Guidance counsellor strategies for handling bullying
Michleen Power-Elliott* and Gregory E. Harris
Faculty of Education, Memorial University, St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada
(Received 16 January 2011; ﬁnal version received 7 October 2011)
The purpose of this exploratory-descriptive study was to examine how guidance
counsellors in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador would handle a
specific verbal-relational bullying incident. Also of interest was guidance
counsellor involvement and training in bullying programmes and Positive
Data for this study was collected using the Handling Bullying Questionnaire
(Bauman, Rigby, & Hoppa, 2008). Results suggested that guidance counsellors
tended to take on various responsibilities in addressing verbal-relational bullying
(e.g. work with victims and bullies, disciplinary) and tended to enlist the support
of other adults. It is argued that guidance counsellors assume important roles in
addressing school bullying and that training in this area is critical for guidance
counsellors. Study implications and future research directions are discussed.
Keywords: guidance counsellors; bullying; bullying intervention; counsellor dual
In Canada, as in other countries, bullying continues to be a concern in schools and
communities. Schools, a microcosm of society, are struggling to address bullying.
Guidance counsellors are one part of a larger system that impacts on bullying. Some
evidence suggests that guidance counsellors, because of their education, may respond
to bullying in unique ways as compared with other adults in the school environment
(i.e. teachers and administrators). The purpose of this study was to assess the role of
guidance counsellors in dealing with bullying. There is little research on the role of
guidance counsellors in the prevention and remediation of bullying and thus our
study helps to clarify the role of guidance counsellors in responding to bullying.
In the following discussion, we define bullying from a systemic perspective. The
important role played by adults and, in particular, guidance counsellors is
highlighted. Anti-bullying programmes and Positive Behaviour Supports (PBS) are
According to Olweus (1993), ‘A student is being bullied or victimized when he or she
is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more
students’ (p. 9). This definition includes three critical criteria: intention, repetitive-
ness and power imbalance (Craig & Pepler, 2007; Olweus, 2010). Twemlow and Sacco
*Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com
British Journal of Guidance & Counselling,
Vol. 40, No. 1, February 2012, 83Á98
ISSN 0306-9885 print/ISSN 1469-3534 online
# 2012 Taylor & Francis
(2008) have incorporated the bystander audience as part of bullying, resulting in the
school as a whole becoming an active participant in the bullying process and part of a
system that has an impact on bullying.
Bullying can be physical (e.g. pushing), verbal (e.g. name-calling) or relational
(e.g. exclusion). Bullying can also be direct or indirect. Direct bullying involves forms
of both physical and verbal bullying. Indirect bullying, or social aggression, uses less
direct forms of bullying such as spreading rumours or social exclusion (Bauman,
2008). According to research, indirect bullying is often perceived as less serious
(Mishna, Pepler, & Wiener, 2006).
In the current study, participants were presented with a verbal-relational bullying
scenario which contained elements of both direct and indirect bullying. The bullying
scenario presented had three components common to most definitions of bullying:
deliberate intention to harm; repetition of the bullying behaviour; and a power
imbalance between the bully and the victim (Olweus, 1993).
Bullying from a systems perspective
According to Pepler, Craig, and O’Connell (1999), dynamic systems theory can be
used as a theoretical perspective to explain bullying. They argue that bullying is best
understood in the context of a social dynamic system where the bully and victim are
only two parts of a larger social system. The school environment is part of this social
system (Pepler et al., 1999). Bullying can be conceptualised as behaviour which is
influenced by a variety of systemic factors. Some of these factors may include: peer
influence (Burnes, Cross, & Maycock, 2010); parenting and the home environment
(Pettit & Bates, 1989); neighbourhood (Hawkins et al., 2000); socio-economic status
(Whitney & Smith, 1993); school climate (Bonnet, Goossens, Willemen, &
Schuengel, 2009); cultural norms (Hilton, Anngela-Cole, & Wakita, 2010); media
(Barboza et al., 2009); and gender (Carbone-Lopez, Esbensen, & Brick, 2010). In our
study, guidance counsellors, and how they would respond to a bullying incident, were
the bounded subsystem of our investigation.
