Jessica Coalson and Anabel Mifsud, both of the University of New Orleans, were named grand prizewinners for essays that they submitted to the ACA Future School Counselors Awards and the ACA Tomorrow’s Counselors Awards, respectively.
Coalson received top honors in the Future School Counselors Awards, which recognize graduate counseling students who demonstrate exceptional insight and understanding about the school counseling profession and the work of professional school counselors who interact with elementary, middle school or high school students. The awards are open to counseling graduate students in master’s-degree or doctoral-degree programs who are working toward a career in school counseling. The awards are sponsored by the Roland and Dorothy Ross Trust and the American Counseling Association Foundation.
Mifsud, a doctoral student, was judged to have the best essay among entrants for the Tomorrow’s Counselors Awards. These awards recognize graduate counseling students who show exceptional insight and understanding about the counseling profession and the work of professional counselors in mental health, private practice, community agency, agency, organization or related counseling settings. The awards are open to any counseling student in a master’s-degree or doctoral-degree program who is taking one or more graduate courses at an accredited college or university. The awards are sponsored by Gerald and Marianne Corey, Allen and Mary Bradford Ivey, and the ACA Foundation.
Note: The grand-prize and first-prize essays for each competition are presented here as written. They have not been edited.
ACA Future School Counselors Awards (top essays)
Grand prize: Jessica Coalson, University of New Orleans
First prize: Rachel Corso, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Second prize: Meghan Bradley, Monmouth University
Honorable mention: Kami Blakeman, Walden University; Feixia Wang, Carson-Newman University
Future School Counselors grand prize essay
Jessica Coalson is a student at the University of New Orleans working toward a master’s degree in counselor education with a focus in school counseling. She currently works as a child care provider and has a passion for working with children and supporting them in their development. Jessica has worked with New Orleans students in various academic support capacities during her time with College Track and AmeriCorps. She plans to continue this work as a school counselor providing students with the social, emotional, academic, and career tools and supports they need to overcome barriers and achieve their potential.
The effectiveness of school counseling is directly tied to student outcomes. What is the most desirable outcome that counseling can produce in schools, and how can professional school counselors demonstrate that it is happening?
Having worked with students with diverse backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and exceptionalities, I constantly question the ways in which schools support and, at the same time, fail to support all students in reaching their full potential. However, full potential neither begins nor ends with student academic and career achievement. These outcomes, while important indicators, are narrow and incomplete measures of student potential that tend to be more indicative of inequitable access to opportunity and resources than ability. School supports often focus primarily on higher level academic and career goals by tracking student achievement data and post-secondary success rates, before attending to students’ most basic and essential social and emotional needs. By equitably promoting and building social and emotional well-being, students will be well-equipped to reach their potential within and beyond the classroom.
The key foundation for establishing and maintaining well-being is resilience. Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association [APA] as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” (APA, n.d.) As more and more studies show the prevalence of childhood stress and the insidious effects it has on wellness and success across the lifespan, the moral and ethical imperative for school counselors to address this issue is paramount. Considering this, increased student resilience may be the most desirable outcome school counseling can produce to mitigate the effects of trauma, teach positive coping skills, and promote well-being.
In order to demonstrate student resilience as an outcome, school counselors must define and measure this multifaceted set of thoughts, behaviors, and actions. The goal is for students to be able to sustain an overall sense of well-being through developing the following key resiliency factors: having caring and supportive relationships, the capacity to make and carry out realistic plans, a positive view of self, confidence in strengths and abilities, communication and problem-solving skills, and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses (APA, n.d.).
Using the ASCA model, school counselors can translate primary factors of resilience into measurable skills and competencies to inform the development of effective and evidence-based comprehensive school counseling programs. It is important that school counselors gather and analyze program data to demonstrate correlational, causal, and predictive links between resilience factors and various student success measures in and beyond school. Through these methods we can advocate for systemic changes at local, state, and national levels to better promote the well-being of our students in all aspects of their lives.
School counselors should always be leaders in advocacy and systemic change. However, the immediate task is to equip our students with the skills and competencies to meet and overcome the multitude of systemic barriers and individual adversities they will unquestionably face in order to thrive.
