Impact on policy, investment and provision of counselling services for young people in the UK
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Strathclyde
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
Research at Strathclyde has led to a significant increase in the delivery
of school-based counselling in the UK, with services established in all
secondary schools in Northern Ireland and Wales since 2007 and 2008,
respectively. It is estimated that there are approximately 70-90,000
service users per year across UK secondary schools. School-based
counselling significantly reduces young people's psychological distress,
and helps them gain self-confidence, achieve their goals, and concentrate
more in class. Strathclyde's research has led the way in demonstrating the
effectiveness of this type of intervention, and has played a pivotal role
in supporting its roll-out and development, thereby improving the
well-being of large numbers of young people across the UK.
School-based counselling has been defined by the British Association for
Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) as `a professional activity delivered
by qualified practitioners in schools. Counsellors offer troubled and/or
distressed children and young people an opportunity to talk about their
difficulties, within a relationship of agreed confidentiality.'
School-based counselling services have existed in the UK since the 1960s,
but their dissemination has been sporadic, and by the 1990s they had
almost disappeared. However, the last two decades have seen a significant
revival in the delivery of school-based counselling in the UK; and a major
factor supporting this has been the existence of empirical evidence
demonstrating its association with improvements in wellbeing. From 2003 to
the present day, Professor Cooper and colleagues at the Counselling Unit,
University of Strathclyde have been at the forefront of this research.
In 2004, Professor Cooper published an in-depth, mixed-method evaluation
of a school-based counselling service delivered in three Glasgow secondary
schools . This was the first rigorous evaluation of its kind, and
demonstrated that school-based counselling was associated with a
significant and large reduction in psychological distress. This report
also identified that a high proportion of young people were either
`satisfied' or `very satisfied' with their counselling; that they found
counselling beneficial because they could talk and be listened to and get
things off their chest; and that guidance/pastoral care teachers also
rated the counselling service as helpful to the young people involved. A
follow-up study of school teachers' attitudes replicated and extended this
latter finding; with subsequent research indicating that school-based
counselling also helped young people engage with studying and learning.
In 2009, Professor Cooper published the first comprehensive review of
evidence from audit and evaluation studies of school-based counselling in
the UK . Through meta-analytic techniques, it was established that
school-based counselling was associated with large reductions in
psychological distress; and that both service users and teachers believed
that the intervention was associated with positive benefits in mental
wellbeing and educational engagement.
Further cohort studies, including an evaluation of 3,613 cases of
school-based counselling across Wales , demonstrated conclusively that
the intervention was associated with significant positive benefits.
From 2008 onwards, Professor Cooper and colleagues have begun to test -
and demonstrate - the effectiveness of school-based humanistic counselling
through randomised controlled trials (RCTs), publishing in international
peer reviewed psychotherapy and mental health journals [4,5]. Data from
the most recent meta-analysis suggests that the average effect size for
school-based counselling over a 12-week period, compared against a waiting
list condition, is 0.82 for reduction in psychological distress, 0.40 for
reduction in psychological difficulties, 0.45 for increase in self-
esteem, and 0.64 for achievement of personal goals. Meta-analytical
findings also indicate that school-based counselling is associated with
reductions in clinical levels of distress for approximately 45% of young
people using these services.
Most recently, studies have focused on the processes by which
school-based counselling may bring about positive benefit and the methods
by which this benefit could be enhanced: in particular, through the
integration of systematic feedback from clients on the outcomes and
process of therapy .
Key researchers at the University of Strathclyde
All research has been led by Mick Cooper, Senior Lecturer in Counselling
(2003-5), Reader in Counselling (2005), Professor of Counselling
(2005-present). Lucia Berdondini (Lecturer in Counselling until 2008),
Mike Hough (Senior Lecturer in Counselling, retired 2005), Lorna Carrick
(Lecturer in Counselling) and Elizabeth Freire (Lecturer in Counselling
Psychology, left in 2011) have been involved in data collection and
Since 2008, collaborations have primarily been with the British
Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP); with the charities
Barnardo's, Relate, and Place2Be; and with the Universities of Newcastle
(Dr Susan Pattison) and Newport (Dr Sheila Spong).
References to the research
Outputs 3-6 are submitted to REF2 in UoA 25.
2: Cooper, M. (2009). Counselling in UK secondary schools: A
comprehensive review of audit and evaluation studies, Counselling
and Psychotherapy Research, 9(3), 137-150.