Guidance counsellors and school psychologists
Guidance counsellors and school psychologists play a role in school climate and
safety. Unfortunately, very little research exists on the role of guidance counsellors in
bullying intervention and prevention (Bradshaw, Sawyer, & O’Brennan, 2007). A
recent American study by Sherer and Nickerson (2010) showed that school
psychologists do use several anti-bullying strategies in their schools (e.g. counselling,
Because of their formal education in empathic listening and relationship building,
guidance counsellors may view bullying in ways unique to them, and in contrast with
approaches taken by their teacher and administrative colleagues. However, within a
cohort of guidance counsellors there may be differing amounts of training in anti-
bullying, causing there to be some variation in responses to bullying within the
group. For example, a 2007 study by Jacobsen and Bauman found that school
counsellors with anti-bullying training rated relational bullying as more serious than
counsellors who did not have such training, and counsellors who worked in schools
with anti-bullying programmes were more likely to intervene in incidents involving
relational bullying than counsellors who worked in a school without such
84 M. Power-Elliott and G.E. Harris
programmes. Bauman et al. (2008) compared teacher and guidance counsellor
responses to a bullying situation. They found counsellors were more likely than
teachers to enlist the help of other adults and work with the victims. Counsellors were
less likely than teachers to ignore or dismiss the situation and less likely to use
punitive measures. Bauman (2008), along with Jacobsen and Bauman (2007),
suggests that the school guidance counsellor is a logical person to take a leadership
role in addressing school bullying (e.g. through providing staff training, resources to
parents, counselling to students).
Staff awareness of the prevalence and seriousness of bullying and recognition of the
need for a whole school approach are common elements in many school anti-bullying
programmes (Rigby, Smith, & Pepler, 2004), with most intervention programmes
focusing on systemic change rather than on individual change (Craig, Pepler,
Murphy, & McCuaig-Edge, 2010). However, there may be differences in the contents
of these programmes. For example, there may be different amounts of emphasis on
teacher training, prevention, intervention, surveillance and working with the students
identified as bullies (Rigby et al., 2004). Rigby (2008), Twemlow and Sacco (2008)
and Craig and Pepler (2007) have all suggested that success rates of anti-bullying
programmes vary, with many being only moderately effective and some even making
bullying worse (see Craig et al., 2010 and Merrell, Isava, Gueldner, & Ross, 2008, for
Positive Behaviour Supports
PBS emerged as a means to support individuals who had difficulty achieving their
lifestyle goals due to problem behaviour (Dunlap, Sailor, Horner, & Sugai, 2009). Its
conceptual framework is based on behaviourism (Simonsen & Sugai, 2009) and
applied behaviour analysis (Dunlap et al., 2009). On the whole, research is supportive
of the school-wide positive behaviour supports (SW-PBS) approach with decreases to
antisocial behaviour and improvements to school climate and academic success
(Sugai & Horner, 2008). The current study considered PBS along with other anti-
bullying programmes utilised by the study participants’ schools.
Participants and sampling approach
The population for this study was all guidance counsellors in the four English-
speaking school districts in Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland and
Labrador’s population is relatively small, geographically spread out and largely
rurally based. The province has a total population of just over half a million people,
many of whom reside in rural communities. Like many regions in Canada, this rural
population is contrasted with a relatively large subsection of the population that
resides in an urban centre. The survey was administered using Survey Monkey, an
online survey software tool. Exactly 189 guidance counsellors were contacted via
email and provided with a link to access the informed consent form and
British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 85
questionnaire posted on Survey Monkey. This was followed with a reminder email
two weeks later to request participation. Ninety-four completed the survey (49.74%).
As an incentive to participate, counsellors could enter their name in a draw to win a
$25.00 gift card.
Of the 274 schools whose guidance counsellors were surveyed, there were varying
school configurations as identified by the researchers, i.e. primary/elementary (KÁ6,
KÁ3, KÁ4); middle school (7Á9, 7Á8, 5Á9, 4Á7); high school (10Á12, 9Á12); all grade
(KÁ12); and multi-level (8Á12, KÁ7, KÁ8, KÁ9, 7Á12).
