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Counselling services at international schools: what provision do schools offer?

It’s something that crosses the minds of all parents: the subject of your child’s happiness. Bullying, depression, fitting-in, managing change in an international setting and the effects of social media could face all of our children at some point in their school careers. We chat to some well-known international schools about the counselling services they provide for their students and families. It’s comforting to know that help is very much at-hand, should the need arise.

counselling department at Singapore American School
SAS

 

Name of Counsellor and experience:

Colleen Steigerwald; Elementary School Counsellor at Singapore American School (14 years), Elementary School teacher USA/Dominican Republic/Singapore (seven years) and Certified Solution Focused Brief Therapist.

Counselling facilities at the school:

Singapore American School believes in extraordinary care for each student, and a counsellor is assigned to each grade level. The counsellors have an office equipped with meeting rooms to support individual students, groups of students, parents, and teachers. We also have a unique lunch bunch room. This safe space was created as a place for students to interact, build friendships, and play during break periods.

What is the school’s counselling approach?

At Singapore American School counsellors support the social and emotional development of each student. Our work is proactive and preventative. We teach explicit counselling lessons on digital citizenship, global citizenship, safety, conflict resolution, and core values (respect, responsibility, honesty, fairness, and compassion). Counsellors provide parenting education through workshops. We work with families and students as they transition in and out of Singapore. Counsellors also work as part of the intervention team to ensure appropriate academic, behavioural, and social support.

What are their limits?

A school counsellor’s focus is to advocate for the wellbeing of students at school and address immediate barriers to learning. When the concerns expand beyond the confines of the school (abuse, mental health, family issues) it is in the best interest of the child to involve wider community support. Often we work in conjunction with other practitioners in Singapore (i.e. occupational therapist, psychologist, developmental paediatrician).

When should a school counsellor become involved?

By teaching students social and emotional skills our work can be proactive and preventative. Therefore we are involved from the start. We greet our students as they arrive off the buses in the morning. In the elementary school we interact with all our students (approximately 290 pupils per grade level) regularly through classroom lessons. Some students drop in or are referred to us for additional support; however, students know when they see the counsellor it is not because they are in trouble, rather to solve a problem to get out of trouble. We strive to provide the skills needed to effectively resolve conflicts, manage emotions, and interact positively with peers.

Are there common issues faced by international school children?

Children worldwide face issues such as anxiety, teasing or bullying, emotional regulation, conflict resolution, and appropriate technology use. However, in an international school many students are third culture kids (TCK). Although this can be an advantage, some students may have moved multiple times which can contribute to transition issues around establishing friendships, grief, or academic discrepancies between school systems.

Singapore American School
40 Woodlands Street 41
6363 3403

Counselling team at UWCSEA Dover
The counselling team at UWCSEA Dover in their new workshop and office space

Name of Counsellors and experience:

Ian Moody, Head of Counselling, UWCSEA Dover. Ten years at UWCSEA Dover, 20 years counselling in international schools.

Pushpa Dasari, Counsellor at UWCSEA Dover since 2012, previous counselling experience at international schools in China and the Middle East.

Jane Pyrgos, Counsellor at UWCSEA Dover since 2011, previous counselling experiences in Southeast Asia and the UK. Interest and specialist training in Mindfulness, Play Therapy, and Sandplay Therapy.

Counselling facilities at the school:

Both campuses have purpose-built counselling offices and a team of full-time counsellors. The new facilities at the Dover Campus include a play therapy room, individual counselling offices and a workshop and meeting space located in the new High School building.

What is the school’s counselling approach?

The Personal and Social Education (PSE) programme, which the counselling team advise on and assist to implement, is one of the core elements of a UWCSEA education. The PSE programme runs K-12 and supports our students to develop the qualities and skills necessary to deal with the personal and social challenges that all young people face as they explore their identity and place in the world. The UWCSEA programme draws on age-appropriate best practice from around the world, and is embedded in the learning programme. It also incorporates elements of digital citizenship where appropriate.

Day to day, the counsellors support students and their families with individual therapeutic counselling, assist Heads of Grade and tutors with the implementation of the PSE programme, run parent workshops, facilitate student and parent support groups (e.g. Peer Support, Student Ambassadors, Single Parent groups), liaise with external professional services regarding well-being of students and maintain a referral base that parents can access should they require support beyond what a school counsellor is able to ethically provide.

What are their limits?

Confidentiality is a key feature of the role of the counsellor within a school. However if it is considered that the student or other students may be in danger of serious harm or there are legal issues involved, then the Principal or Head of Campus will be informed.

