A Brief History of School Counseling in the United States
A systematic process for assisting young people.
Though it is reported that there were a few counselors in schools prior to 1908, that year is typically cited as the beginning of counseling in schools in the United States. In that year, Frank Parsons founded the Vocation Bureau in Boston and implemented a systematic process for assisting young people to make career choices. The three-step process that he implemented and taught to others involves helping individuals understand themselves (interests, abilities, values), organize and understand the world of occupations, and then to combine these two elements of information to make well-informed career decisions. Thus, the profession began as vocational counseling, now called career counseling. This emphasis persisted in the first half of the 20th century, strongly supported by the National Career Development Association (then the National Vocational Guidance Association), founded in 1913.
Seeking to provide the school counseling profession with a broader focus, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) was formed in 1952. ASCA has focused on the practice of counseling in educational institutions from Kindergarten through the secondary level and on the three content areas of academic, personal/social, and career choice/development.
The school counseling movement.
The school counseling movement, especially at the secondary level, was given a very significant thrust by the passage of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in 1958. Russia had been successful in putting Sputnik in space in 1957, and the United States awakened to its need to guide a greater number of talented young people into the fields of mathematics and science. The Act strongly requested that secondary schools have one trained counselor for each 300 students and made funds available for universities to develop and offer masters’ degree programs to would-be counselors to receive training without charge.
Definitions, goals, and pressures.
Over the years of the development of school counseling, there has been a variety of definitions, goals, and pressures. The NDEA put pressure on counselors to influence a larger percentage of students to go to college and especially, to major in mathematics and the sciences. The Vocational Education Act of 1963 pressured counselors to influence a larger proportion of students to specialize in vocational education at the secondary level and provided funds for high schools to develop well-planned curricula.
Today's school counselors have assigned tasks related to scheduling for courses, making schedule changes, and assuring that students meet graduation requirements. Others have assigned tasks related to disciplinary action. Issues related to the allocation of funding to various school needs have increased counselor-student ratios from the ASCA-recommended 1:250 to much higher ratios. The national average in 2014 was 1:491, while some states, such as Arizona and California, had ratios of 1:941 and 1:822 respectively. Further, many schools have not developed a clear definition of the counselor’s role, and all of these factors have resulted in school counseling being perceived as “random acts of kindness” or “just deal with what walks in the door.”
Literature, models, and training.
In response to these developments, the profession has responded by developing literature, models, and training that defines the objectives of school counseling and guidance, seeks to ensure that all students receive needed services, and clearly defines the acceptable roles of the counselor and the distribution of time across those roles. Dr. Norm Gysbers, who retired from the University of Missouri following 52 years of scholarship and leadership in the profession, provided significant leadership in this movement and assisted many schools in the development of such programs through his writings, leadership of workshops, and consultant support.
Of course, in order to develop systematic programs that serve the needs of all students, it is necessary to have a common set of standards that provides a foundation on which schools can build curricular units, one-on-one counseling goals, and group counseling or guidance content. Similarly, a common set of standards provides the framework for service providers, such as Kuder, to develop products that can help schools offer services and activities that meet these standards. Combined with this effort to build standardized programs that enhance counselors’ ability to offer services to all students in relevant content areas, there has been an increasing emphasis on measuring the effectiveness of what counselors are doing and the extent to which their students are reaching the objectives defined in the standards. In order to gird both of these efforts, ASCA released a comprehensive set of standards in 2004, and again in 2014 (availabe at: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/MindsetsBehaviors.pdf).