The Handling Bullying Questionnaire was used in this study (Bauman et al., 2008) to
obtain an overall measure of how guidance counsellors in this province handle
verbal-relational bullying. The survey questionnaire contained 22 questions verbatim
from the Bauman et al. (2008) questionnaire with the exception of question #13
which read ‘I would ask the student’s teacher to intervene’ in the current study,
whereas in Bauman et al.’s (2008) survey it read ‘I would ask the school counsellor to
intervene.’ Since counsellors were the population being surveyed, the wording of this
question was changed. In addition to the 22-question survey, participants were also
asked demographic information (e.g. age, education, sex) and school information
(e.g. school location, type of school, bullying programmes).
Counsellors were given a bullying scenario containing both direct and indirect
bullying and were asked to choose, on a Likert scale from one to five, how likely they
were to react in the way specified by each of the 22 items. Scales corresponding to
five factors were: Work with the victim (e.g. I would suggest that the victim act more
assertively); Work with the bully (e.g. I would discuss with the bully options from
which he/she could make a choice in order to improve the situation); Ignore the
incident (e.g. I would leave it for someone else to sort out); Enlist other adults (e.g. I
would discuss the matter with my colleagues at school); and Discipline the bully (e.g. I
would make sure the bully was suitably punished). The higher the scale score on each
category, the higher the endorsement of that strategy.
In the current study, reliabilities were examined using Cronbach’s alpha. These
values were: Work with the victim as .76; Work with the bully as .67; Ignore the incident
as .20; Enlist other adults as .64; and Discipline the bully as .65. These values all fell
within an acceptable range (Holden, Fekken, & Cotton, 1991) with the exception of
the Ignore the incident scale which had very little variability in its scores.
Table 1. Distribution of NL schools, guidance counsellors and guidance counsellors
# of guidance counsellors
# of guidance counsellors invited to
participate in study
Eastern 122 120 118
Nova Central 67 30 30
Western 71 35 35
Labrador 16 6 6
Total 276 191 189
86 M. Power-Elliott and G.E. Harris
Study hypotheses for the current study
1. Guidance counsellors would elect to work with the victim, work with the bully
and enlist other adults. Given the therapeutic role of guidance counsellors in
schools and their roles as student advocates, the researchers hypothesised that
guidance counsellors would elect to work with the bullies and victims. In
addition, enlist other adults is a strategy strongly endorsed in most anti-
2. It is unlikely guidance counsellors would ignore the incident. School guidance
programmes include both personal and social development as part of the
3. Given guidance counsellors’ therapeutic role, it is unlikely they would
discipline the bully. It was hypothesised by the researchers that guidance
counsellors would avoid the dual roles of therapist and disciplinarian, given
the contradictory nature of those roles.
4. Guidance counsellors’ age and sex would not significantly impact on the
above noted five composite scales. Consistent with Bauman et al.’s (2008)
study, it was hypothesised by the researchers that age would not affect how
guidance counsellors would respond to items on the questionnaire. Also,
given participants’ counselling-based training, it was hypothesised that sex
would not significantly impact their responses to bullying.
5. Presence of a bullying programme and/or the practice of Positive Behaviour
Supports would be negatively related with the ignore the incident scale as well
as the discipline the bully scale but positively related with the work with the
victim, work with the bully and enlist other adults scales. Bullying programmes
and PBS are integral programmes which contribute to positive school climate
and therefore contribute to the systemic factors that mitigate bullying.
6. Guidance counsellor training in bullying and/or PBS would be negatively
related with the ignore the incident scale as well as the discipline the bully scale
but positively related with the work with the victim, work with the bully and
enlist other adults scales, as training in such areas was hypothesised to
facilitate a therapeutic role between guidance counsellors and students.
It is important to consider the study limitations prior to presenting the results. First,
the reliabilities fell within an acceptable range, with the exception of the ignore the
incident scale which had very little variability in its scores. Results from this scale
should be interpreted with caution. Second, there were small numbers of participants
in certain variable groups (e.g. those not implementing PBS), reducing the power
within such analyses. Third, like Bauman et al.’s (2008) study, this study is based on
what counsellors thought they might do, given this scenario of verbal-relational
bullying. Thus, it is based on counsellors’ perceptions/beliefs versus actual behaviour.
