Student counseling is listed as a Related Service in IDEA. Actually, Parent Counseling and Training is too. But that’s another post for another day. I have had a few clients over the years who had IEP counseling goals and received counseling as an IEP related service.

Very few parents know that this is an option. If you think it is a service that will enable your child to access and benefit from their education, read on.

Understanding IEP counseling goals is essential for receiving related services on your IEP.

Should your Child Have Counseling IEP Goals?

Let’s take a look at counseling on your IEP, IEP counseling goals and some other issues to be aware of.

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A young man in a hoodie is sitting on a couch with a clipboard, working on his IEP goals.

What IDEA says about Counseling Services

IDEA defines related service counseling as follows:
(2) Counseling services means services provided by qualified social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, or other qualified personnel. [§300.34(c)(2)]

The italics is mine. I put it there because “other qualified personnel” is yet another one of those vague IEP terms that we have to wrestle with. However, every state has their own Special Education regulations, so check your state’s Dept of Ed page. They should define on there what makes a person qualified to provide counseling services on an IEP.

Why I’m not a Fan of Counseling Services on an IEP

Counseling certainly has its place on an IEP. I’m not here to second-guess thousands of education experts. However, there are some downsides to receiving counseling services at school. I want all parents to be as informed as possible in building your child’s IEP.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention these. While there are no absolutes, as a general rule, I encourage parents to seek private counseling outside of school hours if their insurance pays for it or they can afford it.

  • The student will miss (more) class time. Our kids already get pulled out of classes, lunch, and specials for other IEP related services and small-group instruction. This will be added on the list and there are only so many hours in a day.
  • The child (probably) does not like being singled out. If your child is reminded during class time to leave, even if done discreetly, they may find it to be unwanted attention.
  • A private therapist usually allows for more bonding because it is more frequent and a longer period of time with less turnover. On an IEP, the service provider may change more frequently.
  • School personnel tend to be more of a “generalist” when it comes to counseling and your child may need more specialized services.
  • I have had some clients who had this service and then used it as a crutch to get out of undesirable tasks and activities. If you add it, put limits on it.
  • If the child is receiving private services, please speak with that clinician before adding services.

These are just some of the issues that IEP teams should consider before adding counseling IEP goals and services. These are common issues I have seen as an advocate who has attended hundreds of IEP meetings with clients.

For the right kid and the right counselor, it can really help.

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I want to add here that I have heard from school counselors on this topic. And they said:

As a school social worker working in a therapeutic high school with students presenting with social-emotional difficulties and autism. I have also worked in regular education school settings. I appreciate the information you provide to families and educators alike. I just read your post on writing social-emotional counseling goals on an IEP. Just like many teachers are better than others, doctors are better than others, and some counselors are better than others. 

I want to address some misconceptions that are in your blog. School counselors need to be “highly qualified”, just like teachers and other specialists. Many school clinicians are more than just generalists, especially with a current focus post-COVID on the increase in social-emotional struggles. I have a LICSW, a post-graduate certification in trauma from a multi-cultural perspective from {redacted} University. I have worked in inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings at Boston Children’s Hospital. I have trained with Bessel Van der Kolk on trauma treatment, Michelle Garcia Winner, Pamela Ely, and Michelle Ward for best practices with students presenting with ASD and executive functioning difficulties.

In regards to creating a more positive connection, I have chosen to work in schools because it allows me the opportunity to develop a stronger, more consistent relationship with students since I see them throughout their school day and can observe the student in many different situations and reinforce the skills “in the moment”. When I go into a classroom I work with all the students, not just the students I am assigned. Most of my friends and colleagues have similar training and philosophy. I stopped working with children and adolescents in an outpatient model because I did not get to know them as well.


Development of Counseling IEP Goals

Like everything else on the IEP, goals and supports/services are driven by need. What area of need the child has will determine which IEP goals are best supported by counseling. For some, it might be the management of anxiety or social anxiety.

Others may receive counseling in the form of work/practice sessions where they can learn executive functioning skills or social-emotional learning.

You can always take the task or skill below and add it into the IEP goal formula to make it measurable.

IEP counseling goals worksheet.

Here are other IEP goal ideas you might be looking for.

Counseling IEP Goal Examples

Developing an IEP goal from the service rather than the need isn’t typical, but, most school personnel who are qualified to provide counseling are qualified to help a child work on the following skills.

