48. When The Referrals Start Coming In–How To Decide Between Group and Individual Counseling

In this episode of the Counselor Chat Podcast, join me as we delve into the nuanced world of student counseling.

If you have been inundated by an influx of referrals for individual counseling, it’s important to make informed decisions about the appropriate type of counseling for each student.

Key Points Covered:

  1. Referral Assessment: the necessity of assessing referrals for individual counseling and highlighting the factors to consider when determining whether individual or group counseling suits a student.
  2. Nature of the Issue: the nature and intensity of student issues is crucial in deciding whether individualized attention or group support would be more beneficial.
  3. Level of Support Needed: the significance of evaluating the level of support required by students, considering their unique circumstances and emotional readiness.
  4. Data Gathering: the importance of gathering comprehensive information from teachers, parents, and other professionals to inform counseling decisions is underscored.
  5. Planning for Sessions: the importance of having a structured plan for counseling sessions, whether individual or group, to ensure that goals are set and progress is made effectively.

Join me as I guide you through the intricacies of counseling decisions and offer valuable insights to enhance counseling practices.



Carol: You're listening to the counselor Chat podcast, a show for school counselors looking for easy to implement strategies, how to tips, collaboration, and a little spark of joy. I'm Carol Miller, your host. I'm a full time school counselor and the face behind counseling essentials. I'm all about creating simplified systems, data driven practices, and using creative approaches to age students. If you're looking for a little inspiration to help you make a big impact on student growth and success, you're in the right place because we're better together. Ready to chat? Let's dive in.