Also, it is not advisable to generalise these findings to other types of bullying
situations. Lastly, although the response rate of the present study was 49.74%, a
relatively high rate for such types of research, it still only reflects just under half of
British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 87
the guidance counsellors in this province. Thus, non-responders may differ in
meaningful ways compared with study responders.
The sample was primarily female (70.2%, n066) with almost half of the sample
falling in the 41Á50 year age range (45.7%, n043). Participants reported a minimum
of two degrees (i.e. at least one Bachelor and one Master’s degree). Sixty-seven
percent (n063) of participants were in a full-time guidance position, indicating that
most participants only had guidance duties in their respective schools (see Table 2).
Bullying programmes and Positive Behaviour Supports
The majority of participants reported that their schools have a bullying programme
(58.5%, n055) and more than half of responding counsellors reported receiving
training in bullying (56.4%, n053). More than three-quarters of participants
indicated training in PBS (76.6%, n072) and 71.3% (n067) indicated that their
school is currently implementing PBS (see Table 3).
Guidance counsellor strategies for handling bullying
In this study, guidance counsellors reported being least likely to ignore the incident
(mean01.23, SD 0.27) and more likely to discipline the bully (mean04.29,
SD0.71) or enlist other adults (mean04.10, SD0.56) (see Table 4). Hypotheses
1, 2 and 3 were evaluated through an examination of the composite mean scores.
Consistent with hypothesis 1, enlist other adults was a strategy endorsed by
counsellors in this study (i.e. mean scores fell in the ‘I probably would’ category).
Consistent with hypothesis 2, counsellors in the current study generally felt that to
ignore the incident was unacceptable (i.e. mean scores fell in the ‘I definitely would
not’ category). However, discipline the bully was not hypothesised as a strategy that
guidance counsellors would have endorsed (hypothesis 3), yet the mean score for this
composite fell in the ‘I probably would’ category.
Examining the composite mean scores also showed that guidance counsellors
endorsed work with the bully (mean03.93, SD0.61) and work with the victim
(mean03.35, SD0.87), with both mean scores falling above the neutral point
(consistent with hypothesis 1). This suggests that counsellors would endorse work
with the bully and work with the victim as strategies, but not as strongly as they would
endorse discipline the bully and/or enlist other adults.
Although the mean score for the work with the victim scale was above the neutral
point (mean03.35), the standard deviation on this scale was the largest of all five
composites (SD0.87). Therefore, this scale shows the greatest variability in
counsellor responses. These results are consistent with Bauman et al.’s (2008) study
which also had the largest standard deviation on the work with the victim scale
Contrary to hypothesis 4, we used Spearman’s Rho and found a significant
correlation between sex and work with the victim, where female counsellors were
more likely than male counsellors to endorse work with the victim (.254, 5 .05, two-
tailed). Using Spearman’s Rho, we did not find a significant correlation between age
and responses on the five composite scales.
88 M. Power-Elliott and G.E. Harris
Table 2. Demographic characteristics of the sample.
Characteristic N % of sample
Male 20 21.3
Female 66 70.2
Missing 8 8.5
Under 30 4 4.3
31Á40 23 24.5
41Á50 43 45.7
51Á60 19 20.2
61' 0 0
Missing 5 5.3
Years of experience
0Á5 26 27.7
6Á10 14 14.9
11Á15 13 13.8
16Á20 20 21.3
21Á25 7 7.4
26' 6 6.4
Missing 8 8.5
Percent of position*
Full-time guidance 63 67.0
Part-time guidance ' other 21 22.3
Part-time guidance only 2 2.1
Missing 8 8.5
Urban 28 29.8
Rural 52 55.3
Both 3 3.2
Missing 11 11.7
Primary/elementary 23 24.5
Middle school 13 13.8
High school 9 9.6
All grade 17 18.1
Multigrade 22 23.4
Missing 10 10.6
*Percent of position refers to the time allocated to guidance duties in the guidance position. Full time
guidance refers to a respondent with only guidance duties. Part time guidance ' other refers to guidance
counsellors who spend a portion of their time in the guidance role but are also assigned other duties such
as teaching. Part time guidance only refers to those counsellors who are in a guidance role in a part time
**School types were categorised by the researchers. Primary/elementary schools were the following
configurations: KÁ6; KÁ4; and KÁ3. Middle schools were the following configurations: 7Á9; 7Á8; 5Á9; and
4Á7. High schools included 10Á12 and 9Á12. All grade schools were KÁ12. Multigrade schools were: 8Á12;
7Á12; KÁ7; KÁ8; and KÁ9. Multigrade was also used as a designation given to guidance counsellors who
indicated they were in more than one school at different levels. For example, one respondent indicated
working in three schools (KÁ6, 7Á12 and KÁ12).
