Dr. Chris Schimmel, associate professor in the CEHS Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling and Counseling Psychology, spends a large portion of her time as an educator teaching students about the significant role that school counselors play in classrooms and communities.
Through her work, Schimmel illustrates that school counselors do much more than change students’ schedules and provide information about college scholarships. These duties, often associated with the stereotypical guidance counselor, are just a small part of the services that professional school counselors provide.
“Professional school counselors work to design, manage, deliver and implement a comprehensive school counseling program that serves every student in the building,” Schimmel said. “School counselors typically focus their energies on three areas – attendance, behavior and academics. They are always working to help a school improve their overall mission.”
In her classroom, Schimmel provides future school counselors with the tools and tactics they need to help kids deal with difficult life situations. Some of these tactics, including group counseling and impact therapy, are the focus of her research.
Impact therapy is a multi-sensory, creative approach to counseling that incorporates props and activities like writing, drawing and movement to engage clients and help them retain what they discuss. Schimmel argues that impact therapy is particularly effective for children.
“If you go to the counselor and it’s really boring, you’re not going to remember as much or internalize as much as you would if we make a concept interesting or you’re engaged in the process,” Schimmel said. “Counseling for kids has to be more engaging than just sitting and talking. You want to tap into both sides of their brains.”
Schimmel’s belief in the value of school counseling inspired her to reach out to the West Virginia schools impacted by severe floods in June 2016. A former school counselor at Herbert Hoover High School, one of the schools that experienced the most flood damage, Schimmel
had a personal connection to the flood victims. With an understanding of the need for school counseling in traumatic situations like this, she searched for ways that she could help.
“We don’t usually think that students would be excited to go to school, but losing their school changes the structure of their lives,” Schimmel said. “It’s a place they go five days a week, 180 days a year, where they feel safe.”
To support the school counselors who lost years of materials, Schimmel reached out via Facebook and a popular school counseling listserv, CESNET, to enlist the help of her colleagues in the counseling community. As a result of her efforts, school counselors from all over the country offered donations and materials to those who lost everything.
According to Schimmel, this was a vital step in beginning the healing process for the children who experienced this catastrophic event.
“Trained school counselors provide students with safe spaces to process trauma and talk about how they’re feeling; they can bring kids together to discuss their grief so they know they’re not alone,” Schimmel said. “There’s no dollar amount for the value of that.”
Ultimately, Schimmel’s devotion to her profession stems from her passion for improving the lives of children. This is the trait that she works to instill in every student who passes through her classroom.“I hope that by the time everybody has me for at least one class that they have some kind of passion or a heart for being an advocate for children and adolescents,” Schimmel said. “If they can leave with that passion, I think the rest will fall into place for them.”