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I’m publishing this list because I get frequent requests for it. However, if you asked me for a list of OT goals, I’d say, “What’s the area of need–fine motor, handwriting, sensory?” And direct you to one of those lists. I hope that makes sense!

  1. Student will identify X number of ways to demonstrate anger/frustration that are socially appropriate. (SEL)
  2. Student will use appropriate strategies to calm themselves with/without prompts X% of observed trials. (SEL)
  3. Student will allow themselves to be mad or frustrated without hurting 90% of observed opportunities. (SEL)
  4. Student will refrain from physical aggression (i.e. kicking, hitting, pushing, tripping) across all environments in school, for X consecutive weeks, with all adults and children as measured by event data. (SEL)
  5. Student will refrain from aggression (i.e. hitting, kicking, pushing) 100% of the day, across all environments, with all adults and children as measured by special education event data, over 8 consecutive weeks. (SEL)
  6. Student will demonstrate raising her hand to participate in class and/or small group instruction, 80% of the time in 5 out of 5 intervals, as measured by teacher observations. (EF)
  7. Student will respond when called upon 80% of observed trials. (EF)
  8. In the classroom environment, Student will utilize positive self-talk and coping strategies to handle stressful situations or work demands in which he/she manifests anxious or withdrawn behavior (i.e. putting head down, saying he/she can’t do something), demonstrated by engaging in the 30-minute activity or situation in a calm and positive manner with/without prompt. (SEL)
  9. Given a 3-step functional direction from an adult, Student will complete all three steps with a maximum of 1 additional prompt in 4 out of 5 trials as measured by teacher observation and data. (EF)
  10. Student will participate in the development of self-monitoring checklists, providing school personnel with X number of solutions for…… (EF)
  11. Through the use of Self-Monitoring checklists, Student will reduce instances of Passive Non-Compliance (becomes purposely and increasingly distracted through ignoring tasks, demands, or staff directives) to an average of 20% of intervals or less, both across all educational environments and within each educational environment, as measured across a one week period. (EF)
  12. During a 20 minute academic task, Student will respond to staff directives in an expected manner within 1 minute and with one reminder on 4 out of 5 trials, as measured by teacher observation and data. (EF)
  13. When given scenarios of social conflicts, Student will demonstrate problem-solving skills by identifying the problem and generating two solutions appropriate to the situation in 4/5 trials, as measured by data collection. (SEL)
  14. In counseling sessions, Student will accurately identify feelings and appropriate coping strategies when presented with real or imagined situations with 80% accuracy on 4 out of 5 trials. (SEL)
  15. When Student becomes upset, frustrated, or angry, he will use a self-regulation/coping strategy (movement break, deep breathing, quiet space break, deep pressure/heavy work activity, etc.) to avoid engaging in unexpected behavior, with one reminder, on 4 out of 5 opportunities, as measured by observations and documentation. (SEL)
  16. Student will improve his self-regulation skills as demonstrated through utilizing a tool (e.g. inner coach, sensory support, calming break) to aid in regulating to an expected emotional state (e.g. green zone – which is when we feel calm, happy, content, and focused) with/without prompt…. (SEL)
  17. Student will improve insight on regulation as demonstrated by identifying the instances where he/she could have benefited from utilizing a tool to aid in regulation and determine what tool would have been beneficial for each instance with 80% accuracy. (SEL)
  18. When presented with a problem (non-preferred task, frustrating situation, criticism/correction), Student will accurately determine the size of the problem (big problem, little problem) and determine the appropriate emotional response (take a break, talk with the teacher, take a deep breath, replace frustration with good thoughts, etc.) and return to the task at hand in 4 out of 5 trials as measured by teacher charted data. (SEL)
  19. When given a frustrating situation (i.e. undesired task, demand, and/or undesired peer behavior), with one prompt Student will utilize coping strategies (i.e. take a break, deep breaths, etc.) and return to and remain on task with a calm body and mind for a minimum of 10 minutes with an average of 95% over 8 consecutive school weeks, across all classroom environments. (SEL)
  20. Student will be able to identify X number of anxiety/anger/frustrating situations that they encounter. (SEL)
  21. Student will be able to list and identify X number of options or solutions that are an appropriate response to the encounters above. (SEL)
  22. X number of successful role-playing situations, reiterating numbers 15 and 16 above. (SEL)