British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 89
Bullying programmes and training in bullying
The authors were also interested in examining whether the presence or absence of a
bullying programme or training in bullying had any relationship with the way
guidance counsellors would handle bullying. Tables 5Á7 below examine these
relationships through Spearman’s Rho Correlations and one-way ANOVA’s, which
show no statistically significant findings and, therefore, do not support hypotheses 5
or 6 which stated that the presence of a bullying programme, or training in bullying,
would be negatively related with the ignore the incident and discipline the bully scales
and positively related with the work with the bully, work with the victim and enlist
other adults scales.
Positive Behavioural Supports
The authors were also interested in examining PBS training and PBS implementa-
tion, and typical ways of handling bullying incidents. As seen in Table 8, and
Table 3. Responses to bullying programmes and PBS questionnaire items.
Questionnaire item N Percent
Does your school have a bullying program?
Yes 55 58.5
No 28 29.8
Missing 11 11.7
Have you received any formal training in bullying?
Yes 53 56.4
No 30 31.9
Missing 11 11.7
Have you had any training in Positive Behaviour Supports?
Yes 72 76.6
No 8 8.5
Not sure 3 3.2
Missing 11 11.7
Is your school currently implementing Positive Behaviour Supports?
Yes 67 71.3
No 8 8.5
Not sure 7 7.4
Missing 12 12.8
Table 4. Means and standard deviations of composites and correlations between composites.
Composite Mean (x¯) SD (s) N
Work with the bully 3.93 .61 73
Work with the victim 3.35 .87 73
Enlist other adults 4.10 .56 76
Ignore the incident 1.23 .27 73
Discipline the bully 4.29 .71 76
Note: Likert Scale ratings of 1 to 5 as: 1 0 I definitely would not; 2 0 I probably would not; 3 0 I’m
unsure; 4 0 I probably would; and 5 0 I definitely would.
90 M. Power-Elliott and G.E. Harris
contrary to hypothesis 6, there were no statistically significant findings when PBS
training (i.e. yes versus no) was compared to the responses on each of the five
composite scales using one-way ANOVA.
The authors then examined PBS implementation (i.e. yes, no, not sure) and the
five composite scales. Using a one-way ANOVA (see Table 9), there was a statistically
significant difference found between implementing PBS in schools and the discipline
the bully composite, F(2, 73)08.346, p value0.001. Because of the significant F-
value, a post hoc analysis (i.e. Scheffe’s test) was used to identify where the
significance existed. According to the post hoc analysis, there was a statistically
significant difference between those who reported ‘yes’ to implementing PBS (mean:
4.437, SD: .592) and those ‘unsure’ of implementing PBS (mean: 3.476, SD: .604) on
the discipline the bully composite. The researchers opted to collapse the ‘unsure’ of
implementing PBS and the ‘not’ implementing PBS levels of the PBS variable. The
Table 5. Spearman’s Rho Correlations for bullying programme, training in bullying and ﬁve
Composite Work with bully Ignore Work with victim Enlist adults Discipline bully
Spearman’s (.087 (.006 (.045 (.065 (.031
Sig (2-tailed) .465 .957 .703 .577 .788
N 73 73 73 76 76
Training in bullying
Spearman’s (.126 .097 (.015 (.156 (.206
Sig (2-tailed) .290 .415 .900 .179 .074
N 73 73 73 76 76
*Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
**Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
Table 6. ANOVA for bullying programme and ﬁve composites.
Composite df F Sig.
Work with bully 72 .481 .490
Ignore 72 .000 .988
Work with victim 72 .004 .948
Enlist adults 75 .410 .524
Discipline bully 75 .014 .906
Table 7. ANOVA for training in bullying and ﬁve composites.
