By Kimberlee Ratliff, Ed.D., NCC, NCSC
Program Director, M.Ed. in School Counseling at American Public University
As the program director for an online school counseling program, I am often asked by colleagues if you can truly train school counselors in an online program. Honestly, I was a skeptic myself until I embarked on this journey of leading the M.Ed. School Counseling program at American Public University. The lack of face-to-face time with our counselor candidates is certainly a challenge, but I would argue that school counseling is full of challenges, problem-solving situations, and advocates for social justice. There are challenges, but the quality of our graduates tells me that an all online academic program is definitely effective.
The lack of face-to-face time with our counselor candidates is certainly a challenge, but I view online education as a way for some who may never have the opportunity to attend graduate school. This includes students who are in the military and aren’t stationed in one place long enough, who live in rural areas with no local colleges or universities, or who simply need flexible schedules to work around fulltime jobs and families. An online school counseling program is a method to train professionals who might not have the chance to reach their career goals due to the other limitations in their lives.
How can you do it without face-to-face interaction?
How do you train students to be counselors online when the profession is built on face-to-face contact and evaluation of counseling skills? With advances in technology, it is certainly possible. Through the use of various resources such as MyCounselingLab and secure video download resources within classrooms, students have the opportunity to role-play their skills by video and be evaluated by professors. There are ethical guidelines that must be followed using this method, so permission forms are required and use of secure sites is a must.
Are there advantages associated with online school counseling programs?
Since students in online programs are drawn from many places, one advantage is that students are placed for the practicum and internship component of their education in schools throughout the United States and internationally. Sharing varied perspectives and understandings of counseling in the context of different areas of the country and abroad really enriches the learning experience of students. At APU, we have had student placements in Korea, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Republic of Georgia, and Japan, just to name a few. Some of our recent graduates have been offered positions in international schools in Shanghai and the Republic of Georgia. There are certainly brick and mortar institutions that may also offer international placements, but the variety of experiences I have seen is something I haven’t experienced in the brick and mortar setting.
School counseling training gives students a chance to enter a field that makes a difference in the lives of children and adolescents across the globe. As school counselors know, there is always more than one solution and more than one option to consider. Online education can bridge the gap for students who have other life obligations that prevent them from furthering their education in a traditional classroom. Online programs provide an educational experience that may break with tradition, but does not compromise quality.
About the Author:
Dr. Ratliff holds an Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed. in School Counseling, and B.S. in Psychology. She has been with APUS since September 2010 and is an Associate Professor and Program Director of School Counseling. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), K-12 Certified School Counselor (VA), and a Trauma and Loss School Specialist with 12 years of experience as an elementary and middle school counselor.