Letting young people talk through their problems significantly lowers mental distress and should be provided by schools despite its high cost.
The conclusion comes from a study conducted by the University of Roehampton which investigated the effectiveness of different types of school counselling.
Specifically, researchers tested whether 'humanistic' counselling – allowing teenagers to explore their thoughts and emotions to work out their own solutions – combined with pastoral care – a more structured form of counselling based in psychological theory and psychotherapy – was better than pastoral care alone.
According to the study's findings, those that received both forms of counselling experienced a greater reduction in distress compared with those that received pastoral care alone, with effects lasting for up to 24 weeks.
In addition, humanistic plus pastoral counselling led to large improvements in both self-esteem and goal attainment.
The improvements came with one caveat though: high cost, which fell between £300 and £400.
However, figures at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), who helped carry out the research, insist that the benefits outweigh the costs and should be enough to justify schools taking the new approach.
“As we continue to campaign for a paid counsellor for every school, this research provides us with crucial further evidence to highlight the difference counselling can make in improving children’s wellbeing and reducing their psychological distress," said Jo Holmes, Children, Young People and Families Lead at the BACP.
“Professionally delivered school counselling services are not cheap, and neither should they be. School counsellors are highly trained, experienced and skilled practitioners, often working with complex need and trauma linked to psychological distress.
"School counselling has the potential to take some of the short and long-term pressure off statutory provision, and can support young people as they transition to and from more specialist mental health services.”
The study is the first of its kind in its analysis of school counselling in the UK, and comes at a time when an estimated 1 in 8 young people are thought to have a mental health issue.
Between 2017 and 2018, the government held a public consultation on a green paper titled Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision.
The paper set out three broad proposals, one of which included the aim of encouraging every school and college to appoint a designated lead for mental health.
Although many charities and organisations agreed with the proposals, many also suggested the paper did not go far enough.
YoungMinds, the UK's largest youth mental health charity, suggested that the proposals would "only be rolled out to at most a quarter of the country in the next five years."
In response, the charity suggested additional resources were needed, along with making childhood adversity and trauma a public health priority.
To read the full study, click here.