Composite df F Sig.
Work with bully 72 .546 .463
Ignore 72 2.089 .153
Work with victim 72 .036 .851
Enlist adults 75 2.384 .127
Discipline bully 75 2.365 .128
British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 91
rationale here was that if a participant was unsure if he/she was or was not
implementing PBS then it would be unlikely that the programme was being followed
all that stringently by the participant. Results of this ANOVA suggested a
statistically significant difference between the counsellors who indicated they were
implementing PBS in their school versus those who were not, or were unsure if they
were, implementing PBS on the discipline the bully composite, F(1, 74)014.840,
p0.000 (see Table 10). Contrary to hypothesis 5, this suggested that guidance
counsellors who indicated they were implementing PBS in their schools were more
likely to report that they would discipline the bully when compared to guidance
counsellors who were not implementing PBS or were not sure if their school was
Guidance counsellor strategies for handling bullying
Ignore the incident
In this study, counsellors were unlikely to ignore the incident when presented with this
verbal-relational incident of bullying, a finding consistent with Bauman et al.’s
(2008) study. The current authors note an absence of literature on student
perceptions regarding the availability of guidance counsellor bullying intervention.
However, there is research that suggests students perceive teachers as not intervening
sufficiently to stop bullying (Craig, Henderson, & Murphy, 2000). School counsel-
lors, because of their counsellor preparation, may perceive relational bullying more
seriously than their teacher colleagues (Jacobsen & Bauman, 2007). According to the
Guidelines for comprehensive school guidance programming, one of the goals of the
school guidance programme is to ‘promote preventative and developmental
programs on a school wide basis to such topics as violence prevention, bullying,
Table 8. ANOVA for PBS training and ﬁve composites.
Composite df F Sig.
Work with bully 72 .026 .974
Ignore 72 2.155 .124
Work with victim 72 1.338 .269
Enlist adults 75 .889 .416
Discipline bully 75 2.382 .099
Table 9. ANOVA for PBS implementation and ﬁve composites (using yes, no and not sure
Composite df F Sig.
Work with bully 72 .878 .420
Ignore 71 .765 .469
Work with victim 71 .273 .762
Enlist adults 74 1.942 .151
Discipline bully 75 8.346 .001
92 M. Power-Elliott and G.E. Harris
substance abuse, etc.’ (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2010, p. 4). In
addition, Canadian codes of ethics (e.g. for teachers, counsellors and psychologists)
all highlight protection of client social welfare as ethical practice. Given the guidance
counsellor’s role in ethical school guidance programming, it is unlikely they would
Enlist other adults
Counsellors in this study were likely to enlist other adults. Enlist other adults is a
strategy endorsed in most bullying programmes, according to the Ontario Ministry
of Education, Registry of Bullying Prevention Programs (2010). Bullying research
emphasises the importance of parental involvement (Eslea & Smith, 2000),
administrative support (Plog, Epstein, Jens, & Porter, 2010), teacher involvement
(Craig et al., 2010), and counsellor involvement (Bauman, 2008; Pollack, 2006).
From a systemic perspective, the need for bullying awareness and behaviour change
extends beyond the student and involves peers, teachers, parents and the broader
community (Craig et al., 2010). It is widely accepted that bullying will not stop
without the intervention of adults (Craig, Pepler, & Blais, 2007; Craig et al., 2010 and
some bullying programmes are thought to be effective only because education of
school personnel and parents is a priority (Pollack, 2006).
Discipline the bully
Imposing sanctions for the bully is consistent and widely endorsed under Olweus’
anti-bullying programme (Olweus, 1993). The strong endorsement of the discipline
the bully scale by guidance counsellors in this province is consistent with Bauman
et al.’s (2008) results where a sample of 735 American counsellors and teachers also
supported imposing sanctions for the bully. In that study, Bauman et al. proposed
that to discipline the bully by punitive measures may be ‘justifiable in cases of high
severity bullying’ (p. 847) but the scenario presented in the HBQ was one of low
severity and suggested that ‘US teachers and counsellors appear less familiar with
non-punitive strategies’ (p. 847).
