Aschool counselor with an easygoing nature and plenty of warmth, Aarti Odhrani works with students at North London Collegiate School, Dubai, helping them embrace positive mental health and encouraging their social and emotional well-being. “It’s very intriguing to me, the fact that you can facilitate change and help someone develop skills to feel more adjusted,” Odhrani told Re:Set.
Odhrani’s exposure to counseling was at a summer camp she attended in the 1990s as a child. She saw a resident psychologist help another child overcome a conflict which inspired her and she imagined herself in that helping role. “I was quite excited I could do something she [the psychologist] was doing.”
Being a full-time school counselor can be extremely challenging. Whether it’s making sure a kid is able to express themselves through the appropriate channels such as communication or art or that a student can find a solution to their problem without feeling scared, a school counselor must maintain professionalism, remain observant, be innovative and tackle several challenges at the same time. They must also battle misconceptions around counseling and the cultural stigma associated with asking a mental health professional for help.
We asked Odhrani to give us the lowdown on how multifaceted a school counselor’s job really is.
It’s easier to reach the younger students
According to Odhrani, younger children find it easier to visit the counselor’s office compared with teenagers. “There’s a lot of stigma around mental health,” she told Re:Set. Some parents also worry about their kids being singled out and may have stereotypes associated with seeking professional help. Additionally, older students tend to feel nervous about approaching a counselor as they grapple with issues that include keeping up with social media, being popular among their peers and maintaining their academic grades. Odhrani gets that. “Giving students a confidential, safe, and non-judgmental space to share their thoughts, really makes a difference.”
A counselor needs to “find out what is driving a child to make specific choices,” she said. She uses several tools to make students feel at ease including cognitive behavioural therapy, art therapy, mindfulness and more. Odhrani keeps a child’s individual needs in mind and often uses games, relatable language, and music that resonate with her students. “Solution-focused therapy works very well in schools because it’s brief and focuses on finding a solution to the problem at hand,” she told Re:Set.
Teamwork is a must when it comes to helping students in school — the counselors, teachers, parents, supervisors, and other staff members must work together to help a student, Odhrani emphasized. In addition to meeting students individually or in groups, she reaches out to them by conducting guidance lessons within the classroom. A preventative approach, this involves providing students with the skills needed to deal with problems they may encounter.
Counseling, Odhrani explained, doesn’t need to be intimidating or structured in a rigid manner. “Each meeting doesn’t have to be intense therapy,” she said. Simply talking through a situation with an adult who they can trust in a school environment may help a student feel calmer and enable them to approach the situation from a different perspective. She believes in guiding them to explore various coping strategies that will help them be more productive and feel well-adjusted.
“It [counseling] helps clarify your thoughts and understand the situation better,” Odhrani said. From her point of view, a school counselor is a constant advocate for their students and must be able to identify with them. For Odhrani, it’s important to connect with the child, use words they’re comfortable with and look at the situation from their perspective to reach their goals. “If you’re working with a child, you are using their language.”