Under the IDEA Counseling is a related service, defined as services provided by qualified social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, or other qualified personnel. See CFR 300.34(c)(2).
Related services include psychological counseling when it is required for a student to receive FAPE. See 34 CFR 300.34(c)(10). A school district, however, may be required to provide psychological counseling services even in situations where counseling is not needed primarily for educational purposes. In Doe v. Anring, the court found that psychotherapy and group therapy were required to assist the student to benefit from special education and were therefore "related services" under federal law. See Doe v. Anrig, 558 IDELR 278 (D. Mass. 1987).
If a student has emotional and behavioral disorders they may be entitled to receiving counseling services for therapeutic as well as educational benefit. If a student is emotionally or behaviorally disturbed, the connection between improving emotional difficulties, coping skills or social skills and increasing a student's ability to benefit from special education is fairly clear. In Sacramento City Unified School District, the student in question had intellectual abilities in the high average range but his classroom performance was below his ability. He displayed little to no behavior issues within the confines of the structured classroom setting but out of the classroom his behaviors included physical abuse of other children. The court found that he qualified for special education and related services, including counseling. See Sacramento City Unified School District, 509 IDELR 171 (SEA CA 1987).
Psychotherapy can either be a related service or a medical service, for which the LEA would not be responsible. The distinction is drawn based on the identity of the provide and the relation of the therapy to the child's educational needs. Typically, services that can only be provided by a psychiatrist are classified as medical services. If the psychotherapy services can be provided by other professionals, such as social workers, psychologists or guidance counselors, then those services will be considered related services if they are required to assist a child benefit from his or her special education.