The problem of bullying is perceived among various members of the school community as the most concerning problem, particularly because of the negative impacts that it has on students in any school level—elementary, middle and high school. Within the school that I work, we refer to an act of bullying as one that involves repeatedly acts by one or more students who intentionally inflict injury or discomfort to one or more students. I add to this definition—it is an abuse of a sense of power perceived by the perpetrator or perpetrators.
Bullying is a type of violence among young people that has a negative impact on not only the victim, but also on the perpetrator, bystanders, families and communities. It happens in school grounds and transcends into neighborhoods or transcends from neighborhoods and into the schools. It can happen in the form of physical contact, harsh words and/or even subtle actions. It can happen in face-to-face interactions, as well as through social media. Victims and others involved may experience physical injuries, social and mental health problems, as well as poor academic performance. Thus, this problem calls for interventions that are comprehensive in nature and one that is led by the most adept school professionals and, counselors who work collaboratively with the school community in its entirety.Order now
One intervention that is considered and has proven effective is group counseling. This Literature Review serves as the first phase of creating a Group Counseling Manual that will help develop a culture that respects and values all. The Literature Review will serve as a guide to writing a manual that will clearly describe, step by step, the manner in which a school counselor will develop and implement intervention plans that ensure the emotional and physical safety of all students. To reach a comprehensive solution, this form of intervention will consider group counseling in ways that will combine the efforts of the entire school community—from the school counselor, to school administrators, school faculty, students, their families and whenever possible, community organizations.
What is Bullying?
By definition, bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort (APA, 2019). The Center for Disease Control reports that students who are bullied are more likely to experience low self-esteem and isolation, perform poorly in school, have few friends in school, have a negative view of school, experience physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, or problems sleeping), and to experience mental health issues (such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety) (PACER’s, 2019).
To represent the negative impact in numbers, a School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey data collected on bullying from a nationally representative sample of students ages 12-18, 22% reported being bullied at school (NCES, 2013). Given this high number of reported bullying incidents at school, intervention by the most skilled professional of the school community, the school counselor, is necssary to help prevent this major disruption in a manner that is comprehensive in nature. How can school counselors make a difference?
A Community Problem
The perspective or focus on whose problem it is needs to change. In a brief journal titled Bullying Basics: Fast Facts for Busy Counselors, the author presents a quick reference of facts as a useful source of information on bullying and notes that this problem is no longer a school problem, but a community problem (Briggs, 2012). The author describes three types of bullying:
- direct bullying, such as physical attacks;
- verbal abuse, such as name-calling, teasing, verbal threats, and obscene gestures;
- indirect bullying, such as saying mean or untrue things, or spreading rumors; social bullying such as ignoring someone, manipulating friendships, enlisting friends to assault someone else, and daring others to do dangerous things upon threat of exclusion; and cyber bullying, such as sharing inappropriate pictures of someone, posing as someone else to spread rumors or lies, or sending harassing messages via social media (Briggs, 2012).
Clearly, the problem goes beyond school grounds and interventions must reach beyond school grounds.
Policy-Based and Through Collaboration
In the article titled School Leadership and Counselors Working Together to Address Bullying, the authors agree that administrators need to develop a school-wide program to stop bullying and one that is based on school policies (Austin, Reynolds, & Barnes, 2012). They further explain that counselors play an important role in the program by helping school personnel identify the roles of students in bullying and understand their emotional needs (Austin, Reynolds, & Barnes, 2012). The authors suggest a “zero tolerance” for bullying and actions that include revision of policies as the first step in addressing the problem (Austin, Reynolds, & Barnes, 2012).
In an educational journal titled Bullying Among Young Children: Strategies for Prevention, the authors describe a number of strategies that teachers can implement in their curriculum (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014), which could also be implemented by school counselors in groups. One strategy that the authors suggest is providing education to young children about bullying under the approaches of knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviors (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014). Counselors can develop knowledge and understanding in young children by discussing the definition of bullying, the different forms it can take, the harm it causes, why bullying is unacceptable, and what can be done about it (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014).
Students can be taught attitudes and values to help them develop empathy toward children who are bullied by others, teaching feelings of distaste at the idea of people bullying others, allowing students to feel shame if they are instrumental in bullying others, gaining a sense of responsibility for helping those who are bullied, and accepting those who are different from themselves (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014). The use of picture books as a tool would provide them with culturally relevant texts and that exposes them to backgrounds that are different from their own, then they will expect individuals to be unique and celebrate those differences (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014). The article concludes that through consistent and clear interventions, students can build positive peer relationships that promote a safe and healthy school climate and culture (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014).
According to Cassada Lohmann (2013), a National Board-Certified Counselor, group work can prove helpful when working with youths who are targets of bullying. However, Cassada Lohman does not recommend a group to include both the targets of bullying and perpetrators as it can be very upsetting to the victim (Cassada Lohmann, 2013), and suggests that the bully needs to be spoken to alone and independently. She further adds that counselors can work with administration to address bullying from a school-wide approach, using everything from assemblies, pledges to student-led campaigns (Cassada Lohmann, 2013). As a collaborative and comprehensive approach, the author suggests that school counselors can also provide training to school staff about the effects of bullying and how to help the targeted teen and the bully (Levine & Tamburrino, 2014). Based on these recommendations, homogenous groups would be considered when screening for group members.