When should a school counsellor become involved?

As soon as possible when social/emotional issues are impacting, or likely to impact on, the well being of the student. At UWCSEA we aim to develop a preventative model by empowering students with self care knowledge and skills to manage their own well being. Through the PSE support programme, counsellors, tutors/mentors, heads of grade and Vice Principals (Pastoral) work together with parents to establish a caring environment where the students have choice in terms of someone to confide in when personal issues of concern become evident. The counsellor is also able to link students and parents with outside support agencies as required.

Are there common issues faced by international school children?

Quite varied, including anxiety, stress, organisation, relationship, transition, family and academic issues. With younger students, common issues faced include behaviour management and social skill development.

United World College South East Asia
Dover Campus, 1207 Dover Road |  East Campus, 1 Tampines Street 73
Dover Campus:  6775 5344 |  East Campus: 6305 5344

 

SJI International
SJI International nurtures open-hearted and open-minded students who have a strong sense of personal wellbeing and social responsibility.

Name of Counsellors:

Melanie Lyons (Masters of Guidance and Counselling and PG Dip Psychology) and Michelle Koay (Master of Social Science (Counselling)) who between them have 19 years of counselling experience in a school setting. Michelle is also a Registered Counsellor and Clinical Supervisor with Singapore Association for Counselling.

Counselling facilities at the school:

SJI International nurtures open-hearted and open-minded students who have a strong sense of personal wellbeing and social responsibility. Our counselling team, as part of our wider support services, actively pursues programmes and practices enabling all students to flourish – physically, socially, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

We have two full time specialist counsellors who focus on supporting students with social and emotional issues, and two University Guidance Counsellors who support students through their inevitable transition into further education or employment. We have designated meeting rooms and resource centres.

What is the school’s counselling approach?

Rather than being reactive we adopt a proactive and personalised intervention. Our Elementary School is a regional leader in character education with a highly successful ‘Virtues Programme’ that empowers our younger learners to live more authentic and meaningful lives. In the High School our counsellors provide solution-focussed support, and embed Positive Education principles and practices across the school.

Are there common issues faced by international school children?

Our counsellors support students with a range of needs, from the occasional low level friendship issue, which requires a reflective and restorative approach, to more complex individual cases where students require focused and sustained therapy. We support students to overcome a range of difficulties, often induced by low self-esteem or self-image, or by the pressures of today’s world.

When should a school counsellor become involved?

At SJI International we de-stigmatise self-disclosure by ensuring our counselling team is approachable and fully integrated into our learning community. School Counsellors usually become involved with students when teachers require additional advice and guidance, in a collaborative approach which reinforces the school culture of care and responsibility.

What are their limits?

Our Counsellors work within agreed boundaries of school confidentiality, according to our Safeguarding and Child Protection policies. Often complex cases require a multi-agency approach, and sometimes it is necessary to refer to outside agencies for further assessment.

St. Joseph’s Institution International
490 Thomson Road
6353 9383

 

top schools in Singapore
Angelia Toh

Name of Counsellor and experience:

Angelia Toh, who’s been working at ISS International School for 13 years both in the Admissions and Counselling departments.

Counselling facilities at the school:

Although we have designated areas in the school for counselling, conversations with students can and should happen at any time in a variety of locations.  I meet with students wherever they feel most comfortable.

What is the school’s counselling approach?

A school counsellor is a student advocate, collaborator and facilitator who works proactively to help children create positive change in their lives. My position gives me the opportunity to plan learning experiences in collaboration with students and teachers to develop skills related to organising, making ethical choices, interacting with peers, encouraging healthy lifestyles, and developing a sense of personal identity.

While ISS has a well-developed pastoral curriculum which guides much of my work, I am also called upon to help students who are having difficulty at home, with friends, or at school. In this role I try to give students the tools to manage and learn from “crisis” situations. Adolescence is a time of tremendous change for students and they all can use a little support from time to time!

What are their limits?

Even though the teachers and counsellors at ISS are tremendous student advocates, they cannot take the place of a child’s parents. The greatest influence on students at any age are their parents. In my role, I work with parents on how to encourage their children’s social, emotional and academic growth and set up a healthy and happy home environment.

When should a school counsellor become involved?

Counsellors and other wellness professionals are essential to building a sense of community in schools. At ISS we’ve worked hard to promote our mission of nurturing student growth in an inclusive and empowering environment. Because we believe in the potential of each child, I try to get to know all students, each day in a variety of settings. A school counsellor is always involved!

Are there common issues faced by international school children?

