Investigating the benefits of school counselling

Chartered Psychologist leads large scale trial.

The benefits of professional school-based counsellors in supporting young people experiencing emotional problems will be evaluated through an extensive three-year study, which will establish a dedicated counselling service in 18 English secondaries.

The randomised controlled trial, due to start in April 2016, has received £835,000 funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and will be led by Chartered Psychologist Professor Mick Cooper from the University of Roehampton in London. 

In March last year, the Government announced a ‘strong expectation that over time all schools should make counselling services available to their pupils’. Around 60-85 per cent of English secondary schools currently have some form of counselling service, although Professor Cooper says that practices may vary considerably. Academic research into the benefit and cost effectiveness of school counselling, as delivered in the UK, also remains limited.

The Roehampton-led study will see free counselling services established in schools, staffed by qualified counsellors. School staff will help to identify pupils who are experiencing emotional distress and want to take part in the research. From this group, half of the pupils will receive up to 10 weeks of humanistic counselling, and half will receive the school’s existing support provision. By comparing improvement between these two groups, the study will test whether a dedicated service can help to reduce pupils’ emotional distress and improve educational outcomes. The study will also involve a series of qualitative interviews with service users, their parents/carers, and teachers, to examine helpful and unhelpful aspects of school-based humanistic counselling and the process of change.

Participating schools will receive a professional school-based counselling service provided by fully qualified and experienced school counsellors at no cost for two years. School who are interested should contact [email protected]

Professor Cooper told us: ‘It is important that whatever mental health interventions are offered to young people in schools are based on sound empirical evidence. To date, pilot studies suggest that school-based humanistic counselling can bring about significant reductions in psychological distress. It also suggests that emotionally distressed young people value an opportunity to talk and be listened to in a confidential environment; and with a counsellor who is trustworthy, friendly and easy to relate to. This trial offers us an opportunity to examine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of humanistic school-based counselling in depth, and to develop a greater understanding of any potential mechanisms of change.’


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