A celebration of 50 years of the creation of the Association for Student Counselling would be far from complete without returning to the roots of student counselling in the UK. With the passage of time, and the numerous developments that have occurred in the counselling world over the past half century, it is easy to lose sight of pioneering initiatives, and the pioneers themselves, that have provided the firm foundation for what is largely taken for granted today – the bedrock upon which current student counselling services has been built.
There are numerous tributaries to such developments, and many individuals have played a significant role in the establishment of contemporary student counselling provision. In the 1950s, the foundations were being laid by Mary Swainson, at what was then the University College of Leicester. To help shine a light on one of the major influences since then, we would like to offer our perspective on the emergence of Keele University’s Student Counselling Service, the first fully developed provision in the UK, established by Audrey Newsome in 1964. This article arose out of a meeting between Audrey, Rita Mintz and Mark Fudge, which took place on a dark winter’s night in 2014 and was very much a meeting of three generations sharing experience of the same institute across 50 years of student counselling.
Audrey Newsome: pioneer and visionary
Audrey came to Keele in the striking winter of 1962 as Deputy Head of the then Appointments (Careers) Service. She had thought that she would never obtain the position, assuming that one of the four male candidates for that post would surely be seen as more qualified and suitable. Indeed, she later recalled that one man had already been told that the job was his and at the time he was looking for accommodation for his wife and child. This was a time, we must remember, when women’s opportunities were much more restricted than their male counterparts: the Sex Discrimination Act was not passed until 1975. This therefore sets the scene – a woman securing the position over the heads of four well-qualified men. To her relief, they were gracious in defeat and wished her well. We can only surmise that the interview panel, made up of, among others, the then first Vice-Chancellor, Professor Harold Taylor, saw a quality in Audrey which trumped other considerations. Perhaps it was Audrey’s capacity to challenge, create and inspire, which resonated with Taylor’s ability to think outside of the constraints of one discipline, alongside a disposition for human understanding. He, and other members of that panel, had seen something in Audrey that led them to believe that she had the potential to take the service forward in a way that was consistent with the values of a relatively new and developing institution. They were not wrong. Within a few months, the then departmental head, historian Hugh Leach, stood down and Audrey took over leadership of the service.
To place this new service in a wider context, it is important to recognise the developments that were taking place at the time. This was a period of post-war rebuilding, and Keele was one of the new ‘plate-glass’ universities established at a time of expansion of higher education. The university was mainly contained within a 19th century country house, vacated prior to the war. With fewer than 1,000 students, this was a close-knit community, with all students, and many staff, living on campus. It had a strongly individualistic character and soon earned the nickname ‘The Kremlin on the hill’ among the local community, which at the time consisted of pottery, coal and steel industries.
In stark contrast to established, traditional universities, the Keele ‘experiment’ involved a four-year degree programme, including a Foundation Year in which students took a mixture of arts, social science and science courses. It was only after this first year that they specialised in a major and subsidiary subject. The idea was to get away from narrow specialisation and instead to promote a more rounded education, enabling graduates to have the flexibility needed to meet the challenges of the day. Students therefore were presented with choice. They were also living in close proximity to one another, and alongside academics, with all the potential benefits and challenges that this presented.
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It was to this environment of a fledgling institution, open to innovation and experimentation, that Audrey brought a clear vision of the essential ingredients needed to enable students to thrive in their studies and be best prepared to face the challenges of life and work that lay ahead. She held the firm belief that emotional and psychological needs were as important as academic. Audrey saw the whole person and the wide range of developmental considerations that needed to be nourished in a growth-producing environment.
