New Research Shows School-Based Mental Health Professionals have a Serious Lack of Training to Support LGBTQ Students

Despite a lack of critical training and resources, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers hold positive attitudes towards and work to support LGBTQ students

New York, NY, Jan. 15, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Particular need for increased education and training on working with transgender students

GLSEN, in partnership with the American Council for School Social Work (ACSSW), the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), and the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA), released a new report, Supporting Safe and Healthy Schools for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Students,  providing insight into school-based mental health professionals’ work to support LGBTQ youth, as well as barriers they face to supporting those youth. Data from the report was drawn from a national online survey of 1,741 school mental health professionals - which included school counselors, psychologists, and social workers -  in U.S. schools (grades 5-12). Respondents came from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“This report is of crucial importance as it adds to our understanding of key school personnel who play a critical day-to-day role in the academic and emotional well-being of our nation’s youth, including LGBTQ youth,” said Joseph Kosciw, Chief Strategy & Research Officer at GLSEN.  “Further, it identifies factors that need improvement for school mental health providers to be better able to work with LGBTQ students, such as pre-service education and professional development."

The report indicates that the majority of school mental health professionals surveyed hold positive attitudes regarding LGBTQ students and feel they have an important role to play in supporting these students. Specifically, 87% of school counselors, psychologists, and social workers believe that it is their responsibility to provide supportive counseling to LGBTQ students and 80% believe that they should not avoid discussion of students’ sexual orientation and gender identity.

Further, the report documents that many school mental health professionals work to create safe and welcoming environments for LGBTQ students as a part of their individual practice. For example, nearly three-fourths of school counselors, psychologists, and social workers report meeting with LGB students over the past year, and nearly half report having a Safe Space sticker or other visual sign of support for LGBTQ students in locations where they meet with students.

“This report reveals a promising picture with regard to how school-based mental health providers work to support LGBTQ students,” said Jill Cook, Assistant Director of ASCA. “The fact that school counselors, psychologists, and social workers are largely supportive of LGBTQ students, and are actively working to create welcoming spaces for these students, goes a long way toward helping to create safe and inclusive schools for all students in our nation.”

Although school counselors, psychologists, and social workers were found to hold positive attitudes towards LGBTQ-related issues in schools and many engaged in supportive practices, the report also found that many do not receive LGBTQ-inclusive graduate education and professional development opportunities. Without this training, school mental health professionals may be left without the critical skills they need to support and advocate for LGBTQ students most effectively. Graduate education and professional development opportunities around working with transgender students were found to be particularly lacking. Key findings include:

  • Seven in ten school counselors, psychologists, and social workers (70%) receive little to no competency training in their graduate programs related to working with LGB populations. Eight in ten (81%) receive little to no competency training in their graduate programs related to working with transgender populations.
  • Over a third (37%) have not received any formal education or training on LGBTQ-specific student issues during their professional careers.

“Improving graduate education curriculum by including more LGBTQ-related content and increasing funding to school districts for professional development activities that include LGBTQ-specific training are two effective ways to ensure school mental health professionals have the knowledge and the skills to serve LGBTQ students,” said Judith Kullas Shine, Past President of ACSSW.

The report identifies a strong need for education and training efforts for SMHPs to include content related to transgender students, as it is an area where school mental health providers receive even less training and feel less confident in their abilities, as compared to content related to LGB students.

Finally, the report offers additional recommendations to build on the strong foundation of SMHPs’ support for LGBTQ students, including ensuring school counselors, psychologists, and social workers are aware of the position statements and ethical standards from their professional membership organizations’ related to LGBTQ youth issues in schools, and having access to self-directed knowledge-building opportunities and easy-to-implement supportive resources, such as GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit.

“There are some existing supports out there for school-based mental health providers who want to be welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ students -- including the organizations and associations who contributed to this report -- and it’s critical that social workers, counselors, and psychologists have access to those,” said Rebecca K. Oliver, Executive Director of SSWAA.  “This report also serves as a call to action for graduate schools, education policymakers, and school districts to step up and ensure that school mental health professionals are provided the training, support, and funding needed to best support the LGBTQ students with whom they work.”

Download the report at


About ACSSW:
The American Council for School Social Work (ACSSW) advocates for the practice of school social work and supports school social workers in their service to students, schools, and families to overcome social, systemic, economic, and mental health barriers to student learning. ACSSW seeks to advance the practice of school social work by offering resources that support innovative practice, effective leadership, and applied research. As school practitioners, ACSSW advocates for social justice and school culture that is inclusive, empowering, accepting, and equitable and which provides all students with the freedom to learn in a healthy school climate that advances and promotes their best abilities and positive mental health. LGBTQ students, those who are in the process of coming out to friends and family, and/or those who may be experiencing harassment and marginalization due to their status, deserve the same.

About ASCA:
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) professional organization based in Alexandria, Va. ASCA promotes student success by expanding the image and influence of school counseling through leadership, advocacy, collaboration and systemic change. ASCA helps school counselors guide their students toward academic achievement, career planning and social/emotional development to help today’s students become tomorrow’s productive, contributing members of society. Founded in 1952, ASCA has a network of 50 state and territory associations and a membership of more than 35,000 school counseling professionals. For additional information on the American School Counselor Association, visit

About GLSEN:
GLSEN works to create safe and inclusive schools for all. We envision a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Each year, GLSEN programs and resources reach millions of students and educators in K-12 schools, via action at the national, state, and local level. Over nearly three decades of work, GLSEN has improved conditions for LGBTQ students across the United States and launched an international movement to address LGBTQ issues in education and promote respect for all in schools. Find more information on GLSEN’s policy advocacy, student leadership initiatives, school-based programs, research, and professional development for educators at

About SSWAA:
The School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) empowers school social workers and promotes the profession of school social work to enhance the social and emotional growth and academic outcomes of all students. SSWAA advocates for school social workers as an integral part of the education of all children, connecting schools, families, and communities, and delivering mental-health, social-emotional learning, and prevention services.


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