In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
COUNSELOR IN PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Some counselors have chosen to practice in private schools for a variety of reasons including a significantly lower student-to-counselor ratio, a desire to work in religious schools, and the difficulty in landing a public school counseling position in many areas. Counseling in a private school, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or nonsectarian, will be similar to and at the same time very different from that in a public school.
Issues to Understand
There are many issues to understand when contemplating applying for a counseling position in a private school. First, how well do your values match that of the private school? Granted, no school, public or private, will offer a perfect fit and there will always be administrative, political, and social issues to consider. However, counseling in a Catholic high school, for example, will carry with it some particular concerns. Are you Catholic, or can you respect Church values? How do you feel about providing birth-control counseling, gay and lesbian issues, and abortion? These certainly are issues in public schools, but a public school is likely to have more flexibility than a Catholic school.
Another factor to consider is that in private schools, much more may be expected by parents who are paying large sums of money. I know of many counselors in public schools who would complain of the difficulty in getting many parents involved in their child’s education or treatment. In private schools, counselors tell me just the opposite—parents may be too involved (think “enmeshed” or the term “helicopter parents” who are always hovering).
Counselors will have more time to provide one-on-one service, and that may involve more personal counseling or group work than in public schools. There will also be more overt pressure on the students to perform academically, as private schools will be well stocked with exceptional students, competitive by nature or encouraged to excel by parents. Anxiety issues, depression, eating disorders, and self-injurious behaviors are common mental health concerns to be addressed.
Best Aspects of the Job
One of the best parts of the job is working with gifted, motivated students who will want your services. One former student of mine who took a counseling position in a private high school mentioned to me that she could not believe how motivated the students were. “It’s worth getting less pay,” she exclaimed. Private schools also, in my experience, are more likely to be supportive of the counselor providing personal counseling than their public counterparts, though small enrollments also are a part of this.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
No doubt, one of the biggest challenges of counseling in a private school is the poor pay. Though the BOLS did not provide salary figures for private school counselors, the pay will be considerably less due to the fact that private schools are not supported by tax dollars. Another challenge is that many, if not most, private schools, are religiously affiliated. Counselors who do not share the religion of the school may feel somewhat alienated or have difficulty accepting some of the religious mandates (even counselors sharing the school’s religion may have difficulty).
Occupational Outlook and Salary
Occupational outlook and salary are difficult to discern given that the BOLS does not compile figures for counselors in private schools. It is likely that the demand for school counselors in private schools is less due to the reality that there are far more public schools than private schools. However, I know personally of many beginning school counselors who chose to begin their career in private schools because of the ease in getting a job. Because the salaries tend to be significantly less for private school counselors, many counselors are hesitant to take such positions, and some who do will leave for a public school job as soon as they secure one.