Importantly, because different kinds of interventions have claimed the same levels
of success, we do not know, for example, if punishing the bully is any better than
using counselling methods (Rigby, 2008). Discipline the bully was not hypothesised in
this study as a strategy that guidance counsellors would have endorsed, due to their
therapeutic role in schools. Given this therapeutic role, to discipline the bully may be
considered a dual role. The dual role of counsellor and disciplinarian is problematic
and best summarised by Remley and Herlihy (2005) who said: ‘It would be
unreasonable to expect students to trust and confide in a counselor who assigned
Table 10. ANOVA for PBS implementation and Discipline the bully scale (using yes and no
' not sure groups).
Composite df F Sig.
Discipline bully 75 14.840 .000
British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 93
them to detention or reported their misbehavior to the principal’ (p. 206). The dual
role of guidance counsellors will be further discussed below.
Work with the bully/work with the victim
Guidance counsellors also endorsed work with the bully and work with the victim.
This suggests that counsellors would endorse work with the bully and work with the
victim as strategies but not as strongly as they would endorse discipline the bully and
enlist other adults. These results are consistent with Bauman et al.’s (2008) findings.
In a recent study by Sherer and Nickerson (2010), school psychologists reported that
the most frequently used anti-bullying strategies in their schools related to working
with the bullies and victims.
In a study by Jacobsen and Bauman (2007) it was found that school counsellors
with anti-bullying training may perceive relational bullying as more serious and be
more likely to intervene in incidents of relational bullying than counsellors who did
not have anti-bullying training. In the current study, bullying training did not
significantly impact on participants’ scores for the work with the bully and work with
the victim scales. It is likely that guidance counsellors in this province, because of
their formal education, would elect to work with the bully and victim, regardless of
having received anti-bullying training or not.
Interestingly, the sex of the guidance counsellor affected how they would respond
to the bullying scenario, with females more likely than males to endorse work with the
victim as a strategy. Implications for this finding may include the need for counsellor
education programmes to ensure that their graduates are comfortable working with
victims as an anti-bullying strategy, regardless of their sex or gender. As a workplace
implication, discussions at the school level may need to take place to ensure all
counsellors see the importance of working with the victim. These implications
provoke further curiosity and may be a place for future study.
Bullying programmes and guidance counsellor responses
In the current study, neither the presence of a school bullying programme or training
in addressing bullying was associated with how guidance counsellors responded to
bullying. These findings were in contrast to Bauman et al.’s (2008) study which found
that participants who indicated the presence of a specific anti-bullying programme or
had received anti-bullying training were less likely to ignore the incident.
In the current study, there was low variability in scores on the ignore the incident
scale. Thus, almost all participants reported that they would not ignore the bullying
incident. This included those participants with and without school anti-bullying
programmes and personal anti-bullying training. It is possible that if the ignore the
incident scale had more variability in the current study it may have resulted in a more
consistent finding with the Bauman et al. (2008) study. Having said that, given that
almost half of school psychologists in one study considered anti-bullying policies
ineffective (Sherer & Nickerson, 2010), and the possibility that bullying intervention
programmes influence attitudes and self-perceptions rather than anti-bullying
behaviour (Merrell et al., 2008), it is possible that guidance counsellors’ responses
to bullying situations are influenced by a complex array of factors, including the
possibility of school anti-bullying policies, programmes or training, along with other
factors. This is also in line with a systemic perspective on bullying.
94 M. Power-Elliott and G.E. Harris
Implications for counsellors and areas for future study
Because of the complex nature of bullying and the contribution of a vast array of
systemic factors, it is important for guidance counsellors to consider such factors
when handling bullying in schools. Guidance counsellors can have an impact on
many of these areas, such as peer influences, school climate and parenting. Some
guidance counsellors have skills and training in areas (e.g. conflict resolution, anger
management, parent skills, school-wide intervention) that can have an impact on
many of the factors that mitigate bullying.
Guidance counsellors play a critical role in the prevention and resolution of
bullying in schools. Through the delivery of preventative programmes and conflict
resolution, guidance counsellors help students resolve conflicts and develop
respectful relationships. School guidance counsellors can teach lessons about the
types of bullying and how to ask adults for help if pupils are being bullied. Bullies
and victims can benefit from supportive counselling (Clarke & Kiselica, 1997) and
guidance counsellors can provide these services.
