Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness trial of humanistic counselling in schools for young people with emotional distress



There is a current crisis in mental health care for young people, and the UK government is trying to find ways of addressing it. Currently, approximately one in ten young people in the UK experience significant problems with their emotions or their behaviour. Schools may be a particularly good place to tackle this problem because they are somewhere that nearly all young people go to. Indeed, evidence suggests that young people are as much as ten times more likely to attend a school-based service than a non-school-based one. Certain psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help young people address specific mental health disorders like generalised anxiety. However, the kind of psychological problems that many young people experience do not fit into such diagnostic categories. Rather, they are responses to particular life problems, such as family difficulties, bereavements and bullying. Although these difficulties may not be at a severe level, addressing them early on may be very important in helping to ensure that they do not develop into more chronic problems in later life. In the UK, one of the most common ways to try and help young people through these problems is school-based 'counselling.' This can take a variety of forms but, in contrast to CBT, focuses mainly on providing young people with a space to talk through their problems, get things off their chest, and work things out for themselves in a supportive, confidential and understanding relationship. Initial evidence suggests that counselling is very popular with young people and their teachers, and there is some scientific evidence - including PhD work funded through the ESRC -that a standardised form of school-based counselling (school-based humanistic counselling) reduces psychological distress and improvements in self-esteem. However, to properly inform government decision-making, better evidence is needed to test whether it really is of help. To provide this evidence, we will conduct a study in 18 English secondary schools. We will provide some young people (aged 13-16) who are experiencing psychological difficulties with up to 10 weeks of school-based humanistic counselling while others will receive their school's usual pastoral care. Decisions about who gets what will be made on a random basis, as this gives us the best chance of working out if the therapy really works. After six weeks, three and six months, we will look at whether those young people who received the counselling are experiencing less psychological distress than those who did not. We will also look at whether the benefits of providing the counselling service justify the costs. This is important as there might be better ways of spending the money to improve well being in schools. In addition, we will look at whether the counselling helps young people improve their resilience, self-esteem and engagement with education; and what they - and their teachers and parents/carers - think is helpful and unhelpful about counselling. This research is important because school counselling may be able to make a major contribution to improving the psychological wellbeing of young people in the UK. The project team have extensive experience of conducting studies like this, and the current design has been tested and shown to work. The costs of the trial cover the work of the project team along with involvement from a specialist trials unit at Manchester University. Members of the project team have also been closely involved in recent policy initiatives regarding children's mental health. The safety of young people is a major concern. We will not include any young person who is at risk of harm to self or other, but refer them to specialist support. We will assess young people in the study and arrange for appropriate support for them if we become concerned about them. We will also ensure the highest levels of anonymity and confidentiality for participants.
Date made available2021
PublisherUK Data Service: ReShare
Date of data production2016 - 2019
Geographical coverageLondon

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