Carol: Hi, everyone. It's Carol here. Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Counselor chat. Today we're going to be talking all about referrals. And when I'm talking about referrals, I'm really talking about referrals that we get for individual counseling. And what do we do when those referrals start pouring in and we have to decide what am I going to do with all these students? Do I do all individual counseling or can I put them in group counseling? What do I do? Because let's face it, teachers, I think, want us to go right and dive into individual counseling with students, thinking that our time that we spend together will be meaningful and productive. And it will be, but it's just not always feasible, practical, or even appropriate to just dive right into individual counseling with our students. So when those referrals start pouring in, we kind of have to take a look at them and see what's going on. Why were they referred in the first place? Now, one of the things that we can do to really try to help us decide is to really take some factors into consideration when we are really looking at these referrals. First of all, it's what is the nature of the issue? So what's the student's issues or the concerns that the teacher is having with the student? And then we take a look at it and we say, is it maybe better to address this in a group setting so that they can have some peer support, or is that individualized attention more important for our student? And when we're looking at the nature of the issue, if a student is going through some intense grief, maybe they lost a parent or their family is in the process of some changes, maybe an incarceration, or parents are splitting up. It might be too intense of a situation to put them in with other students, at least right at that moment. And so individual support might be better for them and let them have that individualized attention. If it's impulse control we also have to be aware of how the student interacts with other kids, and we might want to try them in a group at first. But if they can't handle the group, and I'm sure if you've run groups before, you can sit there and say, oh, this kid just isn't ready, and we might have to pull them out and put them in individual counseling. But we do have to look at the nature of the issue. We also have to determine the level of support that's needed, because if a student has a lot to say and they have some really deep thoughts and they're looking for that personalized attention and that safe space in our rooms to really explore their thoughts and their feelings, once again, individual counseling might be the most appropriate, and group counseling, on the other hand, might not be suitable for that, little kiddo, because maybe they're not really looking for the support and perspective of their peers. If you are running a group for girl drama or body issues or relationship struggles, I think having a group is really beneficial for those students. I do like impulse control groups, too. If we are working on basic play skills and how to get along and how to raise our hand, and it's really good for the students to say, oh, you weren't waiting your turn, or you forgot to raise your hand. As they help each other, that can be really important. So we have to look at the level of support needed. We also have to look at the students comfort level. Are they really comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings in a group versus one on one? And that kind of ties into what I was talking about with the level of support needed as well, because some students, they're just not ready. We also have to really address their readiness, because if students are not emotionally regulated or they're not willing to engage with others or they are in a really deep, dark place, they might not be ready to join peers, and so then they would be most appropriate for individual counseling. But most of all, I think when we're trying to decide, we really need to get sometimes more information from our teachers, from our parents, and maybe even other professionals that are working with the student so that we can gather information and perspectives that we can use to work on our students needs and their preferences. So I have a sweet little love that's in fifth grade right now, and she was referred for individual counseling, and I was like, oh, she would be really great for a group. But then, as I was talking with the teacher, we had a parent meeting because she was demonstrating some behaviors in the class that really weren't appropriate. And as we really started digging in deep, we talked with a parent. We wanted to find out what things were going on at home. We found out, or I found out, some really heavy information that this student was carrying on their shoulders. There was a lot of trauma. There was some abuse going on. Parents were in the middle of some domestic violence issues and separations, and it was a hot mess. She was also displaying a lot of physical aggression in PE class. So, of course, in addition to her classroom teacher, I went and I talked with her PE teacher, and after talking with the parent and the PE teacher and her classroom teacher, I really realized that although my first instinct was to put her in a group for what she was going through, individual counseling was most appropriate for her. So you have to kind of look at each student individually. Like I said, it's not always possible, because if you're running classroom lessons and you have meetings and you have all the things going on in your day, you can't have 20 kids or 30 kids a week in individual counseling. So you kind of really have to pick and choose which are the most critical needs and which ones so that you can see them individually versus which ones can really be moved into a group setting. I think if a kid really needs a lot of psychoeducational processing or instruction, like behavior management, or how to get along with friends, or how to study or how to focus, how to problem solve, how to resolve conflicts, group counseling is probably the best place to put them in so that they have that peer support, so that they can learn and have models from their peers. And when we are doing groups, we can't always put every single student that we're working with that has all. If it's an impulse control group, I'm thinking of, we can't put six little kids in an impulse control group if they're all bouncing off the walls in their classroom, because they're going to bounce off the walls in our room as well. And even though we're providing them and showing them ways to control their impulses and to manage their emotions, having that many students in a room might be a little much. So we might have to pare it down. We might also have to decide, oh, maybe I should only put two of these students together in this group and let me bring two other kids in. That will serve more as kind of a role model. They have less impulse control issues, but maybe they need some help with just developing their social skills, how to ask questions or how to use their voice if they are experiencing a problem or to learn how to ask questions in class. So we really need to look at each student individually. I know when those referrals start coming in. I also like to give teachers a little sheet that's kind of like a counseling classroom data form. So if a student is referred to me for anxiety, for example, I'll have a little data form specifically for anxiety. And it's kind of like a Likert scale. It has the behavior, and then it asks the teachers to rate them on a scale of one to five, one being always and five being never. And they'll just ask things like, can the student verbalize when they are stressed? Can they identify their cause of stress? So always, often, sometimes, rarely, or never, can they use appropriate coping skills to regulate their emotions? Can the student ask for help when they're stressed or dysregulated, or the student has irrational thoughts related to their stress? Like, no one likes me. They never, whatever, they have these unrealistic expectations. They always think the worst. And so we try to have a gauge of how often is this happening in the classroom. And I think when we use the data forms and we have that baseline, it also gives us a little inkling as to how severe the problem is and what type of services that they really do need. And I think the other thing to remember as we're working with students, and I know some counselors really love the individual counseling and they would prefer to spend their whole day doing individual counseling. And other counselors are like, no, that's the last thing I want to do. I love the kiddos, but it's a little intimidating. And I'm not quite sure what to do in my individual counseling sessions because we are, like, looking at each other, we end up just playing a game and overly productive. And so I think counselors usually fall in one of those two categories. But having an idea of what you need to work on with students can be really helpful because let's face it, when we're doing individual counseling, we don't want them forever. And Aska would say it should be short term. So we want to have a plan of attack for what we're going to be accomplishing in our sessions. Much like if we're running a group, we want to know what we're doing each week in a group, so we definitely have to have some way of helping us decide. But anyway, I think when you are talking about, oh, my gosh, these referrals are coming in, I am not sure what to do. You really have to really weigh those pros and cons. Don't be afraid to go and ask the teachers for more information to find out exactly what's going on. And don't be afraid to think of what's the least restrictive environment that I can put the student in. Is it in a group or do they really need to have that individual as well as, like I said, their comfort level and the level of support that's needed as well? Anyway, friends, I hope that this was helpful in helping you to try to figure out what do I do when these referrals start coming in? How do I decide if they should all be individual or if I should be looking for something else? Because it just takes a little bit of work, but you really have to start weighing what the kids actually need. Anyway, next week we're going to be talking a little bit more about really what do I do in individual counseling. So this will be kind of a little series on our counseling program. Anyway, until next week, have a great week.

Carol: Thanks for listening to today's episode of Counselor Chat. All of the links I talked about can be found in the show notes and@counselingessentials.org podcast. Be sure to hit, follow or subscribe on your favorite podcast player. And if you would be so kind to leave a review, I'd really appreciate it.

Carol: Want to connect?

Carol: Send me a DM on Facebook or Instagram at counseling essentials until next time. Can't wait till we chat. Bye for now.