Putting school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools can help prevent school crime and student-on-student violence. School resource officers are specially trained police officers that work in schools. When equipped with proper training and supported by evidence-based school discipline policies, they can deter crime with their presence and advance community policing objectives. Their roles as teachers and counselors enable them to develop trusting relationships with students that can result in threats being detected and crises averted before they occur. School psychologists, social workers, and counselors can help create a safe and nurturing school climate by providing mental health services to students who need help. President Barak Obama, January 16, 2013
Okay. I’m all for school counselors. I’m a licensed professional counselor myself and happen to know many who work in schools. I agree they are uniquely qualified to listen to kids and offer constructive advice. If I lived in the Sandy Hook School district I would offer my own services to families and students needing a capable listening ear.
However, that seems very far removed from the issue of gun violence that is on the front burner in the media these days. I know gun violence is what caused the Sandy Hook calamity. But I can guarantee you that having more trained counselors available would have done nothing to stop it from happening.
The facts and fallacies of the Sandy Hook tragedy have been thoroughly discussed so I don’t need to rehearse them here. But I do need to protest this latest suggestion that somehow what is needed is more school counselors to curb the gun violence. You’ve got to be kidding? The perpetrator was 20 years old. He wasn’t a student at all and there is no way even a hundred additional school counselors wandering the halls of the school would have made a difference that day—unless maybe they were all carrying weapons. But that’s another post…
As a counselor I’m also troubled by the suggestion that counselors become “enforcement officers” for gun laws—that’s really what is being proposed. In addition to the new job description for school counselors, all medical and mental health professionals are also being trapped by this overreach: So, the official line continued:
Doctors and other health care providers also need to be able to ask about firearms in their patients’ homes and safe storage of those firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses or if they have a young child or mentally ill family member at home. Some have incorrectly claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking their patients about guns and gun safety. Medical groups also continue to fight against state laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions. The Administration will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms.
Mental health professionals are already required to alert government authorities if there is any suspicion or report that a client is being abused or is likely to abuse others. This includes such horrible tragedies as child abuse, criminal pornography and other forms of exploitation. In Michigan, where I practice, it involves filling out a special reporting form and submitting it to the health department. Failure to do so may result in legal penalties for me. So, I’m highly suspicious of the statement that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms..
I’m not smart enough to look at the technical details of that statement. I know there are court cases right now on both sides. But I am smart enough to see where it’s headed. By “deputizing” doctors, counselors, psychologists and social workers the government would add thousands of eyes and ears to its compliance workforce. But it would also further build suspicion and mistrust between patient and practitioner. Columnist Jim Myers at Newsmax.com puts it this way:
You’re visiting your doctor because you have flu symptoms. After checking your heart, pulse and other vital signs, your doctor turns to you and asks, “By the way, the federal government has authorized me to ask you, What type and how many guns do you have in your home?"
Sound ridiculous and far-fetched? Well, it’s ridiculous but not far-fetched. In fact, I just got my mail and received a notice of a symposium being conducted in a couple weeks by a regional counseling group on counselors and school violence. Talk about coincidence! But I suspect I'll be hearing about lot more of these in the next weeks.
I can see the necessity of reporting requirements in many cases—particularly when there are particular cases of abuse, neglect or high degrees of suspicion that it is going on. However, these kinds of questions go way beyond reporting specific concerns. In fact, I believe they betray a very fundamental legal assumption: the assumption of innocence—you know, “innocent until proven guilty.” As a counselor I have to be careful not to assume too much innocence. A healthy degree of skepticism whenever I’m meeting with my clients is in order. For good and historical reasons the government and its officers are not permitted to look at people that way. . But I’m not a court of law and I’m not a government officer—at least not yet.