Counselors play a big role in helping students succeed: They help with scheduling, college applications and with issues like mental health.

Since 2015, first lady Michelle Obama has honored a school counselor of the year in a ceremony at the White House. Friday, the honor goes to Terri Tchorzynski of the Calhoun Area Career Center in Battle Creek, Mich., where she works with 11th- and 12th-graders drawn from 20 public high schools in Calhoun County.

Tchorzynski started her career as a high school English teacher, before getting her master’s degree in counseling — a role she says she “always knew she wanted.” NPR Ed caught up with Tchorzynski about her work in Michigan and the important role she sees counselors playing in schools.

Don’t Call It ‘Guidance’ Anymore: A Talk With The Nation’s Top School Counselor

Illustration: LA Johnson/NPR

It’s OK to Say “No” …

1. If you don’t want to do it …

2. If you don’t like the people …

3. If you’d rather relax …

4. If you’re already overscheduled…

5. If you don’t have the time …

6. If it doesn’t fit your values …

7. If you feel forced to say “yes” …

How to Talk to Your Therapist

I get a lot of messages from people asking how to talk to their therapist or how to disclose something difficult, so I wanted to make a post about this. 

I think the first step is to recognize that your therapist’s job is to listen to you with acceptance rather than judgment. Although you are unique and important, your therapist has heard lots of difficult, scary, embarrassing, weird, emotional things from their clients. It’s a typical part of being a therapist and any decent therapist will understand that and be comfortable with whatever you need to bring to the table. So if you can, don’t worry about what your therapist will think of you, or whether they’ll be upset because of what you tell them. 

The next thing I’d recommend thinking about is what you want them to know. Try to identify exactly what you want or need your therapist to know. I like to think about the 1 sentence version, the 1 paragraph version, and the novel version. Sometimes you may have so much going on, or there’s a huge history related to what’s going on, or a lot of context that’s important, so you think you need to share the novel version. It’s not that all of that is unimportant, but it can overwhelming for you to sort through and communicate the way you want. So start with a 1 sentence version or 1 paragraph version (maybe 5 sentences). This will help you figure out how to start talking to your therapist about it, and help you identify what’s most important for them to know.

You don’t need to tell your therapist everything, and you don’t need to disclose all the details about something that you’re experiencing or that’s happened. You may feel like your therapist expects to know all the details, or that you need to share for therapy to work. Ultimately, your history and your experience belong to you, and you are not required to share it with anyone, including your therapist. Research does not indicate that every detail has to be shared for therapy to work- even trauma therapy or other therapies that focus on specific experiences. It’s okay to share, but it’s also okay not to. 

Some clients also prefer to talk in hypotheticals- what if I felt that way? What if a person experienced this? –before actually sharing something about themselves. In my experience, it particularly happens when people are worried about ramifications of sharing- what if I tell their parents, what if I go to the hospital? So it’s fine to use hypotheticals to work that stuff out, or simply to ask- what will you tell my parents? What would cause me to be hospitalized? How can I prevent that?

If you have trouble getting the words out, think about what you would feel comfortable with. Could you write notes for yourself and go off of them when you see your therapist? Could you write a note or a letter for your therapist? Could you email them before your session and tell them the topic you want to discuss? Could you tell them you have something you need to talk about, but are having trouble saying it? Could you leave a voicemail about it? Could you say something about it but not everything? Would using coping strategies in session help? I think enlisting your therapist to help you talk about it is often useful- we understand it’s hard to share something big at all, let alone with someone you may not know well or feel comfortable with.

What else has worked for you?