It should also be said that Audrey’s beliefs and strong commitment to fostering the holistic development of the individual were impacted by her experience of working in the Youth Service, where she clearly recognised the shortcomings of a system which she believed paid insufficient attention to the wider developmental needs of the young person. In an effort to be better equipped to meet such needs, she secured a place on the master’s degree programme in Counselling Psychology at Columbia University in New York. Having secured a Nuffield scholarship, which was subsequently halved to only £500, she sold all of her possessions to raise funds. Audrey later recalled that she had $2 a day to live off – and lunch cost $1.35. She received great kindness from her peers. This was a fertile ground for building upon her developing ideas and beliefs. She not only benefitted greatly from the course, but also met many inspirational figures, including Carl Rogers and Gilbert Wrenn, whose ideas and humanity deeply resonated with her. It also needs to be remembered that the post-war period in the US was a time of optimism and moving forward, and in the world of counselling and psychotherapy, psychodynamic and behavioural paradigms were being challenged by the humanistic movement – the ‘third force’ in psychology – which was suggesting new and exciting possibilities for unlocking human potential.
These influences were combined with Audrey’s tenacity, courage, fighting spirit and vision, and were echoed by an institution which was young, vibrant and had sufficient resources to support new initiatives. Audrey, with her firm vision in mind, presented Harold Taylor with a paper – two sides of A4 – proposing the development of a counselling service to complement and be integrated with the current Appointments Board. Professor Taylor’s response was: ‘This is the most exciting thing I’ve seen in years… What staff do you need?’.1 Such a response today, in more conceptual and financially restrained times, might seem unthinkable. Audrey always maintained that ‘Chance favours the prepared mind’. Perhaps this wasn’t chance or serendipity, but hers certainly was a ‘prepared mind’ within an atmosphere of experimentation and understanding which was conducive to new and innovative ideas. Thus, counselling at Keele began.
Early days at Keele
The Service (called the Appointments and Counselling Service) evolved over the years and was indeed visionary in its day. In fact, many of its features would represent exemplary practice in contemporary times. The ethos was firmly grounded in humanistic philosophy and values, and was pervasively influenced by the theory and practice of counselling developed by Carl Rogers. This was the very heart and soul of the service, and the counselling relationship was at the centre of all therapeutic encounters. There was, however, a clear recognition that to fully meet the diverse needs of its clientele, it was important to look beyond any one particular counselling school and to embrace a wider spectrum of approaches that could be integrated with its guiding philosophy and principles. We mustn’t forget this was in the day when there was much division between therapeutic modalities and little in the way of cross-fertilisation.
In today’s world, this more inclusive perspective seems consistent with the current move away from ‘tribalism’, and it could be argued that it bears some resemblance to pluralistic counselling, advocated by writers such as Cooper and McLeod.2
So, the focus was on the whole person – an integration of academic, vocational, personal and social dimensions of students’ experience. It was a forerunner of what we might now call an embedded service. Developmental processes, such as the transition to university, relationships, sexuality, academic challenges and career choice concerns, were key presenting issues of many of the clients who utilised the counselling provision. While this was a considerable focus of the service, it was also able to address the needs of those who presented with deep-seated distress and serious mental health issues.
Accordingly, much of the counselling was relatively short term, but there was also clear provision for meeting long-term and ongoing needs. It was for the counsellor and client to decide how many sessions were needed, and this was regularly reviewed as the counselling process evolved. Thus, there were no external restrictions on what could be provided, and the generous staffing ratios meant there was no need for a waiting list. Counsellors today might be quite envious of such abundance of provision.
In addition to individual counselling, the service offered a range of group sessions. These were considered to be part of the wider educational experience that could contribute to the development of the whole person, and in many respects could be seen as preventative provision. Group offerings focused on areas such as transition to university, vocational exploration, study skills, stress management, social skills and mature student needs. There was a strong emphasis on outreach activities – another clear forerunner to sound contemporary practice and something which would be immediately recognisable today.
