Enthusiastic response from heads to new school counselling study

More than 500 schools across the UK have registered their interest in a substantial study into the benefits of professional school-based counselling for young people experiencing emotional problems.

Posted: 5 April 2016

image for news story Enthusiastic response from heads to new school counselling study
Trained counsellors will help pupils in schools as part of the study.

Named the ETHOS trial, the programme is an £835,000 three year project led by Professor Mick Cooper at the University of Roehampton which will establish a dedicated counselling service in 18 English secondaries. It will test whether professional counselling is beneficial compared to the schools’ existing pastoral provision, and will assess the cost-effectiveness of counselling.

The research project, which starts this month has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The project team includes researchers from Metanoia Institute, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the National Children’s Bureau as well as the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, the London School of Economics and University College London.

Since the ETHOS trial was first conceived and planned in early 2014:

  • Department for Education Mental Health Champion, Natasha Devon has called for a counsellor in every school.
  • Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has supported a study into school counselling.
  • The Government’s own advice on school-based counselling announced a ‘strong expectation that over time all schools should make counselling services available to their pupils’. 

Professor Cooper said: “The number of headteachers who showed an interest in this project when we first announced it shows the importance of supporting children through mental health issues properly. Young people in the UK deserve the very best care for their mental health, and this study will help us understand what that is. There are a number of possible ways that we might support young people to tackle mental health problems. This study will help us understand the contribution that school-based counselling can make, its cost-effectiveness, and the ways in which we might be able to improve it.”

How the study will work:
ETHOS stands for Effectiveness and Cost Effectiveness Trial for Humanistic Counselling in Schools. The schools selected to host the counselling services will use qualified counsellors experienced in dealing with issues faced by young people. 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 counselling, and half will receive the school’s existing support provision. By comparing improvement between these two groups, the study will test whether school based counselling can help to reduce pupils’ emotional distress. 

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 its benefit and cost effectiveness also remains limited, though initial findings are promising. England and Scotland currently lag behind Wales and Northern Ireland where counselling takes places in all secondary schools.

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