Measuring Progress in Individual Counseling 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Simple assessment strategies for counseling.

Measuring progress in individual counseling is challenging. There isn't much argument there. Long rating scales and lengthy observations are not viable or scalable solutions. 

Couldn't measuring progress in individual counseling be easier? I think so.

You have to do a little borrowing from your school buddies. Teachers backward plan lessons. Special education teachers break big objectives into small goals. Writing teachers use rubrics. Speech therapists use tallies

Break It Down

Whether your student has an IEP or not, there is much to learn from how special education staff measure progress. 

Often, in counseling, you start with a big goal. Big goals aren't friendly, though. How would you measure this goal? 

The student will improve their conflict resolution skills. 

No wonder it's challenging to say the student is making progress with this goal. 

You have to break it down. For this example, I would break it down into many smaller skills. You may want the student to:

  • identify feelings,
  • generate solutions to a problem,
  • use I-Messages to communicate
  • independently use a 6-step process to resolve conflicts,
  • use the process in other settings and
  • believe they can resolve conflicts on their own.

In each session, you may focus on a different small goal or combine small goals.

It is easier to show that a student can accomplish smaller goals (e.g., identify feelings and generate solutions) than that they improve their conflict resolution skills. But if they can do all those smaller skills, they are well on their way to the big goal.

How would you break down another big goal? Take a minute to think of one (e.g., improve impulse control or improve organization skills). How can you break that down into smaller goals that are measurable?

You are getting ready to start seeing a student for individual counseling. You know what to do for the first and second session. But then what? What's your plan to

Plan Individual School Counseling Sessions with Counseling Maps

Backwards Planning

I know, I know. Planning?! Stay with me. You can still use this even if you need to write down a plan for sessions each week.

Lots of teachers backward plan their lessons. They start with an objective.
Their next step isn't creating a lesson. It is making an assessment that would show mastery of the objective. Something that the student does independently.

For example, say I'm still working with that student on conflict resolution. During this session, we are working on communicating feelings using an I-Message. By the end of the session, the student should be able to independently respond to a scenario card using an I-Message.

Now, when I think of planning my activities, I know that what we do has to prepare the student to be able to complete this activity/assessment.


Writing is a challenging thing to measure compared to other skills. Teachers will often use rubrics to show student progress in writing skills.

While this would require work beforehand, you could create rubrics based on social-emotional learning standards, your counseling program, or a student's goals.


My favorite data divas, speech therapists, use tallies to measure student session progress. They have goal sheets for their students. They track with tally marks when a student shows the skill.

These are perfect for measuring discrete skills. Say you are working on identifying emotions. Write down that goal, and during a game focused on feelings identification, tally right and wrong responses. Students can even keep track.

If you have already broken down your big goals into small goals, then add those small goals, have a column for each session, and tally away.

Exit Tickets

Have you read Using Data in School Counseling? Most of the book focuses on tier 1 counseling programs, but lots of her ideas can be translated to measuring progress in individual counseling.

Try using her idea of measuring attitudes, skills, and knowledge for your exit tickets.

Attitudes are what the student believes. Skills are what the student can do. Knowledge is what the student knows.

Exit tickets are a great addition to sessions. These are targeted short questions on slips of paper that the student answers at the end of the session. 

It's a great way to focus them on their goal, show progress, and wrap up each session.

In the conflict resolution example, you could have an entry/exit ticket with the following:

  • Attitude: I think coming up with multiple solutions will help solve a problem. Agree/Disagree.
  • Skills: Identify solutions to the following problem: Your friend is angry that you didn't play with her at recess.
  • Knowledge: How does brainstorming multiple solutions help solve a problem?

More Data Tracking Ideas to Explore

  1. Goal Attainment Scaling
  2. Goal Sheets
  3. Rating Scales - DESSA, SSIS, Lagging Skills
  4. Teacher & Parent Reports

Helpful Counseling Resources

Counseling Check-Ins

Counseling Check-Ins

Create a predictable start to your sessions and understand what students are feeling and thinking.

Counseling Exit Tickets

20+ exit tickets that you can customize and use with students in individual or group counseling. They provide a quick, informal way to understand what the student has taken away from the session.

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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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  1. Nice information, thank you so much! I’d love to see more of your exit tickets. They are a great way to show what’s learned!

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