School-based counselling: “an early intervention preventative service”

The following is an article from Hafal’s Big Lottery-funded Young People’s Information Hub. To access the Hub please click here.  

One of the most valuable support services available to children in Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s school-based counselling service.

The goal of the service, which was introduced in 2008, is to have counselling provision available to all school pupils so they have someone to turn to if they need help or support on matters such as mental health, family issues, bereavement, eating disorders, bullying and relationships. At the moment the service is available in every secondary school in Wales; pilots are currently taking place in primary schools in Bridgend, Cardiff, Pembrokeshire and Wrexham.

In January, John Gilheaney, our Young People’s Information Officer, met Sylvia Jones, WAG’s Coordinator for School-based Counselling, to talk about how the service can help young people with a serious mental illness in Wales.

JG: One of the keys to tackling serious mental illness is to ensure that the illness is caught early. How does your service help in this regard?

SJ: School-based counselling is an early intervention preventative service because it tries to stop the escalation of problems including serious mental illness. It’s about making sure the young person gets support earlier rather than later.

The latest figures, from the summer term, show there were 2,292 young people who completed counselling in Wales. Of those, 60 were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services which is a small but significant percentage; these referrals might not have been picked up had there be no counselling in place.

In my work I’ve tried to emphasise how important it is for us to develop our help to young people in partnership. It’s not just about the counsellor going into school, seeing the young person and going out again. Counsellors need to be working with others – albeit what goes on in the counselling room is confidential – it’s the actual relationships within the school and other key professionals which are the key to making the service work.

The amount of money invested by the Welsh Assembly Government in school-based counselling recognises that we need to deal with issues earlier and we need to deal with them in partnership.

JG: How does your service tackle discrimination?

SJ: This is a huge issue. Part of our approach depends on how school-based counselling is promoted within the school. Having a buddy system or watching instructive DVDs which show it’s OK to go to see a counsellor help a lot. It’s sensible to talk about your problems.

It’s going to take a long time to change attitudes but if everybody does their bit it will make a difference. There is a lot of discrimination around mental health, we need to chip away and make it OK for young people to know they can talk about what’s on their mind.

We have counsellors in all our secondary schools. We’re trying to de-stigmatise the service so young people feel it’s OK to talk about their problems, that it’s as easy for them to see a counsellor as it is for them to see the school nurse or librarian.

For more information on school-based counselling services in Wales please click here.