CatholicCare Student and Family Counselling celebrates 40 years
School counsellors have played an increasingly important role in supporting young people over recent years, with the impacts of both COVID-19 and social media taking a toll on student wellbeing.
As CatholicCare Student and Family Counselling program recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, Catholic Education Director Ross Fox noted that resourcing school counsellors across the system have almost doubled since 2020.
“The demands of student counselling work are significant at the best of times, and in the past two years, heavily defined by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, this demand has only grown in volume and complexity,” he said.
“Statistically, this means more than 10,000 counselling consultations and 6,000 individual students receiving counselling each year from this service. We know this is making a huge difference in our school communities, in the development of so many of our students and their families and for our staff.”
CatholicCare student and family counsellor Danielle Hudson said that with the demand for youth mental health services outstripping availability, counsellors were integral in supporting at-risk students.
“Major issues are coming up more often in younger and younger students, partly due to social media, and more recently concerning COVID-19,” she noted.
“The introduction of social media has been the most impactful change for students during my time in this role; from expectations on how students should look and behave to cyberbullying. It is also affecting adolescents by limiting direct contact with peers and encouraging constant comparisons online, leading to low self-esteem anxiety and depression.”
As COVID-19 restrictions further increased this isolation, the counsellor said her role became identified as a major support during a time of change, fear and the unknown.
“The blessing in this situation is the increase in counselling hours – the smaller schools getting funded for full days each week, enabling counsellors to be a trusted part of the school community, not just qualified strangers that visit periodically,” Mrs Hudson said.
“Building trust and rapport in a school community mean teachers trust you to refer their students and counselling support and self-esteem building can occur.”
School counsellor Deborah Nelson said counsellors being physically located within schools was invaluable as they became part of the community, offering early intervention and continuity of care.
“Intervening early provides an opportunity to address issues before they become more serious,” she said.
“The demand for external services has resulted in long waiting times, impacting student’s wellbeing. As a school counsellor, I try and fill that gap as best I can by holding the student while they’re waiting and working with them to manage mental health issues.”
CatholicCare Counselling and Therapy Service Director Jaclyn Dunkley said the program had grown from one full-time position in 1982 to 40 counsellors across the Archdiocese today.
“The success and longevity of our Student and Family Counselling Program are due to the efforts of all our clinicians, past and present and the commitment of the leaders within our education system to fund, support and nurture student and family wellbeing in the school environment,” she said.
“This commitment has never been so needed within our communities.”