3: Cooper, M., Pybis, J., Hill, A., Jones, S., & Cromarty, K.
(2013). Therapeutic outcomes in the Welsh Government's school-based
counselling strategy: an evaluation. Counselling and Psychotherapy
Research, 13(2), 86-97, doi: 10.1080/14733145.2012.713372
4: Cooper, M., Rowland, N., McArthur, K., Pattison, S., Cromarty,
K., & Richards, K. (2010). Randomised controlled trial of school-based
humanistic counselling for emotional distress in young people: Feasibility
study and preliminary indications of efficacy, Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry and Mental Health, 4(1), 1-12.
5: McArthur, K., Cooper, M., & Berdondini, L. (2013).
School-based humanistic counseling for psychological distress in young
people: pilot randomized controlled trial. Psychotherapy Research, 23(3),
355-365, doi: 10.1080/10503307.2012.726750
6: Cooper, M., Stewart, D., Sparks, J., & Bunting, L. (2013).
School-based counseling using systematic feedback: a cohort study
evaluating outcomes and predictors of change. Psychotherapy Research,
23(4), 474-488, doi: 10.1080/10503307.2012.735777
Other evidence for quality of research. Reference 1 received the
BACP Recognised Achievement in Counselling and Psychotherapy Research
award in the Established Researcher category. References 2-6 were
published in peer reviewed international journals. Reference 2 is the
second most highly cited paper for its journal.
Details of the impact
Process from research to impact.
Research demonstrating the effectiveness and acceptability of school-based
counselling was presented at the Scottish Parliament Health and Sports
Committee (2009); to Paul Burstow (former Minister of State for Care
Services) (2012); and at the Stormont parliament in Northern Ireland
(2012). It was also presented at a wide range of national conferences,
including the Psychological Therapies in the NHS conference (2012). The
research was more widely disseminated to policy- makers and stakeholders
through published reports that were made widely available online, through
peer-reviewed journal papers, and through articles in professional
journals. Professor Cooper collaborated with Dr Susan Pattison at the
University of Newcastle, who led on a 2007 report on school-based
counselling in Wales, and was a co-investigator on the 2010 RCT (reference
4). He also collaborated with Dr Sheila Spong at the University of
Newport, who undertook the case study component of a 2012 evaluation of
school-based counselling in Wales.
Types of impact
Impact on policy makers, investment and services
Research reports demonstrating the effectiveness and acceptability of
school-based counselling were drawn on by policy makers in Northern
Ireland as support for the establishment of school- based counselling
services, which are now in existence across all secondary schools. The
National Co-ordinator for the Northern Ireland Department of Education
Independent Counselling Service (Source 1) for Schools stated: "The
Research carried out by Strathclyde University has greatly influenced
and enhanced the manner in which the Independent Counselling Service for
Schools is delivered in every Post Primary School across the country.
Having such a strong research base from Strathclyde which shows the
effectiveness of school based counselling has given added confidence
that the service delivered in our schools is not only fit for purpose,
but always focuses on the paramountcy of the child or young person's
The 2007 research report into services for children and young people in
Wales set ten recommendations that were wholly adopted by the Welsh
government, and became the basis for the provision and delivery of the
Welsh government's £6.5M school-based counselling strategy in 2008. The
subsequent 2011 evaluation of this Strategy, co-led by the University of
Strathclyde, supported the £14.25M extension of the Strategy and its
subsequent establishment of school- based counselling as a constitutional
responsibility for local authorities under The School Standards and
Organisation (Wales) Bill (2013). The co-ordinator for School-based
Counselling in Wales at the time of the research, stated in a presentation
at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
Research Conference (May 2013), "the evaluation was hugely
influential.... I don't think the additional money or the statutory
implementation would have happened without that hard evidence"
By demonstrating the effectiveness of school-based counselling, the
research has also played an important role in the UK Coalition
Government's decision in 2012 to allocate approximately £750k to the
development of e-learning resources for counsellors working with children
and young people (`Counselling MindEd', for which Professor Cooper acts as
Clinical Lead, Source 3), and the associated appointment of a National
Advisor for Counselling for Children and Young People (Professor Cooper).