While formal supervision requirements were not yet established, and there were no supervisors around in those early days of student counselling, the Keele Service could be seen as a harbinger of such developments. Regular ‘case conferences’ were held to explore client work and any issues this raised for individual counsellors. This was in addition to monthly sessions with a consultant psychiatrist, who provided valuable support. There was also a strong emphasis on counsellor self-care, affording protection for both clients and counsellors. The ethos of the service was supportive and caring and provided valuable opportunities for reflection, learning and ongoing personal and professional development. We can look back now and see how much thought was given to the many dimensions of sound ethical practice, prior to the emergence of professional ethical frameworks. In addition, the team comprised highly qualified therapists (difficult to find in a day when counselling training was still in its infancy) who brought their own particular specialism, combined with a fundamental commitment to the education of the whole person, and to the guiding principles and ethos of the university. This helped create the nuanced, embedded service familiar today, and which seems to indicate that this model is the most beneficial to both students and institutes.
The relationship between the counselling service and the wider institution was also a prime consideration in Audrey’s pioneering vision. Counselling was not seen as an ‘add-on’ to the ‘real work’ of the educational establishment, but as ‘a central and integral part of the educational process for all students’4 – it was truly embedded within the university. But even in those early days, the need to tread a delicate path with wider university colleagues was clearly recognised. Then, as now, relationships with all members of the university community – academics, university health service practitioners, administrators, chaplains, welfare staff, student union leaders, porters – needed to be nourished to minimise any sense of competition or threat, and to establish collaborative ways of working. Transparency and open communication were the key to reducing the mystique of counselling in an era when it was not yet established as a profession and was often shrouded in misunderstanding and mystery. Understanding and working within the dynamics of the institution as well as within the wider social and political context of the day were therefore central, and no easy task to achieve. The sensitivity and open communication that were evident, however, could perhaps still provide important lessons for services in the current day. In many ways, this foreshadows the more recent focus on a ‘whole-institution approach’ to mental health3 and was, at the time, seen as developing a healthy academic community.
A full picture of the service is presented in Student Counselling In Practice, written in 1973 by Audrey and her then colleagues, Brian Thorne and Keith Wyld.4 Although it was published almost 50 years ago, it still stands as testament to so much that is important and valuable in student counselling in today’s world.
A prevailing media narrative in the 2000s has reflected the increase in levels of distress and poor mental health within FE/HE, and undoubtedly there have been changes in how students present themselves today. However, it would be folly to ignore the seriousness of some of the work in the 1960s and 70s. Audrey recalled long drives to a local mental health hospital in the Staffordshire Moorlands. In her retirement photograph, she stands with a local psychiatrist, Edward Myers, on one side and the Vice-Chancellor on the other – perhaps symbolic of her work then, and indeed of the path many of us still tread.
This was a world pre ethical frameworks and membership organisations. Student welfare was more attuned to a model of in loco parentis in the early 1960s: the age of majority wasn’t reduced to 18 until January 1970, and the notion of Gillick Competence did not emerge until 1985.5
Repair given; love restored
British universities are perhaps always in a state of flux, and like the world of counselling, are constantly adapting to the needs of wider society and individuals. At present, many are grappling with finances and an ever-competitive market against a backdrop of global uncertainty and social change. It would be easy, but mistaken, to see this as a linear process. Many commentators have remarked on a tendency to repeat, borrow, amend and represent the past to meet a current audience. As Virginia Woolf noted, ‘…memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that’,6 and in many ways, organisations easily develop institutional amnesia in the pursuit of the groundbreaking, modern and corporate. It is perhaps only with a chance meeting and a period of reflection that we are reminded of what came before – a process often mirrored in therapeutic work with the exploration of experience, memory and reaction.
Looking around the sector today, counselling services still bear the imprint of the early Keele model, with close connections to local NHS services, groupwork and peer supervision. Maybe, too, some of the struggle to fit within institutions which have varying degrees of interest in and understanding of counselling, mirrors that early experience. In the early 1960s, Audrey’s life and youthwork experience enabled her to recognise that the holistic view of a young person was necessary for them to gain employment and opportunity after graduation: a more contemporary and corporate view would talk about employability and student satisfaction. We talk now of services being embedded within colleges and universities, and this is something that was at the heart of the early Keele experiment.
