Study Shows Need For Guidelines In Niche Field

Gabriel Lomas
Gabriel Lomas, a 2008 SHSU doctoral graduate who works with deaf children, found that public school deaf education counselors take on roles that general school counselors do not when working with the hearing impaired.

Though only around one percent of the student population is affected by deafness, those who are often face problems in their schools that go beyond their inability to hear—they tend to have nowhere to turn.

That’s because not only are a vast majority of school districts ill-equipped with faculty that can work with hearing-disabled students, but those counselors who can have no guidelines to follow in helping these students, according to a study by recent Sam Houston State University counselor education doctoral graduate Gabriel Lomas.

Lomas, who owns the Houston Center for Mental Health and Deafness and currently teaches as an assistant professor at the University of Houston—Clear Lake, found in his survey of 22 deaf education counselors across the country that these counselors are unique, taking on a different role than general education counselors.

In comparing surveyed tasks with the model for school counseling promoted by the American School Counselor Association, Lomas found these unique roles included playing therapist as a primary task, instead of performing assessment tasks or guiding curriculum that general education counselors do.

“They (general counselors) sometimes will do one or two sessions of grief counseling or, at the most, they might set up an ADHD group, where they might do six or eight sessions,” Lomas said. “If a child needs ongoing counseling all year long, they will always refer them out.

“That’s a major policy across almost all states and is pretty much recognized in most models of counseling,” he said. “But all of these deaf ed counselors were doing ongoing counseling, and that’s a huge difference between what’s typically found out there.”

Furthermore, some counselors were even found to be fulfilling parental-type roles in such ways as giving their students rides to the doctor, Lomas said.

“In psychology, you have to be really careful about what kind of role you take on. It’s called counter-transference: when the client or the child tells you something, you get stirred up inside emotionally, and you have an experience based on what they say,” he said. “I might think to myself that the child needs their parents to be more involved, but what was happening with the counselors is they are acting on their counter-transference; they’re becoming very personally involved with the kids.

“I don’t want to say it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but that’s a huge implication because what they are doing goes over and above what general counselors would do,” he said.

Additionally, without federally- or state-mandated guidelines in the field to follow, deaf education counselors felt the authority to make unilateral decisions, even if those decisions were in opposition to school district guidelines.

“There’s a whole field of counselor supervision, but more of it is focused on counselor development,” Lomas said. “A lot of them felt like they’d prefer to use a guidance curriculum the way school counselors do, but they didn’t feel they had good resources.

“They felt they needed a unique guidance curriculum that’s targeted to deaf kids,” he said. “But there’s not really one that’s available to them.”

The survey was conducted as part of a mixed-method research during which participants filled out a questionnaire about their roles as deaf education counselors and then were interviewed to expand upon the data. He also looked at how hearing impaired students—who were impaired to the point of needing modifications such as interpreters or equipment to understand what’s being said in class—received services.

Though there are a couple of thousand schools in the nation that have deaf education programs, he found only 22—those surveyed—that performed the niche role of deaf ed counselor. This is also true of Texas, where in the Houston area there are a number of deaf education programs but few specific counselors to help these students.

“There was a kid here in the Houston area who was the only hearing-impaired kid at his school, a huge public high school with probably 3,000 kids, and he was unhappy emotionally because he was the only deaf kid there, didn’t have any friends and nobody would talk to him,” Lomas said. “He had one sign language interpreter who was assigned to him all day, every day, and she followed him around school. He didn’t really like that.

“At some point, she was trying to give him advice about his personal life, and he had a lot of mixed feelings about that and wanted to talk to a counselor. But how’s he going to talk to the counselor? He’s going to complain to the counselor about his interpreter, but the interpreter has to be there for him to complain,” he said. “It can be kind of a problematic situation.”

Though it is considered a low-incidence disability, it doesn’t diminish the need for counselors who are able to work with these students, “especially considering all of the consequences these deaf kids face.

Deaf children are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems and are at three times greater risk for child abuse, but “a lot of them go home and they can’t talk to their parents,” Lomas said.

Lomas said his research isn’t trying to say they need more deaf ed counselors but more federal or state guidelines should mandate the availability of counselors when there is a need for it, such as when a district has more than 100 deaf students, for example.

“If there was a federal guideline for it, there would be more compliance, but right now, there are no guidelines so there’s a lot of inconsistency,” he said. “I think we need to examine more closely the supervision that we give to counselors who work with deaf students and think about the issue of counter-transference and examine that more closely.”

He also suggests follow-up studies that might examine the outcomes of deaf students who receive attention from a specialist counselor as compared to those who do not.


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SHSU Media Contacts: Jennifer Gauntt
March 26, 2009
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