The research shows that the best outcomes from anti-bullying programmes tend
to be obtained in schools that have the strongest commitment to the programme and
typically have a staff member coordinating the programme under strong adminis-
trative support. As stated previously, one of the goals of the school guidance
programme is to promote preventative programmes on a school-wide basis on topics
such as violence prevention and bullying. Given the guidance counsellor’s role in the
support of the school guidance programme, bullying prevention and programming is
one of the many social and developmental areas where guidance counsellor expertise
is essential. In preparation for such roles, counsellor education should include
bullying prevention and intervention training.
There is a long-standing literature on the dual roles counsellors may face in the
context of a school system (e.g. Law, 1978, 1979). By virtue of the work environment,
school counsellors may face ethical dilemmas because of the multiple roles they play
and the inherent conflicts in these roles (Remley & Herlihy, 2005).
In small schools, the student population does not warrant the appointment of a
full-time guidance counsellor, so it is common for guidance counsellors to have
teaching duties in these settings. Similarly, in rural settings, it may be difficult for
counsellors to avoid the dual role of counsellor/administrator. In the current study,
22% of participants indicated that they had teaching duties and 55% indicated that
they worked in a rural setting. As a teacher/counsellor or administrator/counsellor,
such professionals may have to act as disciplinarians (e.g. giving detentions) and
evaluators (e.g. giving grades on course work). Such responsibilities can create a
power differential between counsellor and client/student (Kitchener & Harding,
1990). Power differentials along with incompatible expectations and divergent
responsibilities are the factors used to determine the risk of harm in a dual
relationship (Kitchener & Harding, 1990). According to role theory, conflict occurs
when the expectations associated with one role require the person to act in a way that
is incompatible with the other role (Kitchener, 1988). It is not difficult to
comprehend the negative effect that a power differential or role conflict can have
on the establishment of a therapeutic relationship between counsellor and student.
British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 95
Given the reality of small, rural schools in Newfoundland and Labrador and the
budgetary constraints they face, guidance counsellors will probably continue to find
themselves in such dual roles. Although such roles present significant ethical
challenges, they are a reality, and counsellors need to be prepared to ethically
practise within such dual roles. This realisation should begin during counsellor
education whereby counsellors should be taught not only to consider avoidance as a
strategy, but also how to ethically practise while in a dual role. Professional
counselling associations often provide ethical decision-making models to aid
counsellors who may be facing an ethical dilemma involving dual roles. In addition,
consultation with fellow colleagues is a highly useful strategy to get advice on how to
counteract role conflicts.
Given the strong endorsement of the discipline the bully scale, the implications for
counsellors in dual roles such as counsellor/teacher and counsellor/administrator is
worthy of future study.
The current study focused on how guidance counsellors would report handling a
specific incident of verbal-relational bullying. Participants were unlikely to ignore the
incident and most likely to enlist other adults and discipline the bully. The guidance
counsellor’s role in bullying prevention and programming, coupled with the ethical
guidelines they follow, make ignore the incident an unlikely strategy.
In the current study, the presence of a school bullying programme or prevention/
intervention training was not associated with how guidance counsellors responded to
bullying. These findings were in contrast to related research. Guidance counsellors’
responses to bullying situations are probably influenced by a complex array of
factors, including school policies, programmes and training, along with other
systemic factors. Thus, guidance counsellor training and supervision in the
prevention of, and intervention into, school bullying is important, but only part of
the solution for addressing this complex problem.
Guidance counsellors play a critical role in the prevention and remediation of
bullying in schools. Guidance counsellors, along with teachers and administrators,
have the potential to create a school climate conducive to safety.
The authors of this study would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Sheri Bauman for
permission to use the HBQ and her helpful guidance during this research.
Notes on contributors
Michleen Power-Elliott is a graduate student in the Counselling Psychology programme at
Memorial University of Newfoundland. She has been teaching in the province since 2002. She
has a keen interest in bullying intervention and prevention and has been actively involved in
bullying prevention at various levels of the school system.
Greg Harris is an Associate Professor (Counselling Psychology) at Memorial University and a
Registered Psychologist in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
96 M. Power-Elliott and G.E. Harris
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