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Saint Joseph’s Introduces a No-Burnout MS for School Counselors

Saint Joseph’s launches new online school counseling MS that aims to solve the industry shortage, with a curriculum that prioritizes self-care and prevents burnout.

Counselor speaking to young patient in office

Published: November 27, 2023

Total reading time: 4 minutes

A 2022 Education Week article raised the alarm on the growing scarcity of school counselors and psychologists available to serve the nation’s children — all while needs for these services are at an all time high.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250-to-1 ratio of students to school counselors, but in 2022, the national average came in at a disconcerting 408-to-1.

A lack of adequate funding is partially to blame for this imbalance, as well as a dwindling pipeline of students entering the profession — but another major factor is burnout. When counselors have overwhelming caseloads, they’re less likely to stay at their school, or in the profession.

At Saint Joseph’s, a new fully online program hopes to help address this growing issue, by educating empathetic and social justice oriented counselors who make time for self care. The Master’s of School Counseling, developed by Clinical Associate Professor and Program Director of Clinical Mental Health Counseling Shenika Jones, PhD, is launching this fall.

“I want to normalize counselors who prioritize self-care,” says Jones. “So many counselors are burning out and running from the profession. They worked hard to obtain their degrees but the load is too heavy. From the very first class on, we encourage students to develop a self-care plan — to make sure they keep their cup full so they can pour into others.”

School counselors’ responsibilities are vast. They work with students, families, educators, and school leaders to interpret cognitive, aptitude, and achievement tests; participate in individualized education programs (IEPs), and assist in the educational placement and transition process for students leaving PK-12 school systems. They work with career planning, work release programs, college readiness, and provide individual, group, and classroom activities to promote personal-social development of all students.

Jones says in order to best serve students, counselors need to be healthy themselves. “I say you’re not just going through the program, the program is going through you as well. As you start reading about traumas and coping mechanisms, things may come up for you,” Jones says, adding that she encourages students to make use of the University provided counseling services that are available on campus as well as online.

Additionally, Jones designed the program model to support student well-being. Students enter the program alongside a cohort of peers that will move through the coursework with them.

“The cohort model allows students to get a sense of community during the two year period, which is especially important for online students,” says Jones, who herself is leading the program remotely from South Carolina.

This format also shortens the program length to two years, compared to an average 2.5 to 3 year completion time at competitor schools. Meaning Saint Joseph’s graduates can get into the field faster and start making real change.

“The mental health and well-being of children and teenagers have been driven to a breaking point nationwide by the pandemic and the isolation, disruption, fear, and grief it has brought with it,” Education Week reports.

Beyond the lasting impact of the pandemic, Jones adds, “In the past few years, we’ve seen higher rates of suicide ideation, higher level of anxiety and more grief and divorce related distress among students.” Not to mention incidents of gun violence in schools.

To prepare future counselors to address these issues, the coursework Jones has developed highlights developmental stages for children and adolescents to help future counselors understand and educate their students about appropriate coping strategies for each stage.

The core courses in the program will be shared with the University’s successful and relatively new Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, with additional classes focused on supporting students through career and vocational discernment.

The best preparation for being a school counselor, though, according to Jones, is hands-on experience. “Our clinical courses provide 700 hours of experience in schools,” says Jones. Students complete 100 hours of practicum alongside a licensed school counselor as well as two internships 300 hours each in which students are working more independently.

“This program is unique because students will earn K-12 certification and can work at any level,” says Jones. Across the three clinical experiences, students are encouraged to work with different ages, as well as in different educational settings. No matter where online students are located, Saint Joseph’s works with them to find approved sites to complete their clinical hours.

Between the immersive clinical experiences and reflective coursework, students are challenged to grapple with difficult and complex issues of social justice — and Jones’ vision is that the program will provide a safe environment to do so. “We have an advantage at Saint Joseph’s with our Jesuit philosophy and what we believe about social justice,” she says. “It aligns perfectly with the field of counseling but most especially with school counseling.”

While most applicants to a master’s in school counseling have studied psychology, biology or social work as undergraduates, there is no specific major requirement for the Saint Joseph’s program. “Students with any educational background from any walk of life can be impactful in the counseling profession,” says Jones.

Learn more about Saint Joseph’s Master’s of School Counseling.