Narrative Group Counseling
There is a very effective and interactive approach to addressing bullying in a fashion that is time efficient known as the Narrative Group Counseling approach. The authors of the journal article titled School Counselor Use of Narrative Therapy to Support Students of Color Transitioning from an Alternative School Setting (Haskins, Johnson, Grimes, Moore, & Norris-Brown, 2016) describe one of the strategies as a bullying group format that involves role play. As for students struggling with academic failure, a focus on building strengths, positive reputations, and academic skills can have a powerful impact because students are given tools to separate themselves from failure (Nafziger and DeKruyf, 2016). As active participants, students are able to make more concrete the externalization of their problems and role playing can be a valuable skill they can also use in the future (Nafziger and DeKruyf, 2016). Some roles are designed to undermine the influence of the problem by not only helping the student explore behaviors, intentions, and feelings, but also through the exploration of values, commitments, and strengths (Nafziger and DeKruyf, 2016). This type of interaction or role play appears as very empowering as group members play their respective roles in the problem at hand and identify alternatives and more productive ways to address them (Nafziger and DeKruyf, 2016).
One technique that is incorporated in this approach is one that may support the curriculum at different levels, as it also involves writing and the arts. In writing—to solidify and remind students of the successes they claimed over their problems, group members can write letters to themselves in the final session (Netziger and Dekuyf, 2016). In the arts, the authors suggest that students could expand the audience by writing letters or by using digital media to create some form of therapeutic documentation to send to people in their lives who could support them in their continued work against bullying (Netziger and Dekuyf, 2016). When suggesting these exercises as part of the group counseling planning (and in creating a group counseling manual), school administrators may be more open to the idea as it meets core curriculum requirements and enhances the academic skills of participants.
Resources for School Counselors in New York City Public Schools
One of the roles of school counselors within the New York City Department of Education is addressing bullying and participating in the school-wide Respect for All initiative. Yet, from this counselor trainee’s observations, the consensus among NYCDOE counselors is that there is no set curriculum for them to implement in counseling both individuals and groups. However, this assignment has led this counselor trainee to explore some online resources that are available to school counselors, which can be implemented in group sessions and that may be considered for the purpose of writing the group counseling manual. Take for example the New York Times article titled A Student-Driven Bullying Curriculum, which was implemented for Middle School students, ages 11-14 (Schulten, 2013). The program consists of a student peer-leadership group that takes on bullying with monthly grade and schoolwide initiatives. The teacher who implemented the program used a few New York Times articles and Learning Network resources as inspiration, created a semester-long, student-run antibullying curriculum that his peer leadership group has taken and made their own (Schulten, 2013). Schulman describes the program at his school, then suggests nine ideas that school counselors, could adapt.
According to the article, the teacher who implemented the program used recent articles and lesson plan from the Learning Network on bullying as a springboard for discussion in his peer leadership program (Schulten, 2013). Students were able to get a broad picture of the bullying problem in schools nationwide and used that information to perform role-play, create “diversity poems,” and give advice on how to handle bullying situations to their friends (Schulten, 2013). Students were encouraged in the discussion group to come up with their own solutions to bullying, and to evaluate the newly signed antibullying law in New York(Schulten, 2013). The group performed a monthly presentation to promote peace and understanding at their school at the assemblies, created an antibullying graphic novel and a calendar of events to honor important diversity and civil rights dates in history (Schulten, 2013). Moreover, with the aid of two facilitators from a community organization, 12 students were trained to become “peer leaders” within their school. The article reports that the project, and the school as a whole has been extremely pleased with the positive messages that are being spread by the students (Schulten, 2013).
Some of the exercises presented in the article that seem comprehensive in nature and appealed to this counselor trainee include the following (Schulten, 2013)—
- Develop a “peer leadership program” that meets weekly to discuss, research and plan ways to combat bullying, prejudice and discrimination in their school and community. Role-play scenarios that are specific to your school environment and devise multiple solutions that can effectively end the situation. Any teacher can coordinate this program, but the students will eventually take over.
- Hold monthly assemblies that promote bullying issues to students. Inspiring music, artwork and and speakers can be presented. “Citizenship” awards can be given out to students or classes who most represent antibullying and antidiscrimination ideals. Assemblies have highlighted the bullying issue to students. Ours have included student role-plays about a gay student being accepted by his classmates and student poems on bullying and diversity.
- Start a “bully-proof club”! Bring refreshments, music and movies, and hold them every couple of weeks after school and watch antibullying. Smaller group discussions would follow.
If it is true that the NYCDOE does not have a prescribed curriculum for school counselors, this article would serve as an idea that can be investigated further and introduce it in the school as a group counseling program. The program activities, developed by a teacher, meet core curriculum standards. This may enhance the approval of school administrators, as well as support and collaboration among an entire school community. Creativity and resourcefulness are key!
I wanted to explore the issue of bullying, the role of the school counselor and possible group counseling interventions that are comprehensive in nature because bullying impacts communities. The problem has negative effects within the school and transcends into the community. Or the other way around, the problem may be within their neighborhoods and transcends into the schools.
As a school community, and more specifically as school counselors, we need to take part in empowering others to relearn more helpful and adaptive ways of behaving, more productive and adaptive ways of respecting each other. Exploring the issue of anti-bullying group counseling will be followed by the step of creating a manual as a guide to group counseling interventions through a structured set of procedures that will target homogenous and heterogenous groups of individuals who would be empowered and encouraged to explore alternatives while enhancing their physical, social and mental health, as well as their academic performance.