The provision of counselling support in primary and secondary schools in the United Kingdom has increased exponentially since the 2000s. A report by Place2Be and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT, 2020) identified that between 2016 and 2019 school-based counselling support had risen from 36 to 66 per cent. This increased capacity in schools was a strategic response to the widely reported rise in psychological distress in both children and young people (CYP) (NHS Digital, 2018; The Children’s Society, 2020), and is grounded in the belief that schools are best placed to deliver mental health and wellbeing support (Mackenzie and Williams, 2018). One provider, the School Counselling Partnership (SCP), is a locally developed service that delivers to both primary and secondary schools across London and is the focus of this chapter.
School counselling for 21st-century learners
The expansion of counselling services in schools has seen a concurrent rise in the use of virtual and digital modes of delivery. A review by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) (Wilson and Waddell, 2020) suggests that some interventions for CYP are being successfully implemented using online interfaces, including mental health and wellbeing programmes. This style of delivery would appear highly desirable to a generation of new digital natives who are already comfortable and conversant with online activities in other areas of their lives. However, the EIF’s review of 21 virtual and digital mental health and wellbeing interventions urges caution in assuming CYP’s inevitable engagement and reduced attrition (Wilson and Waddell, 2020). The online interventions that reported the strongest impact on CYP were those that adopted a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) technique (Grist et al, 2019). Through CBT, CYP are guided to rehearse adaptive behaviours to deal with, for example, anxiety or depression and to replace negative cognitions with positive ones. Specifically, internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (ICBT) for youth anxiety is more developed than online treatments for other mental health problems (Pennant et al, 2015), while evidence suggests that higher levels of engagement are associated with programmes guided by a therapist, either virtual or real (Sauter et al, 2009; Beidas et al, 2014). This aligns with the EIF’s findings which highlight the value of the practitioner–participant relationship in ensuring that CYP who participate in online interventions persist with the programme (Wilson and Waddell, 2020).