Reference: American Psychological Association. (n.d.). The Road to Resilience. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
Future School Counselors first prize essay
Rachel Corso received her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in sociology, from Eastern Connecticut State University (2015). During her time as an undergraduate, she held a position as student leader for the university’s community engagement program, as a mentor for multiple Windham public schools, and as a volunteer for the university and Windham community. She completed her internship at the Joshua Center, where she worked with adolescents in a partial hospitalization program. After graduation, Rachel was a mental health worker on the adult psychiatric unit at Johnson Memorial Hospital and is now a rehabilitation counselor at Community Health Resources in Connecticut. Rachel has experience in suicide prevention training and is an avid advocate for suicide awareness. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in school counseling from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. As a graduate student, Rachel was inducted into Chi Sigma Iota, the international honor society for counseling students. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and being with her family and two dogs.
A main purpose of a school counselor is to help students be academically successful and to support the educational piece in schools, all while being culturally competent and ethical. From that aspect, the most desirable outcome for a student would be to excel in class and meet their educational goals and the school’s needs. However, often times there are environmental and mental health barriers that prevent students from achieving these successes, taking the counseling field by storm. The purpose of a school counselor digs into various types of development, social advocacy, treatment, and the removal of systemic barriers. A school counselor’s role goes beyond academics, which is why the most desirable outcome that counseling can produce in schools is a student’s overall well-being, otherwise known as the state of being healthy, happy, and comfortable.
Well-being has been newly acknowledged by counselors and other providers due to a better understanding of mental health, burnout, and the importance of self-care. It differs from wellness which focuses on physical health, but we as professionals know that our state of health includes more than just physical fitness; it takes on a holistic approach. Well-being is the most desirable outcome, contributed by autonomy, constructive relationships, self-acceptance, sense of purpose, and growth. Without these, our youth will underachieve academically which ultimately affects the purpose of a school. School counselors provide guidance and support to allow these variables to mature, and offer resources and opportunities that their students may not have otherwise. They advocate for students whose voices have been lost in oppression or stigma, their main goal being to promote the development of students but to also provide a safe, inclusive, and productive learning environment. Gone are the days where counselor’s make class schedules and wait while a crisis brews. School counselors are the mental health specialist in a school system and are on the front lines of student development/well-being.
School counselors can demonstrate that student well-being is being achieved by developing students into leaders, educating them on how to properly communicate their feelings and needs, aiding in attaining personal and education goals, and encouraging them to make positive transitions into their new stages of life. In order to accomplish this, school counselor must continue to advocate for their students, and provide knowledge, support, and referrals to outsides sources for additional assistance, as well as apply their clinical knowledge and skills and collaborate with the community and other treatment programs. Attending conferences and trainings to further their education, as well as being up to date with current research is also important as there is a huge flux in the mental health field, student needs, and cultural competency. Finally, school counselor’s must be responsible for the recurrent change of their role and the challenges they face as society vicissitudes with it, all in order to adequately serve every student and allow them to develop confidently, to remain happy and healthy individuals as that is not only the most desirable outcome for schools but for life too.
ACA Tomorrow’s Counselors Awards (top essays)
Grand prize: Anabel Mifsud, University of New Orleans
First prize: Jim Minthorne, California State University, Fullerton
Second prize: Leslie Preveaux, Mercer University
Honorable mention: Jennifer Toof, Chicago School of Professional Psychology; Madelfia Abb, Wake Forest University
Tomorrow’s Counselors grand prize essay
Anabel Mifsud is a doctoral candidate in the counselor education and supervision program at the University of New Orleans. She has a master’s degree in health psychology from University College London and King’s College London, UK. Most of her clinical work has been with people with HIV and people who are homeless. Anabel’s research interests include intergenerational/historical trauma, the internationalization of counseling, social justice and advocacy, the role of counseling in community development and peace building, and psychosocial services for migrants, refugees and people with HIV. She has conducted research with counselor educators, migrants and individuals with HIV, and has presented at conferences in the United States, the United Kingdom and Malta.
As integrated care takes hold in the delivery of mental health services, discuss the role of professional counselors in an integrated care system.
As society’s perspective on health and wellness continues to shift toward a more holistic orientation, clinical mental health counselors are increasingly called to be part of multidisciplinary teams in integrated care settings. I believe that counselors can offer a unique and invaluable contribution in integrated care systems. Primarily, as mental health care providers, we have the clinical expertise to work with diverse clients with emotional and mental distress. Furthermore, our approach toward mental health is grounded in wellness, healthy development, optimal functioning, and prevention. All these values are consistent with the precepts of integrated care, whereby individuals are placed at the center of care and treated as a whole by attending to their multiple healthcare needs.
