With a greater focus on youth mental health has come greater scrutiny of the services purporting to help children cope with issues like ACEs, gender, sexuality, bullying, self-esteem and self-image. Schools are now presented with a diverse range of services that broadly come under the guise of ‘mental health’. These can vary widely, ranging from professional counselling to listening services and drop-in sessions run by youth workers or volunteers.

As funding remains scarce and demand on Pupil Equity Funding extensive, schools are often left to ask: is there empirical evidence on the effectiveness of school-based counselling?

The case for counselling in Secondary schools

A major study by Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling at the University of Strathclyde examined the provision of school-based counselling across UK secondary schools.

counselling in Secondary schools can help with youth mental health

The study provides a critical evaluation of school-based counselling services and provides vital insights into the effectiveness of such programmes, examining:

  • The scope and style of school-based counselling offered
  • Perceptions of school-based counselling by key stakeholders, and
  • The effectiveness of school-based counselling within the context of mental healthcare provision.

The review is just one of a number of studies highlighting the effectiveness of school-based counselling for adolescents. Indeed Cooper refers to a growing body of emerging evidence confirming that school-based counselling is “effective at reducing psychological distress and helping young people achieve their personal goals.”

counselling in Secondary schools - empirical evidence

School-based counselling and mental health strategies

A particular focus on Cooper’s study was an assessment of the strengths of school-based counselling models, in the context of overarching mental health agendas, concluding:

  • Counselling services are perceived as “highly accessible” by stakeholders
  • They offer all young people an independent, supportive professional to talk to about difficulties
  • School-based counselling is viewed positively by both service users and school staff
  • Counselling is effective in bringing about improvements in students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing.

In terms of the efficacy and value of school-based counselling for secondary school students, Cooper’s review concluded:

  • commissioners should give consideration to the utility of school-based mental health provisions; and
  • school-based counsellors – working with colleagues in the field of child and adolescent mental health – have the potential to contribute to an increasingly comprehensive, integrated and ‘young person-centred’ system of mental health care.

Read the full review by Professor Mick Cooper.

The Spark is committed to helping schools provide the right learning environment for every pupil. By working in partnership and embedding experienced and accredited youth counsellors in each school we are helping Scotland’s children achieve their potential.

To find out more about our approach to mental and emotional wellbeing support for Secondary schools, visit the Secondary school section of our website.