10 Impactful Tools To Use In Individual Counseling Sessions

How strong is your individual counseling game? One thing I often find among school counselors is that a lot of them seem more comfortable planning and delivering Tier 1 and Tier 2 SEL lessons, but when it comes to individual counseling, it turns out a good number of them don't find these sessions easy or fun to plan or facilitate. I have to admit, when I started out as a school counselor, I was also part of this club. However, with time, research, experimentation, and practice, I have come to enjoy planning and running individual sessions too!

If you're looking for ways to spruce up your Tier 3 interventions without having to pull your hair out, here are 10 tried and tested activities that you could consider making part of your sessions with individual students:

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Social Stories

Given that a Tier 3 student needs the most support, it is possible that despite their area of concern, the child may not be able to fully understand routines or expected behaviors without enough personalization and visual cues. Social stories are the perfect tool because they offer more concrete information that can be represented visually to make it easier to understand. I use social stories in all kinds of situations but find that they work really well with students who are struggling with anxiety. Social stories can be used in a preventative manner or when a negative behavior is demonstrated and needs to be corrected. They are effective in redirecting negative behaviors in a way that a child can understand without too much complexity. Another pro of using social stories? These are great to use with your EAL/ESL learners too!

Board Games

What's not to love about board games, right? I enjoy using them to get kiddos talking during one-on-one sessions. Play along so you can model responses and also make the student feel more at ease. Board games offer a fun and interactive way to get a better understanding of where your student is at and what their problem areas still might be. You can then use this information to help plan your future sessions. If you're up to a challenge, you can even create your own board games.

Discussion Cards

Have you ever had a student who was too shy to start talking? Have some of your rapport building questions been returned with an awkward silence or a deadpan expression? Discussion cards are my go-to, whether as an icebreaker activity or to get my students to think and talk about a specific topic I plan to work on with them. Just like with board games, discussion cards can be used for every SEL/counseling topic and make for quick and easy conversation starters. In a Tier 3 setting, for example, they are especially helpful for students who are dealing with grief.

Journals

With my upper elementary kiddos, journals are among my favorite resources to use, in both group and individual settings. When working through self regulation or grief, for example, a journal is the perfect tool for an individual student to work on over a few sessions. Also, journals are great to use for data collection and progress monitoring, making it easy to spot trends and problem areas. Journals also provide the opportunity for your student to reflect and take action. Interactive journals that include spaces and pages to draw, color, and write, are visually stimulating too. These journals can be shared with parents (with student permission) so they can use the same language, such as with the Zones of Regulation, and can see their child’s progress over the course of your sessions. Digital journals that can be used with Google Slides are a fantastic option, especially if your students are tech-savvy or you are still in a remote/blended learning mode.

Mindfulness

One way we can teach students to work through their issues is with mindfulness and grounding. Mindfulness can be presented as a guided meditation, breathing exercise, or something as simple as an 'ABC Grounding' activity where students look around your office and try to find something that starts with each letter of the alphabet. This simple exercise allows them to stay grounded, eventually calming their body to meet their thoughts. I have found mindfulness to work especially well as an opening or closing routine with children who struggle with anger and self regulation.

Vision Boards

I love teaching students visualization techniques when it comes to goal setting for their 'future selves'. I encourage them to think about the future and make vision boards. They could use scissors and magazines or work on creating a virtual one. Once completed, have them reflect on how it will feel when they actually achieve their goals. You will be amazed at how vision boards can change perspective and instill confidence. I especially use this tool with kiddos struggling with self esteem.

Reflective Think Sheets

Ongoing self-reflection is easily among the most important aspects of Tier 3 counseling, and I have found that reflective think sheets can be used across the board, be it for anxiety, grief, self-regulation, anger management, or even self-esteem. Getting our students to spend time thinking about and reflecting on their emotions and consequent behavior is a pivotal part of our role as school counselors. Reflective think sheets also help our young students voice their unmet needs, consider how their actions have impacted those around them, and make more helpful choices going forward. That said, reflective think sheets are not only for when inappropriate behavior needs to be corrected. They can also be used to reinforce desired behaviors that have been exhibited by the student.

Crafts

Tactile and artistically inclined students almost instantly take to an activity that involves making crafts. For example, one of my go-to crafts for individual students navigating grief or loss/separation, is a 'Colors of My Heart' activity that involves having the student glue together two popsicle sticks to make an 'X' and then wrap different color yarn around them to indicate the different emotions they are experiencing on their grief journey. This opens up an opportunity for you and the student to then work on coping skills and strategies.

Books

Never underestimate the power of a good story, especially in your one-on-one counseling sessions. Books are great for helping kiddos process strong/difficult feelings, learn various social skills, and positive character traits. There are a ton of excellent SEL books to choose from to use with your students based on their needs. If you're an elementary counselor and are looking for recommendations to stock up your SEL library, check out this blog post.

Scavenger Hunts

Who doesn't love a good scavenger hunt? While they make for a great rapport-building activity, they can also be used more specifically when addressing counseling needs such as grief and self regulation. An emotions scavenger hunt can help build emotional awareness while a sensory scavenger hunt might help your anxious kiddos break the cycle of unhelpful thoughts in a healthy manner by providing them the opportunity for grounding and recentering.

That's it! Remember, the best tool you can use with your individual students is the one that meets them where they are at. Taking a bit of time in the beginning to listen to your students and hear their concerns will go a long way with helping you serve them.

Still unsure of how to go about planning your Tier 3 sessions? Tired of spending all your time scouring the internet for individual counseling resources? Check out my new Individual Counseling Curriculum Bundle. With engaging activities, crafts, and games, students in your one-to-one sessions will learn the strategies and coping skills they need to succeed. Topics covered include anxiety, self-regulation, grief, anger management, and self-esteem. The bundle also contains all of the tools you need to assess and measure your students' progress.

 What are your go-to intervention ideas for individual counseling? Which of the ones shared in this blog post do you plan to use? Let me know in the comments.  

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