Northern Ireland

School counselling can help young people manage mental health issues despite costs

Pupils who are offered counselling services experience significantly improved self-esteem
Pupils who are offered counselling services experience significantly improved self-esteem Pupils who are offered counselling services experience significantly improved self-esteem

SCHOOL-based humanistic counselling is effective and should be considered as a viable treatment option for children suffering mental health issues - despite considerable costs.

A large-scale study led by the University of Roehampton that involved hundreds of teenagers found counselling led to significant reductions in pupils' psychological distress over the long-term, compared to pupils who only received pastoral care.

However, it was also revealed that this type of counselling comes at a cost - totalling between £300 and £400 per pupil.

Research has found one in eight 5-19 year olds in Britain and Northern Ireland are estimated to meet the criteria for a mental health disorder.

The study found that pupils who were offered counselling services experienced significantly improved self-esteem, as well as large increases in their achievement of personal goals.

The paper also calls for urgent evaluation of other mental health interventions for adolescents, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and classroom modules on emotional literacy.

Lead author, Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling Psychology at the University of Roehampton, said: "Adolescence is a period of rapid change for young people and makes them particularly vulnerable to mental health problems, so studies like ours, which is the first large scale project of its type ever to be conducted in the UK, are vital to assess how mental health services can be improved in schools.

"Our analysis found that school-based humanistic counselling works and makes a difference to the well-being of pupils, albeit at a cost. However, it also highlighted the importance to continue to study the provision of mental health support in schools and how other services, such as CBT, can be employed to tackle these issues.

"There is pressing need for a diverse and comprehensive mental health provision and care for young people in schools across the UK, but it is essential that this is properly assessed to establish what works and what should be widely implemented to improve the mental well-being of young generations."

Jo Holmes, Children, Young People and Families Lead at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy said professionally delivered school counselling services were not cheap, and neither should they be.

"School counsellors are highly trained, experienced and skilled practitioners, often working with complex need and trauma linked to psychological distress," she said.

"School counselling has the potential to take some of the short and long-term pressure off statutory provision, and can support young people as they transition to and from more specialist mental health services.

"Counselling provides a safe space where young people can truly explore what is worrying them, setting their own goals, tailored to meet their individual needs, and helping them to ‘off-load’ and function better in their daily lives. It delves deeply into complex thoughts, feelings and emotions and is not a short-term sticking plaster."