Research spotlight

Charlie Duncan

Charlie Duncan is Senior Research fellow at BACP, Secretary for the UK Chapter of the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR) and PhD student at Roehampton University. 

What’s going on in research and practice?

In this issue we speak to Charlie Duncan who has been involved in large scale research programmes which aim to increase the evidence base on counselling and psychotherapy for young people. We discuss the current state of the evidence, new directions in research with young people and how research can inform practice.

BACP research

What are the perceived wider benefits of school counselling?

A recent study has found that parents and carers feel school counselling can play an important role in improving young people’s self-confidence, happiness, sense of self, relationships and academic performance.

The study, which was published as part of the wider ETHOS trial (Effectiveness and Cost-effectiveness Trial of Humanistic Counselling in Schools), was led by our Research Assistant, Phaedra Longhurst. You can read more about it in our news story.

Study highlights and recommendations

  • Parents and carers perceived several benefits for young people who had school counselling, including improved relationships, academic performance and self-confidence.
  • Parents and carers value the independence of counsellors from schools, as well as the autonomy that young people being able to self-refer to services offers.
  • School staff, including teachers and counsellors, should provide parents and carers with more information about services, without compromising students’ confidentiality.

Research bites

A selection of current research focusing on counselling and psychotherapy for children and young people 

Do teaching staff in primary schools perceive any impacts of school-based counselling on school engagement?
Helen Raynham and Gordon Jinks, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling

To address gaps in our understanding of counselling provision in primary schools, researchers from the University of Roehampton and University of East London explored the perceptions of primary school teaching staff on the impacts of school-based counselling. They assessed three domains – cognitive engagement, social engagement and emotional engagement - and asked participants to indicate which domain was most important to a child’s educational progress. 

Study highlights and recommendations

  • Overall, school-based counselling was perceived to have the most impact on pupils’ social engagement, followed by emotional engagement and lastly cognitive engagement.
  • 59% of respondents agreed that school-based counselling was beneficial on all three domains.
  • Staff with more experience of school-based counselling provision were more likely to perceive counselling as having a positive effect.
  • The majority of teaching staff (63%) believed emotional engagement was the most important factor in educational progress.

While this study only explored the perceptions of teaching staff rather than actual impacts on school engagement, current findings point toward a professional acceptance of counselling provision in primary schools. As school-based counselling addresses pupils’ psychological and emotional wellbeing, the perception that emotional engagement is the most important factor in educational progress is particularly important. The impact of school-based counselling may extend beyond the alleviation of psychological distress and offer something more to developing young people. The authors call for universal provision of school-based counselling in primary schools.

Use of non-directive therapy for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review
Rachel Casper, Netalie Shloim and Judith Hebron, Counselling and Psychotherapy Research

The authors undertook a systematic review of previously published quantitative and qualitative studies exploring the use of non-directive therapeutic techniques for young people (11-18 years) with autism spectrum disorder. Twelve studies were identified involving counselling, long-term individual psychotherapy, play therapy, sandplay, narrative therapy, mentalisation-based therapy and group therapy.

Study highlights and recommendations

  • Non-directive interventions led to positive outcomes across a range of wellbeing domains.
  • Common elements were identified across the range of interventions including collaboration between the young person and therapist, adolescent-led discussions, reflection and reframing, and encouragement and acceptance of the young person as they are.
  • Improved outcomes were seen when professionals, parents or carers had some knowledge of or involvement in the process.
  • Improved outcomes were also observed when therapists had an understanding of autism spectrum disorders and could tailor the intervention to meet the needs of the young person.

Overall, the findings point towards the need to diversify therapeutic provision for young people with autism spectrum disorders in order to offer the tailored interventions needed. The authors highlight the need for further research that may help capture the therapeutic processes and holistic outcomes. 

Family Therapy for Conduct Disorder: Parent/Caregiver Perspectives on Active Ingredients
McDonald, Signal and Canoy, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy

Current literature suggests that youth with conduct disorder and their families can be difficult to treat and unresponsive to therapy, so engagement is a key challenge. This qualitative study explored parents’ and caregivers’ views on the active ingredients in family therapy.

Study highlights and recommendations

  • Parents and caregivers endorsed the six known active ingredients of successful family therapy for conduct disorder: therapist adherence, therapeutic alliance, creating a family focus, improved family communication, parenting skills and delivery in the home.

They also identified additional key ingredients:

  • Putting the problem into words: expressing themselves was key to the initial change process.
  • Recognising and adjusting expectations: parents need to realign their assumptions and expectations of their youth to be more youth-centred.
  • Responding with sensitivity to youth: increased understanding of them as someone with emotional needs.
  • Youth seeing parent and family commitment: this made a big difference to outcomes, particularly through sessions in the home.

Obtaining the perspective of parents and caregivers can add to the full investigation of change processes within therapy. As early engagement of youth and their families is a main challenge to the successful treatment of conduct disorder, these findings can support therapists to optimise engagement and change during therapy by recognising and targeting specific client factors, relational factors and beliefs.

Research resources

Children and Young People Practice Research Network (CYP PRN)

The CYP PRN brings together practitioners, researchers and trainers to engage in research and gather evidence for the effectiveness of school and community based counselling services for children and young people. The goal is to use research to improve the effectiveness and acceptability of counselling interventions for children and young people, as well as widen access to these services by influencing policy makers and commissioners. 

Research informs new competence framework for working remotely with children and young people

BACP has published new evidence-based competences for online and phone therapy (OPT) with children and young people to acknowledge the different knowledge, skills and abilities required to work remotely with this client group.