As counselors, we work with individuals with emotional and mental health problems, who at times may be suffering or are at risk of developing chronic illnesses, or who may be faced with situations that adversely affect their welfare, such as unemployment or poor housing. In an integrated care system, counselors have the benefit to collaborate and draw on the expertise of medical and other behavioral health specialists to maximize clients’ overall health outcomes. In this new capacity, we are required to hone our assessment and consultation skills, and to build on our knowledge of psychotropic drugs and their side effects, and signs of physical illness.
On the other hand, because integrated care is inherently a bidirectional process, counselors may work with clients affected by chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or HIV infection, or individuals suffering from physical disabilities following a medical incident or accident. Individuals coping with these conditions are usually forced to grapple with the psychosocial sequelae of their physical ailment, or may have behavioral health issues that can undermine their recovery. In an integrated care setting, our role as mental health counselors can involve supporting clients with the management of their chronic medical condition, including helping them adjust to a new lifestyle, dealing with the stress, loss, and grief precipitated by their illness, or addressing comorbid mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. In integrated settings, counselors have the opportunity to engage in prevention and early intervention work.
Working within an integrated care system can open up new possibilities to impart our knowledge on multicultural competency to healthcare professionals in other fields. We can rally the support of new allies to advocate for the health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups and underserved populations.
Integrated care enables counselors to take a seat at the table with different healthcare practitioners to ameliorate the quality of life and health of clients. We have the chance to educate other professionals in what we do as counselors and advocate for our profession. Similarly, we have the opportunity to gain insight into how medical and other behavioral health practitioners contribute toward the holistic healthcare of clients. Such an interdisciplinary teamwork can foster respect and trust among different professionals.
Tomorrow’s Counselors first prize essay
Jim Minthorne has been a graduate student in the master’s in clinical mental health counseling program at California State University, Fullerton, since 2017. He is completing his practicum at the City of Brea Resource Center, where his clientele consists of adults, minors, couples and families. Populations that are of special interest to him include transitional age youth, men, and individuals who use substances. He prefers to utilize a Gestalt theoretical framework to help clients feel completer and more fulfilled. Jim’s long-term goals include starting a private practice, earning a doctoral degree and teaching at the university level.
“Treatment team” and “continuity of care” are ubiquitous phrases in my work. Prior to becoming a full-time graduate student, I worked as a case manager for a nonprofit mental health agency. I shared an office with a team of peer support specialists, nurses, doctors, and counselors. Sometimes my clients received third-party services. In these cases, I obtained authorizations to communicate with probation officers, homeless shelters, and drug treatment centers. As a case manager, I recognized a fundamental truth which I’ve carried into my work as a future counselor: I’m not the only person my clients will ever know. I cannot expect, therefore, to be the only person involved in my clients’ treatment. I’m only one cog in the proverbial wheel, and I need to collaborate with other care providers. Clients achieve maximal results when gray areas are minimized and all facets of their care are seamlessly integrated.
When I think about conventional integrated care, I think about my role as part of the treatment team to which I’ve alluded. In an effective integrated care system, I need to interact with the various direct service providers involved in my clients’ lives. If clients have symptoms which might be attributed to an organic cause, I need to collaborate with medical doctors to rule out diagnoses which are beyond my scope of practice. If clients present with psychosis, I need to consult with psychiatrists to address medication management. If clients require access to community or government resources, I need to work with case managers to provide linkage services. If clients don’t have access to the aforementioned providers, I need to advocate for them and help them seek additional assistance.
Advocacy, however, shouldn’t just include direct service. I believe we need to engage in broader, institutional advocacy to be the most effective counselors we can be. Such actions can include writing to legislators to support increased mental health funding, serving on committees to implement new ethical practices, supporting initiatives to destigmatize mental health discourse, or conducting research into innovative treatments. These actions don’t directly involve clients; however, institutional advocacy can expand services to traditionally underserved populations and change attitudes about seeking treatment. If we make treatment easier for everyone, we make treatment easier for existing clients in the process.
Although conventional and institutional integrated care are valuable, we need to experience integrated care ourselves in order to care for others. Even the most seemingly well-adjusted counselors are at risk for burnout; if we neglect ourselves, we won’t be present for our clients. We should seek support from our own “treatment teams”: personal therapists, families, friends, significant others, pets. Clients aren’t involved in these relationships, but we bring our own support (or lack thereof) into the therapeutic relationship. We shouldn’t expect clients to seek support all from one source; likewise, we should integrate various sources of care into our own lives. We should personally embody what we aspire to offer lest we offer it ineffectively.
Integration is: collaborative, personal, political, aspirational. It’s nuanced … and necessary.
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