Skip to main content
Ed. Magazine

What Happened to "Guidance" Counselor?

An excerpt from Mandy Savitz-Romer's "Fulfilling the Promise."
Counselors Enter

“Throughout the book, I use the term school counselor rather than the more well-known term guidance counselor. My usage is not solely based on the fact that being referred to as a guidance counselor grates on many counselors. While it is true that this irritation has prompted many counselors to correct their well-meaning colleagues and even sport T-shirts with Guidance crossed out in exchange for SCHOOL COUNSELOR, counselors’ preference for correct terminology is not merely a trendy move. Counselors have consciously shifted away from the term guidance, which reflects the historical emphasis on vocational guidance, to better illustrate the professional scope of their role today. The term guidance counselor was initially coined in the early 1900s to refer to teachers who took on additional responsibilities providing vocational guidance to students. Yet that was over one hundred years ago, and the role has changed too much to rely on an outdated term. Today, counselors’ work involves many aspects of a complex educational system and multiple dimensions of students’ development. Thus, guidance belittles the profession in ways that do not serve students well. It narrows the scope of counselors’ work and programming, thus misrepresenting their actual contributions to student success.

“This shift in terminology mimics other changes in educational staff titles, such as home economics. Indeed, schools today hire family and consumer science educators, who teach courses similar to what was once understood as home ec. Likewise, what was once known as vocational education is now known as career and technical education. Similar to school counseling, these shifts in terms were intentional and have been accompanied by changes in instructional content and professional training. A similar evolution has occurred for counselors. Whereas school counselors lead classroom lessons that support students’ future goals, that is only one aspect of their role. They also use data to identify students at risk of dropping out, refer students for intensive mental health support and treatment, implement positive behavioral support programs, screen students for signs of suicide, and perform a host of other responsibilities that extend well beyond career development. That is, changes in the role have brought about comprehensive school counseling programs that are designed to support school culture and mission instead of focusing solely on delivering services to students.”

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Related Articles