5 Key Routines for Individual School Counseling Sessions 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min

How much of your time as a school counselor is dedicated to individual counseling sessions? We all know that those sessions aren't just the 30 minutes on your color-coded schedule. They require time to thoughtfully plan because they are your most intensive service and student needs are different.

What if you could save some of that planning time without sacrificing effectiveness? One of the best ways to do this is to automate some of the things you do for each student. Now I don't mean setting a timer or using an app, I mean looking for things that can be prepped and repeated. 

Components that can be prepped and repeated are the same across almost every student.

For example, is your first individual school counseling session with most students the same? Sure, it is. You meet them, explain counseling, build rapport, maybe talk about what you will work on together. When you have the same goal, you can repeat the activity. 

Automating repeated activities gives you the opportunity to perfect them. When you have the same first counseling session, you can find small ways to keep making it better. What's the best way to explain confidentiality? How should you build rapport with a kindergartener versus a fifth grader?

Let's look at 5 components of individual school counseling sessions you can make routine without losing any of the personalization.

Individual School Counseling Session

I would argue that every individual school counseling session should follow a repeatable structure, like this example:

  1. Feelings Check-In
  2. Warm-Up
  3. Mini Lesson
  4. Guided & Independent Activities
  5. Cool Down
  6. Exit Ticket (Optional)
individual school counseling session example

Using a consistent routine for your sessions makes it easier to plan. You always know that you need a warm-up, a mini lesson, a practice activity, and a cool down. You can mix and match those activities to meet the needs of your student. 

Structured sessions also provide students with a predictable (safe) space. They know exactly what to expect when they walk in each week. Many students struggle with regulation, what a gift to provide them with some consistency as they work on improving themselves.

1. First Session

I'm going to guess that your first counseling session is already on auto-pilot for the most part. What are your goals when you meet with a student for the first counseling session? 

  • Establish a rapport.
  • Explain what counseling is (i.e., your role, confidentiality, logistics).
  • Find out what they want to work on. 
  • Create a safe and predictable space.

All of these goals are repeatable with each new student you see. That means the activities can be repeatable too. 

For example, when you are talking with a student about what they want to work on, you can use an activity to review the reasons they were referred and spend time brainstorming some goals.

TAKE ACTION: Put together a really solid first session that goes beyond the confidentiality spiel and meets the four goals above. Use it again and again with students, differentiating for age and development.

First Session

The first counseling session is perfect for establishing rapport, understanding the student's perspective, and creating a safe and predictable space. 

First Counseling Session Activities

2. Feelings Check-In

What do school counselors always have as part of their individual counseling sessions? A feelings check in was by far the most popular answer. Many counselors start off their sessions with a simple feelings check-in because building this vocabulary and self-awareness is key to so many goals in counseling.

Feelings charts are a simple tool and can be used over and over again in counseling. 

TAKE ACTION: Create two or three feelings check-ins to keep things interesting and then use it at the start of every counseling session.

Check out this post for easy to implement feelings check-in activities.

Feelings Check-In Cards and Chart

3. Warm Ups

After your feelings check-in, start with a brief warm-up that is related to the student's goals. For example, a student who struggles with anger may complete some social perspective taking scenarios. 

TAKE ACTION: To make warm-ups repeatable, develop a handful of brief activities by referral concern. For students struggling with anxiety, they might reframe negative thoughts. For students with trouble with impulse control, they might do a stop and think activity. Warm-ups should provide students with opportunities to practice previously learned skills. 

Looking for counseling warm-up ideas? Read this post

4. Cool Downs

Just as you can begin an individual counseling session in a consistent way, you can also end a session in a consistent way. This will help you plan, provide the student predictability, and support a calm transition back to class.

Cool-downs are perfect for practicing learned calming strategies. It's a perfect time to review deep breathing or mindfulness. Just like with warm-ups, you can focus this strategy practice on the student's referral concern. 

TAKE ACTION: Create 5 cool-down activities that are related to your top referral concern. 

Cool Downs for Counseling

Self-regulation exercises to help students reset at the end of a counseling session and practice learned calming strategies.

5. Termination

Like the first counseling session, the last session has similar goals across students. 

You want to: 

  • celebrate the student's accomplishments,
  • provide them with a strategy resource,
  • recognize the counseling relationship, and
  • make a plan for follow-up support.

You can create repeatable termination activities that meet all these goals.

Your last session activities could include a simple craft or token, a strategy folder, and a reflection sheet. 

Check out this post on last counseling sessions with more detailed activity ideas.

Last Session

This resource will help students reflect on what they learned in counseling and plan for how to handle future situations on their own.

Last Session

Which components of individual counseling can you turn into automatic, repeatable time-savers? Whether you are a new or a veteran counselor, I hope this post got your gears turning and saves you some valuable minutes.

Helpful Resources

Counseling Building Blocks

Counseling Building Blocks

Start using a straightforward and easy structure to build counseling sessions.

First Counseling Session Activities

Counseling First Session

Establish rapport, understand the student's perspective, and create a safe and predictable space.

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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