The Chair of the BACP (Source 4), states: "Research from the University
of Strathclyde on the effectiveness of school-based counselling was
presented at a face-to-face meeting with Paul Burstow, former Minister
of State for Care Services, and played a significant role in the
subsequent allocation of approximately £750k to the development of
e-training for counsellors working with children and young people."
This evidence base has also formed the basis for the development, in
2012-13, of UK-wide competences for counselling children and young people
by the BACP (co-chaired by Professor Cooper). The Head of Research at BACP
(Source 5) said "RCT research from the University of Strathclyde on the
effectiveness of school-based counselling provided a key source in
determining the nature of the competences established for counsellors
working in the children and young people's field."
The evidence-based competences developed for counselling children and
young people and the Counselling MindEd e-learning programme will form the
basis for training and accreditation of all counsellors working with
children and young people in the UK — approximately 4,000 therapists —
with the intention that this will significantly improve the effectiveness
of their work. Research demonstrating the effectiveness of systematic
feedback in school-based counselling has influenced the UK's largest
provider of counselling in the primary school sector, Place2Be, to trial
the use of this system from 2012. The Research and Evaluation Manager for
Place2Be (Source 6) confirms that "research conducted at the University
of Strathclyde on the value of using systematic feedback in counselling
with primary school children has encouraged us to pilot this system
within 9 of our schools. The data from this pilot is currently being
evaluated and will inform our future service delivery decisions'.
Professor Cooper has also promoted this systematic feedback work through
articles and conference presentations to a professional audience".
Impact on health and welfare of children and young people in the UK
Today, school-based counselling is primarily delivered to young people in
the 11-18 year old age range; although there is also some provision to
children in primary schools. In this respect, the research which has
supported the enhancement of both the quantity and quality of school-based
counselling provision in the UK had made a significant contribution to the
health and welfare of young people and children in the UK. Between 2008
and 2013, approximately 400,000 young people will have received
school-based counselling across the UK (Source 7). The intervention is
normally delivered to pupils who experience psychological difficulties —
most commonly family problems, anger issues (particularly males),
bereavement and relationship problems — though it is normally made
accessible to any young person who expresses a wish to participate in it.
Approximately 60% of service users are female; and there is a mix of
ethnicities. In Wales and Northern Ireland, school-based counselling is
delivered in all publicly-funded secondary schools; and in approximately
70% of schools in England and Scotland. There is also delivery of school-
based counselling in the independent and special needs sectors in the UK
Based on predicted recovery rates, approximately 180,000 of those young
people who attended school-based counselling between 2008 and 2013 will
have moved from clinical levels of psychological distress to non-clinical
levels; though 40,000 will also have moved from non-clinical levels to
clinical levels (Source 7). The meta-analyses of RCT data also indicates
that, on average, school-based counselling brings about a reduction in
psychological distress of 0.82 standard deviations, and a 0.64 standard
deviation increase in attainment of personal goals. Qualitative reports
from teachers and service users also suggest that approximately 80% of
young people who participate in school-based counselling (approximately
320,000 young people in the UK between 2008 and 2013) will experience
improvements in their capacities to engage with studying and learning,
particularly in terms of being able to concentrate more in class (Source
The Senior Lead Advisor for Counselling Children and Young People for the
BACP stated (Source 8): "School-based counselling now reaches hundreds
of thousands of young people and children in the UK, and is leading to
measurable improvements in their wellbeing. Research at the University
of Strathclyde has been highly influential in supporting the
establishment and dissemination of these services, and in these respects
contributing to the enhanced wellbeing of many young people in the UK."
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Statement from the National Co-ordinator for the Northern Ireland
Department of Education Independent Counselling Service for Schools
- Jones, S. (2013) `School-based counselling in Wales from strategy to
entitlement', 19th Annual British Association for Counselling
and Psychotherapy Research Conference, Birmingham.
http://counsellingminded.com/staff-biographies/ Prof Cooper's role
in Counselling MindEd
- Statement from the Chair of the British Association for Counselling
- Statement from the Head of Research at the British Association for
Counselling and Psychotherapy.
- Statement from Research and Evaluation Manager, Place2Be.
- Cooper, M. (2013). School-based counselling in UK secondary schools: A
review and critical evaluation. Lutterworth: BACP/Counselling MindEd. http://counsellingminded.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/cooper_MindEd_report.pdf
- Statement from Senior Lead Advisor for Counselling Children and Young