts to help people overcome mental roadblocks that lead to anxiety, depression and other emotional issues. Students who are bullied are taught to challenge the lies bullies tell them. They are encouraged to stop seeing themselves in distorted ways. For example, those who are labeled “fat” or “stupid” often start to believe the descriptions are true, but effective counseling can undo this damage. While bullying robs young people of confidence, these students can learn to reclaim their confidence and take control of their academic and personal lives in spite of past violence that has threatened their emotional safety.


Recommended Reading

The Positive Impact School Counselors Can Have on Students

State-By-State Mandates for Professional School Counseling

Bradley University Online Counseling Programs