Ever feel like your group and individual sessions can feel a little too loose? A little unplanned? Using routines during your sessions may be an incredible help. They save time getting students engaged because they already know what to expect. You will spend less time planning when you know what you need to do for each session. Students will feel more at ease and open when sessions are predictable.
So how do three Confident Counselors use routines in counseling? Read below.
Check-Ins, Movement, Breathing, Oh My!
Routines are a crucial part of counseling for me. They help to establish relationships, they provide some of the consistency our students need, and for groups, they help develop a sense of unity. The most important routine for me is the feelings check in. I keep a cup of clothespins for each group with student names written on the clothespins. As soon as they walk in my office door, they find their pin and clip it onto the feelings chart. For individual sessions, I have a special "check in and out" lapbook where students show me their current and past week feelings. Part of that lapbook routine is also students sharing what they want our session to focus on.
I also incorporate movement into all of my group sessions. With many groups, we do yoga at the start to center our brains and bodies. With some others, energizing movement breaks (such as "waddle like a penguin") are used in between parts of the session where we are sitting.
With both groups and individual sessions, I like to end with some mindful breathing. I think it helps them be more mentally and emotionally prepared to re-enter class. Not all of my students love this (even when they know it might help them) so it's important that I give them choice in which strategy to use.
Easy routine for counseling groups
I really enjoy counseling groups and the majority of my groups occur during lunch. This schedule presents its own set of issues, but I've found a routine that keeps it running smoothly: individual feelings check-in, group check-in, and then an activity related to the group focus.
At the start of every new group, after group rules are established, students create a "feelings card" that they use for my feelings bulletin board. On my board is a variety of emotions that I attached to the pockets of a cut up shoe holder. While students are waiting for peers to come in with their lunch, they identify their emotion on the board by placing their card in a pocket. I utilize the same characters from my feelings posters and Go Feelings game so that the students become used to identifying the images and emotions. This easy individual check-in allows me to get a very quick assessment of how my students are doing.
My next step in the routine is to do a group check-in. Typically I'll request that the students share any good or bad news that they'd like the group to know. Framing the question this way allows me to gain insight on a variety of things. Depending on the number of students in the group, you might want to limit the amount of time each student has to share news.
Once everyone has checked in, it's time for the group activity for the day! This activity might change weekly, or it might be a continuation of the previous week's activity. I emphasize to students that our priority during lunch is to eat, and we can always continue activities or projects the following week.
This easy routine for group counseling provides clear structure and expectations that students love!
Same Time, Every Time
When I was a school psychologist, I planned sessions like I was building something. Each session was made up of anywhere from 3 to 6 parts. The content would change depending on what the student needed, but the framework remained the same.
I began sessions with a feelings check-in. I finished sessions with a simple exit ticket and calming strategy practice. These were completed quickly because students knew the routine and were familiar with the skills.
The bulk of my session usually followed a 3-Step Session Plan. I introduced a new skill, we practiced it together, and then they had a chance to try it on their own. When we were working on a previously introduced skill, we spent more time on independent practice, especially if we didn't get to complete it the week before.
When students were referred for an acute problem (e.g., loss of a loved one), rather than a skill deficit, sessions had a different format. It was still consistent for that student each time.
To me it is essential that students get used to a routine to really feel at ease and ready to do some of the hard work we need them to do in counseling.
Looking for more ways to make counseling streamlined? Check out this post on Keeping Individual Counseling Short-Term.
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