Tips For Working With Students
(Part 5 of 6)

Here's the next set of tips and suggestions for working with students who come in with some specific issues and patterns. Again, please use your own judgment and follow your school and district policies and the relevant laws.

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How do I work with a student who talks about current or past drug use?


~ Find out your school’s or district’s policy about where the line is in terms of contacting parents, and make sure you include those parameters in your confidentiality guidelines when you first meet students.

~ If you’re comfortable with it, allow students to share their experiences, as long as there’s a productive point to the conversation, rather than glorifying the drug use, especially in a group setting.

~ If the drug use is current, find out what the student knows about addiction. While you cannot diagnose or treat addiction, in some schools you are allowed to give out information about addiction, treatment, and self-help groups – but in others you cannot. Know which is which in your school.

~ If you have a history of drug use or addiction, think carefully before sharing that information with students. Just because you keep confidentiality doesn’t mean they will, so think about what you’re willing to have publicly known about you before you speak.

~ The only reason you may choose to self-disclose in this situation is if you are modeling how you overcame an addiction, preferably long ago.

~ Focus on the feelings and issues behind the student’s drug use, and how students can address those emotional issues in more productive ways. Teach a variety of stress management skills, and healthy ways to express feelings.

~ If you are going to call home to express concern about the student’s health or safety regarding alcohol or drug use, let the student know before you call.


How do I work with students with suspected or confirmed gang affiliations, or any student in a school where lots of gang activity is present?


~ Find out what your school or district policy is on the subject of gangs. Some schools have a “zero tolerance” policy that counselors are expected to follow, meaning that any indicators of gang affiliation must be reported to parents, administration, and/or police. If this is the case in your school, make that clear in your confidentiality guidelines when you first meet students.

~ Other schools allow students to talk about gang issues with counselors as long as the students aren’t talking about specific incidents or threats of violence, violations of laws, or direct harm to anyone. Know where the lines are at your school and make them clear to students.

~ Threats of harm always need to be immediately reported to administration, who will often call the police if the threat is gang related.

~ Keep up-to-date with local police departments, who can tell you what’s currently happening with gangs in your area. They also can usually provide training and speakers for staff and/or students related to gang prevention, safety, and other related issues.

~ Read and learn about the psychology and culture of gangs. Also, you can learn a lot from your students!

~ Offer students a bigger picture, possibilities outside of gangs, career information, non-violent communication skills, and an opportunity to explore their underlying feelings about gangs.

~ Find or develop school wide programs to address gang issues. These issues affect kids at every grade level, and many students walk around in a state of chronic fear, chronic anger, or both. At the very least, teach stress management skills and offer a safe place for students to report bullying, threats, and violence.

Go to the next page, "Tips For Working With Students -- Part 6."

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