Evidence-Based School Counseling: Models for Integrated Practice and School Counselor Education

Added September 20, 2018

School counselor and school counselor educators have an ethical responsibility to use and to teach evidence-based practices (EBP). Unfortunately, although EBP has been widely adopted in education and social service professions, and accrediting bodies and ethical boards are calling for EBP across our profession, too often EBP is not taught by school counselor educators or implemented by school counselors in practice. In general, EBP reflects a three-step process of (a) using data to determine needs; (b) identifying research-supported interventions or practices that can be implemented to address the previously determined needs; and (c) evaluating whether the implemented interventions were effective (Dimmitt, Carey, & Hatch, 2007). School counselor educators may not teach EBP due to a lack of understanding or training, which may lead to lessened self-efficacy related to applying and educating others about EBP. Therefore, three approaches for integrating EBP within school counselor education programs were reviewed within the manuscript: stand-alone courses, full program integration, and program-school-community integration.

In school counseling, evidence-based interventions can be counseling approaches, classroom curricula, and school-wide programs. Recent updates to the evidence-based school counseling model include greater consideration of the multiple social contexts of students, as well as their multiple intersectional identities. In addition to ethical and accreditation mandates calling for educators and practitioners to implement EBP, there may be other benefits to implement EBP. School counselors can use EBP to maximize their time to positively impact the highest number of students in their schools, to illustrate outcomes of their interventions, and can use outcomes to advocate for systemic change within their schools and programs.

The initial component of EBP in school counseling—data-driven decision making; (Dimmitt, Carey & Hatch, 2007)—has long been a facet of school counseling programming (Gysbers, 2004). Research related to data-driven decision making suggests training can influence the use of data by school counselors (Young & Kaffenberger, 2015). There is also research that indicates that the use of data in school counseling programs results in better student outcomes, as well as increased stakeholder support (Carey & Dimmitt, 2012). Creating and implementing evidence-based school counseling interventions—the second component of EBP—has been a more recent emphasis of the profession, with multiple calls for additional school counseling intervention research that can inform practice (Brigman, 2006; Dimmitt, Carey, McGannon, & Henningson, 2005; Whiston & Sexton, 1998; Whiston, Tai, Rahardja, & Eder, 2011). The third component of EBP—evaluation of student outcomes—has been a part of the profession from the 1920’s (Gysbers, 2004) to present day, with authors in recent decades (Ekstrom, Elmore, Schafer, Trotter & Webster, 2004; Fairchild, 1993; Fairchild & Zins, 1986; Rowell, 2006) focusing on school counselors’ capacity for evaluating the impact of their work to illustrate accountability. Previous research has found that school counselors have a high level of interest in program evaluation but they report varying levels of related skills (Astramovich, 2016; Maras et al., 2013; Young & Kaffenberger, 2015).

Three approaches for helping school counselors in training (SCIT) develop EBP skillsets are offered in the manuscript. Stand-alone courses, such as an “Evidence-Based Practice in School Counseling” course or an “Evidence-Based Practice and Research in Counseling” course can help SCIT learn the EBP by providing opportunities for SCIT to apply learning and skills by working with actual data as they work through the data collection and interpretation process. In addition, SCIT can research evidence-based interventions and conduct research and program evaluation. In addition to stand-alone courses, school counselor educators can integrate BEP across the training program by intentionally modeling the use of relevant data and research in every course, in a similar manner to how multicultural competencies and social justice practices have been purposefully integrated across courses in school counselor education programs. Finally, the most comprehensive means of underscoring EBP in a counselor education program is to integrate these practices within the entire program, from coursework to pedagogical strategies, to supervision to collaboration with practitioners, which requires community collaboration.

To apply the cycle of EBP into their school counseling programs school counselors can form EBP-focused data teams, which focus on: (a) gathering schoolwide academic, postsecondary, and social-emotional data to highlight student needs; (b) identifying appropriate and rigorous intervention options based on specific and measurable goals; and (c) evaluating the short and long-term impact of interventions on student outcomes. Practitioners can regularly share the work of the data team with stakeholders, as impact data (e.g., achievement data, attendance, behavior referrals) in particular can be effective in advocacy efforts and emphasizing the role of school counselors in facilitating student success. School counselors can use evaluation information showing how they made a difference in key outcomes to advocate for more time to directly serve students and to advocate for school counseling programs in general. Having the related evaluation skillset provides practitioners with an effective way to demonstrate impact and accountability.



Brett Zyromski, PhD, Carey Dimmitt, PhD, Melissa Mariani, PhD, Catherine Griffith, PhD