- Being a College Counselor on Today's Campus: Roles, Contributions and Special Challenges by Bruce S. Sharkin
In the 5 years since the tragedy at Virginia Tech concern about college student mental health and scrutiny of those charged with providing counseling services on college campuses has increased. While most of what is written has focused on students themselves, Bruce S. Sharkin, author of Being a College Counselor on Today's Campus: Roles, Contributions, and Special Challenges, has written a book intended to shed light on the other side of the equation. His stated objective is to demystify college counseling in all of its breadth and to make more transparent a profession where practitioners spend significant time in private interactions with students. The author is also advocating, from a position of knowledge and experience, for the importance of sustaining counseling services in times of reduced resources. This well-organized and readable text is divided into seven chapters, which for the most part, focus on the topics promised in the book's title.
The first chapter provides a well-researched overview of the history and evolution of college counseling as a profession, as well as the skills and preparation necessary to become a college counselor. The author discusses how the events at Virginia Tech were a game changer for campus life and college counseling and foreshadows his attention throughout the book to concerns about communication, confidentiality, and the role of counselors in threat assessment and behavioral intervention.
Chapters 2 and 3 are the longest and most comprehensive chapters in the book, covering the roles and responsibilities of college counselors. The author gives a detailed breakdown of counseling, crisis intervention, consultation and outreach, training and supervision, and administrative duties. He then addresses more peripheral roles often provided outside of counseling including academic advising, working with students with disabilities, retention, and behavioral intervention. While not all of the roles that are addressed are central to college counseling at all institutions, Sharkin's continued attention to the role of counselors in behavioral intervention and the controversies surrounding mandated assessment and counseling is especially helpful. Unfortunately, his citations on policies and procedures regarding involuntary withdrawal seem outdated (1986-1992) given current attention to this issue.
Chapter 4 is a short chapter on the professional activities of counselors including research and scholarly work, involvement in professional organizations, continuing education and professional development, and private practice. In this chapter and throughout the book, the author refers to findings from national studies of counseling center directors, but it is not clear what institutions were represented in these studies. Given the vast diversity in higher education, it would have been helpful to have a more nuanced understanding of the impact of institutional differences (public, private, residential, commuter, 2-year, 4-year, large, small) on counseling services. Providing this context might also have presented an opportunity to focus on the essentials for every college [End Page 117] counseling center versus some of the extras for larger centers or those with more resources.
Chapter 5 addresses the importance of being diversity-competent. While it is clearly important that counselors are skilled in working with diverse clients, the extent of the focus on specific student groups was somewhat puzzling, as was the author's decision to lump Hispanic students and African-American students together under the category "Students of Color." A discussion of strategies for hiring and retaining diverse counselors may have been more germane to the focus of the book. The lens for this chapter appears to be predominantly white institutions with no mention of community colleges, HBCU's or Hispanic Serving Institutions.
The author's discussion of "special challenges" in chapter 6 was especially pertinent as new counselors (and possibly current counselors) wouldn't necessarily be aware of the challenges these issues present for counseling administrators. Included in these challenges are increasing demand for services with limited resources, working within an administrative structure (and with administrators who might not understand or value the counseling function), litigation, threat assessment, pressure to provide...