School-Based Family Counseling

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School-Based Family Counseling (SBFC) is an integrated approach to mental health intervention that focuses on both school and family in order to help children overcome personal problems and succeed at school.[1] SBFC is practiced by a wide variety of mental health professionals, including: psychologists, social workers, school counselors, psychiatrists, and marriage and family therapists, as well as special education teachers.[2][3][4][5][6][7] What they all share in common is the belief that children who are struggling in school can be best helped by interventions that link family and school.[8][9][10][11][12] SBFC is typically practiced at the school site, but may be based in a community mental health agency that works in close collaboration with schools.[13][14]

The Need for SBFC[edit]

Family problems, such as marital discord, divorce, financial difficulties, child abuse and neglect, life-threatening illness, sibling in a gang, and poor parenting skills are associated with a wide variety of children's problems, e.g. delinquency, depression, suicide attempts, and substance abuse.[15][16][17][18][19] These family problems can have a negative effect on children's learning and school behavior.[20][21][22][23][24][25] However, there is research showing that healthy families that cope effectively with their problems help children succeed at school.[26][27][28] Traditionally trained school counselors and school psychologists may lack the family counseling training necessary to help students who are experiencing problems at home.[29] If school personnel recommend that a parent seek counseling from a community agency for family problems, the parent and family may not go because of the stigma associated with therapy or because of restrictions imposed by managed care.[30][31] SBFC reduces the stigma associated with therapy by emphasizing that counseling for family members has an educational goal: helping the student to succeed at school. Parents, guardians, and family members are approached as partners with the SBFC professional, all working together to promote school success. The SBFC professional is an advocate for the child, the family, and the school.[32] Some of the problems SBFC approaches have been used to address are:bullying and cyber-bullying,[33] depression,[34] marital problems,[35] school violence,[36] grief and loss,[37] trauma,[38] life-threatening illness,[39] school crises,[40] learning disorders,[41] immigrant families,[42] suicide,[43] and school suspension.[44] Some examples of large SBFC programs are: "The Copper River Project" in Copper River District Alaskan schools;[45] and "Place2Be" - a SBFC program based in over 200 British schools.[46]


The earliest pioneer of SBFC was Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychiatrist who developed 30 guidance clinics attached to schools in Vienna in the 1920s. Through these guidance clinics Adler and his colleagues counseled parents and teachers (often both together in large meetings where both groups were present) on how to help children overcome problems at home and school. This Adlerian home-school approach to counseling was strength-based with its emphasis on helping children develop Social Interest.[47][48][49]

Later Developments[edit]

With the advent of World War II, the Vienna guidance clinics closed. The psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs, who worked with Adler, emigrated to the USA in the 1930s and popularized the Adlerian approach to home-school intervention through books like: Children the Challenge (for parents), Maintaining Sanity in the Classroom (for teachers), and Discipline Without Tears (for parents and teachers).[50][51][52] In the USA, during the 1950s, 60's, and 70's the mental health professions developed somewhat independently of each other with the result that children having difficulty at school would typically be seen by a school counselor or school psychologist. Children having difficulty at home would typically be seen by a community-based mental health professional. Beginning in the 1970s the mental health literature begins to show an increasing emphasis on linking home and school interventions. By 2000 there existed a substantial literature on the integration of family and school counseling approaches.[53]

Strengths of SBFC[edit]

SBFC is a strength-based approach to counseling that emphasizes working with parents and guardians as partners. It emphasizes integrating intervention (remedial) and prevention approaches at school and in the family. This emphasis on working collaboratively with parents and guardians in order to help their children succeed in school is appealing to families because of its educational focus. It allows for counselors to hold interventions with students to connect school preparation with future career options is critical for the ever-developing technological work economy. [54] SBFC is also a multiculturally sensitive counseling approach because it reduces the stigma associated with the mental health professions. This approach is practiced by many different mental health professionals and educators.[55][56]

Evidence-based Support for SBFC[edit]

Evidence-based support for the effectiveness of SBFC comes from numerous randomized control group studies employing combined school and family interventions. [57] [58] [59][60] [61] [62][63]This research indicates positive effects at post and follow up tests for problem behaviors at home and at school, and also for Latino, African American,Native American, and Thai children and families as well.[64][65] [66][67]

Challenges for SBFC[edit]

The development of SBFC programs requires both cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking and a willingness to set aside mental health professional "turf" issues.[68][69][70][71][72]

Examples of Books on School-Based Family Counseling[edit]

  • Boyd-Franklin, L. & Hafer Bry, B. (2000). Reaching out in family therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Dreikurs, R.; Cassel, P. (1965). Discipline without tears. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
  • Fine, Marvin J. & Carlson C . (Eds.). (1992) Family-school intervention: A systems perspective. New York, NY:Allyn and Bacon.
  • Gerrard, B. & Soriano, M. (Eds.) (2013). School-based family counseling: Transforming family-school relationships. Phoenix, AZ: CreateSpace.
  • Gerrard, B., Carter, M. & Ribera, D. (Eds.).(2019). School-based family counseling: An interdisciplinary practitioner's guide. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Hinckle, J. & Wells, M. (1995). Family counseling in the schools. Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS Publications.
  • Laundy, K. C. (2015). Building School-Based Collaborative Mental Health Teams: A Systems Approach to Student Achievement. Camp Hill, PA: TPI Press.
  • Miller, L. D. (Ed.) (2002). Integrating school and family counseling: Practical solutions. Alexandria,VA: American Counseling Association.
  • Palmatier. Larry L. (1998) Crisis Counseling For A Quality School Community: A family perspective. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
  • Sherman, R., Shumsky, A. & Roundtree, Y. ( 1994) Enlarging the Therapeutic Circle. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel.
  • Sheridan, S. & Kratochwill, T. (2008) Conjoint behavioral consultation, promoting family-based connections and interventions. New York,NY:Springer.
  • Shute, R. & Slee, P. (Eds.). (2016). Mental health and wellbeing through schools: The way forward. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Steele W. & Raider M. (1991). Working With Families in Crisis: School-based intervention. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Walsh, W. & Giblen, N. (Eds) (1988). Family counseling in school settings. Springfield, Il: Charles C. Thomas.
  • Walsh, W. & Williams, G. (1997) Schools and Family Therapy: Using Systems Theory and Family Therapy in the Resolution of School Problems. New York,NY: Charles C. Thomas.


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