Plan Individual School Counseling Sessions with Counseling Maps 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
A responsive framework to make individual counseling plans simpler.

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 get them to meet their goals and exit counseling?

Without a plan, I see two things happen: You see the student for individual school counseling sessions all year or you make an arbitrary rule to only see them three times. Now, I don't know what someone's entire program looks like and needs could be met in many ways. But, both these paths to me are letting your program run you and not the other way around.

No Time to Plan

It happens because students who are recommended for individual school counseling sessions have individual needs and you don't have the time to plan for each individual student. Not in a really thoughtful way where each session connects. It's that simple. Not unless you want to give up other parts of your program. And that comes at the expense of more students. 

So we refer out. We have less than great collaboration with an outside therapist. The student still struggles.

Or we meet every week and chat. We are a support that gets the student through, but doesn't help them make progress as fast as they could.

We need a better system. You can be effective, data driven, supportive, responsive, and save time. 

Hello Counseling Maps

Teachers have these handy tools called curriculum maps. Basically a document that tells them the standards they are teaching, in what order, and with what materials. Plus, it gives a longitudinal view of the curriculum. 

Now you are probably familiar with treatment plans for counseling. A document that details the goals and methods for therapy for an individual client.

Counseling Maps are where a curriculum map meets a treatment plan. They are intended for students who are in individual school counseling sessions and can be extended for group counseling. A counseling map gives you a guide of the skills that need to be taught, just like a curriculum map, but the flexibility to build sessions like a treatment plan. This all saves you time by not reinventing the wheel for each student while still being responsive.

Let's take a closer look at a counseling map for anger.

Download the Anger Counseling Map

Skills checklists & counseling plan

Counseling Map for Anger

This particular counseling map is designed to help students who struggle with anger. It covers skills such as emotional awareness, emotional management, problem solving, assertive communication and conflict resolution. According to research, these are typically the areas where students with anger management issues struggle the most.

How to Use Counseling Maps

This Anger Counseling Map is comprehensive and (likely) includes more than you need to cover with one student. I would suggest building your own using this as starting point and eliminate what isn’t necessary. 

To do that, use this map alongside the included Anger Skills Checklist. On the Anger Skills Checklist, eliminate the skills that your student has mastered and determine which skills are a priority. Then, come back to the Counseling Map and adjust the sessions to include those skills. Choose skills that you can teach together and consider which skills need to be taught first.

Individual School Counseling Check-Ins: Anger Skills Checklists

You will notice that each column represents a session and each session has a topic and skills that will be covered. These skills line-up with those included in the Anger Skills Checklist. When I put a counseling map together, I start with the missing/lagging skills and determined which skills can be covered together and in what order.

Counseling Map Parts

For me, each individual school counseling sessions included a feelings check-in, a warm-up, goal focused activities, usually an exit ticket, and a cool down exercise. What do your sessions include? Standard routines for a session can give a student a sense of predictability and safety. Add in your counseling routine to the each section or use the flow that I have.


Each session has some sort of check-in at the beginning. It is a great way to build a feelings vocabulary and check how the student is doing. Vary this based on what you have already.

Counseling Check-Ins
feelings check-in materials

Warm-Ups and Cool Downs

Besides seeing a great deal of value in having a consistent routine for counseling sessions, I like to include warm-ups and cool downs as a way to briefly introduce, practice, or review a skill. On this Anger Counseling Map, the warm-up activities review a skill that was covered in the last session and the cool-down activities are calming strategy practice.

The cool-down could also be something like sharing a goal for the week or restating their plan to handle an event this week. The purpose of the cool down is not only to practice or review a skill, but to also get students in a good mindset to return to class.

Session Activities

The activities that are included in the session bullet points are activities that will meet the goals/subskills of the session. Consider how you can use resources you already have and use some materials across sessions (e.g., feelings thermometers).

First Counseling Session Activities
Last Session

Exit Tickets

Write your exit ticket after you determine what skills you are going to cover and before you plan your activities. What should the student be able to do at the end of the session? Keep them to brief (1-3) questions.

Individual school counseling sessions doesn't have to mean from scratch each time. You can be responsive to students needs while still having a go-to framework.

Download the Counseling Map for Anger and create a map for your most common referral reason.

Helpful Resources

Counseling Building Blocks

Counseling Building Blocks Bundle

All the resources you need to start building consistent and effective counseling sessions.

Anxiety Counseling Map and Skills Checklist

Determine and plan your individual counseling sessions with a simple structure.

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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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