  23. When presented with a situation known by Student to be anxiety or frustration producing for him (i.e. non-preferred task, an unexpected obstacle such as Student, tasks perceived as too difficult, unfamiliar adult, and non-preferred adult), he will independently demonstrate an appropriate emotional response through finding a solution to his problem or using a strategy to regulate back to an expected emotional state (take a break, talk with the teacher, etc.) and return to the task at hand within 2 minutes, for an average of 80% of instances both throughout all environments and within each environment. (SEL)
  24. Student will demonstrate the ability to recognize expected and unexpected behaviors as well as rate his own behavior as part of his self-monitoring system with 80% accuracy as compared to teacher ratings of behavior. (SEL)
  25. Student will demonstrate the ability to accurately recognize her level of anxiety through the use of a visual self-rating system (e.g. feelings thermometer) with 80% accuracy, as compared to teacher observations and data. (SEL)
  26. Student will show self-control of his/her body and voice (good personal space, keeping hands/arms/legs near the body, and appropriate voice level) in relation to the expected levels of the classroom and peers around him for 80% of a 20 minute period. (SEL)
  27. Student will demonstrate self-control in the classroom through raising his/her hand and waiting to be called on by the teacher when he/she has a question in class, with 80% accuracy in 5 out of 5 trials, as measured by teacher observation and data collection. (SEL)
  28. Student will transition when prompted by teachers 80% of trials by interacting with their Visual Schedules. (EF)
  29. When given a task or direction Student will begin the task within 1 minute and remain on task for a minimum of 10 minutes independently with no more than 2 prompts on 8 out of 10 independent tasks, as measured by staff data. (EF)
  30. Given a maximum of one verbal cue, Student will attend to a non-preferred, small-group activity and/or independent assignment, without protest, and remain on task with no task avoidance (bathroom, getting a jacket, tying shoes, sharpening a pencil, etc.) for 20 minutes, in 3 out of 4 trials, as measured by observations and staff documentation. (EF)
  31. Student will demonstrate on task-behavior in the general education setting for 75% of intervals during a 10 minute period, with the use of an appropriate fidget and one adult reminder, in 4/5 trials, as measured by observation and data. (EF)
  32. Student will attend (sit still, eyes on the teacher, hands to self, quiet voice) to a task during large and small group instruction across settings for a 10 minute period with no more than 1 teacher prompt in 4 out of 5 trials as measured by teacher charted data. (SEL)
  33. With movement breaks and the use of self-regulation strategies, Student will demonstrate the ability to attend to a task for an average of 75% of intervals in a 20 minute class period. (SEL)
  34. With the use of taught self-regulation strategies and self-monitoring checklists, Student will independently begin a task (including non-preferred tasks) within 2 minutes of direction for an average of 80% of opportunities, across environments. (SEL)
  35. With the use of taught self-regulation strategies and self-monitoring checklists, once Student has begun an independent task, he will then remain focused on the task for at least 10 minutes, free from adult prompts, for an average of 80% of opportunities, across environments. (SEL)
  36. When given an assigned task, the Student will independently complete an assignment/task, and ask for assistance, if needed, with 80% accuracy in 5 out of 5 consecutive trials, in a small group setting, as measured by teacher-charted observations. (EF)
  37. When given a non-preferred task paired with the use of self-regulation strategies and rewards systems, Student will begin the task within 1 minute and complete the appropriately modified version of the task within a predesignated appropriate amount of time (with use of timer) on 8 out of 10 opportunities, as measured by staff data. (SEL)
  38. In counseling sessions, Student will accurately identify situations that can be anxiety-producing and appropriate coping strategies or relaxation techniques when presented with real or imagined situations with X% accuracy. (SEL)
  39. Student will demonstrate the ability to accurately recognize her level of anxiety through the use of a visual self-rating system (e.g. feelings thermometer) with X accuracy, as compared to observations and data. (SEL)
  40. When given a frustrating situation (i.e. non-preferred task, not being able to choose a preferred activity such as computers, etc) Student will engage in no more than 20 minutes of non-compliance over a week period as measured through time sampling data. (SEL)

I hope these counseling IEP goals give you a good starting point. Make sure you browse the rest of our IEP goal options.

Social Emotional IEP Goals

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