The Department of Education (DfE, 2016) sets out the Government’s expectation that over time we would see all schools providing access to counselling services.
These expectations recognise that effective counselling is part of a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.
The DfE report states:
“In primary schools, around 50% of children coming to counselling have been found to be at abnormal levels of difficulties, with approximately a further 30% at borderline levels of difficulties.
In secondary schools, around one third of children and young people coming to counselling have been found to be at ‘abnormal’ levels of psychological difficulties, with a further third at ‘borderline’ levels of difficulties”.
Improving Mental Health & Wellbeing in Schools
The mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is everyone’s business.
The benefits to the pupil and school and in preventing problems from arising, and intervening early where they do are significant. For schools this can result in happier, more confidant and resilient pupils.
Recent data from a nationally representative survey of teachers suggest that 62% of schools offer counselling services to their pupils (70% of secondary schools and 52% of primary schools).
Previous estimates of provision suggest that availability of school based counselling services is increasing over time.
School based counselling is likely to be most effective where it is delivered as part of a whole school commitment to improving mental health, wellbeing and resilience.
Counselling as a Preventative Intervention
School counsellors play a unique and vital role in the education system, and their work has significant impact on the students they work with.
There are a number of ways in which schools may use counselling, including to complement and support other services, but a key area is as a preventative intervention.
What is a School Counsellor?
School counsellors are appropriately trained, supported, professionally supervised, insured and work within agreed policy frameworks and standards, and accountable to a professional body.
Counselling is, however, distinct from pastoral care and the role of the SENCO, and should be delivered by trained counsellors or, in some cases, professionally and closely monitored supervised trainees within an established counselling service.
How Do School Counsellors Work?
School counsellors offer support to cope with any emotional and behavioural difficulties, which can have a positive impact on the whole class, and helps teachers focus on teaching.
Counselling can be beneficial in a number of ways, for example it can help support young people who are having difficulties within relationships, for example, with family or with friends.
Most counselling is conducted on a one-to-one basis, and aims to provide young people with an opportunity to talk through their difficulties in a welcoming and supportive environment, and to find their own ways of addressing their issues.
Counselling Within Primary Schools
School counsellors work with children in primary schools at a vital stage of their development.
They can offer weekly one-to-one counselling sessions in school and tail sessions according to each childs’ needs.
For younger children a therapeutic approach encourages children to express themselves in non-verbal ways, for example through artwork or play.
Through talking, creative work and play, school counsellors provide children with the opportunity to be heard and express their feelings.
Counselling Within Secondary Schools
Counselling within secondary schools has been shown to bring about significant reductions in psychological distress in the short term, and to help young people move towards their personal goals.
School staff and children and young people usually evaluate school based counselling positively, viewing it as an effective way of bringing about improvements in mental health and wellbeing, and helping children and young people to engage with studying and learning.
School Counsellors Support School Staff
Promoting staff health and wellbeing should also be an integral part of the whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.
Studies show that school staff can appreciate the availability of a professional school counsellor, and can support these children and young people once they have been identified.
School staff also say that they benefit from the guidance of counsellors when they are trying to understand and manage children and young people’s behaviours and emotions in school.
The culture within the staff is important too, many school teachers have spoken openly about their own use of counselling and the impact it has had on their lives.
This sense of ‘community’, the “we’re all in this together” has meant that accessing a counselling service is no longer stigmatised and is just another avenue of support to help them work through issues in their everyday lives.
The current extent of counselling provision in schools makes it clear that many schools already recognise the value of making counselling services available in school settings. While the DfE’s strong expectation is that, over time, all schools should make counselling services available to their pupils.