The 1950s and 60s were a time of change and restoration in the aftermath of global conflict. This was something Audrey wasn’t immune from herself. More recently, she talked about the death of her mother, by suicide, when she herself was nine, just before the onset of the Second World War, and the subsequent disruption of being evacuated away from her father and brother.1 Perhaps more tellingly, she spoke of being restored by love, and of repair taking place through the kindness and compassion of a step-mother. Audrey knew and experienced the value of the relational aspect of the work she would then develop within student counselling. This experience also gave her a tenacity and spiritedness which was a formidable and noted force.
Wider and full circles
It would be foolhardy and unfair to attribute the development of counselling in the UK to one person or institute. The decade following the end of the Second World War was a time of austerity, and the psychological trauma of conflict and all that remained of this would rumble on well into the 1960s. Another notable figure in the formation of the British Association for Counselling was Hans Hoxter (1909-2002), a social worker who again recognised the lack of psychological support within post-war Britain and in particular within the education system.
The early 1980s were harsh for many in the UK, and universities didn’t escape financial cutbacks. This was a pre-tuition-fees era, unemployment was high, and many public services faced scrutiny. Even so, counselling continued to grow as part of a need to create understanding and compassion within a country starting to shed its industrial heritage, and along with it some sense of identity. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, counselling services grew and became more established, with the University of Leeds being one of the last to create a service in 1996.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, services may have been able to meet demand more easily. Far fewer students accessed HE and there was little legislation protecting the rights of those with longstanding difficulties – now enshrined in the Equalities Act (2010) – who may not have received the ongoing support they needed.
In the 1980s, the careers and counselling components at Keele were separated, due to a university decision that each should have its own professional identity. This was reflected across the sector as other services appeared. Thus, although the concept of integrated careers and counselling provision didn’t become the norm in the UK, Audrey’s vision had a profound effect on the future direction of both counselling and careers services. A consequence of establishment and maturity is the need to contend with questions and challenges, and the need for an evidence base for work undertaken. The last decade saw the creation of IAPT in England and increasing NICE recommendations, along with pressure to provide evidence of successful outcomes. Many services have to contend with the challenge of a medicalisation of therapies and some have adapted their model of service delivery to meet student demand and complexity. And this remains an ongoing challenge: how embedded services, with a deep understanding of an academic context and the challenges it raises, should respond to sometimes simplistic measures of ‘success’ in therapeutic outcomes.
If introducing counselling to education and universities was the aim of early pioneers, then the last five decades have been fruitful. Nowadays, it is hard to imagine a university without at least basic counselling provision, and for most, there are flourishing services, which are still embedded and contributing greatly to education and positive mental health. The marketplace is now crowded and competitive and many services do feel marginalised and potentially under threat. However, we hope that wisdom continues to prevail and that, while adapting to the changing world, we don’t lose sight of what has come before, but remember the firmness of foundations.
We hope this article has shed light on a most inspirational woman who had a great vision that was brought to fruition through a combination of many factors coalescing – the ‘many tributaries’ that Elsa Bell so eloquently highlighted when discussing the sources of student counselling.7 Audrey was one of those sources, and her life and work have touched so many individuals in so many different ways. She did receive much recognition in her lifetime, including an Honorary MA from the Open University, Fellowships of the Royal College of Medicine and of BACP, Chairmanship of the UK Forum for Organisational Health and, most recently, the renaming of the University of Keele counselling accommodation to the Newsome Building.
1. Newsome A. Interview with Mark Fudge and Rita Mintz. 2014.
2. Cooper M, McLeod J. Pluralistic counselling and psychotherapy. London: SAGE; 2010.
3. UUK. www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/ stepchange/Pages/whole-university-approach.aspx (accessed 17 July 2020).
4. Newsome A, Thorne B, Wyld KL. Student counselling in practice. London: University of London Press; 1973.
5. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4962726 (accessed 17 July 2020).
6. Woolf V. Orlando. London: Vintage Classics; 2016.
7. Bell E. Counselling in further and higher education. Buckingham: Buckingham University Press; 2006.