More students seeking counselling

By Amy McGillivray, Cassandra Mason

Pressure on school counsellors from students seeking help has pushed a Tauranga high school to hire extra staff, its principal says.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said his school had to hire an extra counsellor this year to cater for the increasing need from students.

The college is the largest school in the Western Bay of Plenty, with 2000 students.

An analysis of workloads showed two fulltime counsellors were not enough so a third was employed this year.

"The pressure that's being put on these people to cope with the stresses of young people are actually quite amazing," said Mr Randell.

"This is a time of more open adjudications for young people [and] as a school we really foster our young people to talk."

The "pressures of life" were what sent most students to the counsellor's office, Mr Randell said. These included problems at home, high expectations at school and challenges they were not prepared for.

"That's what schools are doing these days. It's more than just being a classroom ... it's looking at their total welfare in a lot of these kids."

The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) says a sharp rise in the number of secondary school students wanting to see school counsellors means some students with potentially serious problems are not getting appointments when needed.

NZAC board member and Christchurch school counsellor Sarah Maindonald said most counsellors were now seeing about 50 students a week - nearly double the 28 recommended by community agencies. Students' problems ranged from bullying and academic issues to self-harm and date rape.

Tauranga Girls' College deputy principal Leonie Summerville said the school had two qualified counsellors for its 1500 students, but the deans at each year level provided advice to students on issues such as choosing subjects, and the careers department gave advice about life after school.

She had not noticed an increase in demand but said the counsellors were always busy and worked long hours.

Mount Maunganui College principal Russell Gordon has not seen a spike in the number of students asking for help but said the service was now a necessity in schools.

The college employed one fulltime and one part-time counsellor for almost 1300 students.

Mental health issues were dealt with regularly by the counsellors but relationship problems, be it with friends, a boyfriend/girlfriend or family, made up the biggest proportion of their work, Mr Gordon said.

"I wish, from a bean-counter's point of view, that we didn't have to have counsellors in schools because I could use that money in the classroom, but I think the human cost of doing that is too great."

Ms Maindonald said counsellors were good "go to" people with whom students could discuss a range of issues without the fear of being stigmatised or labelled.


Counsellors in schools:

  • Community agencies recommend that counsellors see an average of 28 clients a week, but counsellors in schools are now seeing about 50 per week.

  • The recommended ratio is about one counsellor to 400 students. However, there were 122 guidance counsellors nationwide for 273,712 secondary school students in April 2012 - an average ratio of one counsellor for every 2245 students.

  • Often teachers provide counselling services, which is not recorded.

Source: Ministry of Education, NZAC

- Bay of Plenty Times

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