International school children face unique challenges as they transition between countries and school environments. It’s important for international schools to plan for this challenge and develop a welcoming environment where each student is valued no matter their background. Being a small school that values inclusivity, we make special efforts to help new students feel a part of our ISS family. These include outreach from counsellors to students who speak the student’s native language.

ISS International School
21 Preston Rd
6475 4188

Tanglin Trust School Counselling team
The counselling team at Tanglin Trust School

Name of Counsellors and experience:

Claire Holmes, Head of Counselling, Tanglin Trust School (TTS). Seven years at TTS, ten years of counselling experience in international schools.

Valerie Hoglan, School Counsellor at Tanglin Trust School since 2012. Previous counselling experience in Venezuela and five years as a Public School Counsellor in Oregon.

Paula Huggins, School Counsellor at Tanglin Trust School since 2013. Five years previous counselling experience in Singapore.

Pippa Gresham, part-time School Counsellor at Tanglin Trust School since 2015. Pippa has been at TTS since 2007 and has had many pastoral roles including Head of Year.

Counselling facilities at the school:

Our team consists of three full-time school counsellors and one part-time, and we are located in our Sixth Form Centre, where we each have a counselling room with a small waiting area outside. Our rooms are filled to the brim with art supplies, sand trays and therapeutic toys and games that enable us to weave creative options into our work with students.

What is the school’s counselling approach?

Most of our daily work is one-on-one student sessions. We all work from a strength-based positive approach. We believe that our students have rich inner resources and our conversations help students to access their own wisdom. We also meet with parents for support with parenting and offer a range of workshops throughout the school year. We run circle times, support groups and assemblies for students who need targeted social-emotional support. We are also experienced with working in crisis situations and support the whole community in times of distress.

What are the limits?

We are very aware of the limits of our service and are careful to ensure that the students in our care get the best support possible. If we feel that a student needs more clinical intervention, or assessment (as counsellors we are not qualified to ‘diagnose’) we refer outside of school to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

When should a school counsellor become involved?

The first port-of-call for student support is through our pastoral system. If a student’s social-emotional distress is impacting daily functioning, then we would become involved to help the student to feel more settled and cope in their environment, in the best way for themselves.

Are there common issues faced by international school children?

Common issues are the same world-wide. Friendships, relationships, stress management, anxiety, bereavement, the list goes on. The overlay for international schools has certainly got to be transition: the transient nature of our communities, the challenges of being third culture kids and adults. Parents that travel also add another dynamic to the rich tapestry of family life.

Tanglin Trust School
95 Portsdown Rd
6778 0771
 

 

Integrated International School child psychologist
Dr. Vanessa von Auer, Principal at IIS, a trained child pyschologist

Name of Counsellor and experience:

Dr. Vanessa von Auer, Principal at IIS, also a Clinical Psychologist, oversees the counselling department and ensures that each student who is in need of support has access to sessions with IIS counsellors.

Counselling facilities at the school:

Changing bodies, navigating the complexities of friendships, academic and familial pressures make being a kid not that simple nowadays. Anyone can benefit from a listening, empathetic ear to feel safe, supported and important. Our counseling programme aims to help our students feel good so that they can be successful in all aspects of their daily life, in and out of school.

We provide comfortable counseling environments, to which our students can retreat to for safe, confidential and nurturing counseling sessions. Our counselors design their counselling sessions according to each student’s requirements and use an eclectic approach of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Expressive Therapies (i.e. art therapy and experiential therapy).

What is the school’s counselling approach?

The counsellors offer our students a calm place to retreat to when they are stressed, upset or having trouble with peers, family members, etc. At IIS, we believe that our students’ emotional wellbeing is just as important as their academic prowess. This is why students can either make an appointment with a counsellor as and when they feel it is necessary, or each student can book up to eight regular sessions per year to work on their therapeutic goal.

The IIS counsellors first helps the student identify a treatment goal. Thereafter, feelings, challenges and problems are discussed and coping techniques and problem-solving tools taught and acquired. All of this is done at the student’s level, so that they feel understood, important and empowered.

When should a school counsellor become involved?

When a student is struggling and his or her struggles are impacting their daily functioning. This could result in extreme changes in mood, personality or outlook. It could mean declining grades, and either withdrawal or acting-out behaviors.

Are there common issues faced by international school children?

Adjusting to Singapore, being a new student at a new school, peer pressure, bullying, academic pressure, changing family dynamics, eating disorders, anxiety problems, school refusal.

Integrated International School
41 Sunset Way, #02-03/04 Clementi Arcade
6466 4475

For more about Singapore’s international schools, hop over to our schools page!

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