NHS Digital. Mental health of children and young people in England, 2020: Wave 1 follow up to the 2017 survey, October 2020. 2020. (accessed 31 March 2021)

Cooper M, Stafford MR, Saxon D Humanistic counselling plus pastoral care as usual versus pastoral care as usual for the treatment of psychological distress in adolescents in UK state schools (ETHOS): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2021; 5:(3)178-189

School counselling: The evidence for what works

02 April 2021
Volume 2 · Issue 2


School counselling services are a common response to mental health and wellbeing challenges, not least those caused by COVID-19 and lockdown. New research findings have shown us exactly when and how counselling can be most effective, Professor Mick Cooper explains.

In England, approximately one in seven young people meet the criteria for a ‘mental disorder’, with prevalence rates rising over the past two decades (NHS Digital, 2020). Schools, as recognised by the UK government, may provide an ideal environment to try and address this problem. They provide young people with unparalleled access to services; alleviating barriers such as time, location, and cost.

One of the most common forms of school-based mental health intervention is counselling. School-based counselling is well established in more than 60 countries around the globe, and mandatory in at least 40, including Wales.

In England, approximately 60% of secondary schools provide some form of on-site counselling, with 70 000 to 90 000 young people attending it every year in the UK.

School counselling in the UK most commonly takes a humanistic (aka ‘person-centred’) form. Here, counsellors provide clients with an empathic, non-judgemental and supportive relationship to find their own answers to their problems. This form of counselling is not targeted toward specific mental health disorders (such as depression), but adopts a more general orientation.

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