We believe there’ll be a rise in demand for counselling in schools when young people return to their classrooms for the new term.

It comes after research carried out by us and the University of Roehampton revealed the number of children and young people receiving school counselling halved between March, when Covid-19 restrictions came into force, and July, when the survey took place.

The research found that reductions in school counselling mainly happened because schools had closed, or had reduced or stopped the provision of therapy due to Covid-19 lockdown and subsequent restrictions. In other instances, children and young people were unable to access online therapy because there was nowhere private that they could do it from. 

The survey also showed that most school counsellors (94% of respondents) used this time to access guidance about telephone and online counselling and invest in their own CPD to help them meet future demand.

Investment in school counselling

We’re using this data to lobby for further investment in school counselling and to help shape what further support we need to offer our members who work in these settings.

We’ll be talking further about this at a webinar for school counsellors that we’re planning for the start of September.

Jo Holmes, our Children and Young People and Families Lead, said: “We’re anticipating a rise in demand for counselling and expect to see a rush of children and young people seeking support from school counsellors when the new term starts.

Critical role

“Counsellors will play a critical role in supporting young people through the anxieties, uncertainty, grief and trauma they face because of the global pandemic. For some young people this vital support will come after six months of not being able to access the services they need and of struggling with their feelings and emotions alone. It’s crucial that school counselling services are supported and funded to meet this anticipated increase in demand.

“While our research found the number of contact hours with children and young people had been reduced, many counsellors have used this time to retrain to deliver telephone and online counselling sessions to prepare them for current and future needs.

Lifeline for entire school community

“There are many school counsellors who’ve been able to continue offering support throughout the pandemic, not just for students but to help parents and staff cope too. They have been a lifeline for their entire school community.”

The survey of 742 counsellors found the average number of children and young people the counsellors were seeing reduced from 14 to 7 between before lockdown restrictions came into force in March and when the survey was carried out in July.

There was a reduction in the average hours of face-to-face therapy provided per counsellor, from approximately 15 to 3 hours.

In contrast, the survey shows increases in the amount of video, phone, and text-based counselling being delivered. The average amount of time per week of video counselling provided by each counsellor increased from 18 minutes to 2 hours 58 minutes, while telephone and email counselling rose from 13 minutes to 3 hours 19 minutes and from seven minutes to 46 minutes, respectively.

Greater recognition

Respondents to the survey thought that the most important priority to ensure counselling could be delivered for the next academic year was greater recognition of mental health as a critical service. After that, they wanted a private space themselves where they could offer face-to-face therapy, with or without social distancing; and a private space for children and young people to attend online counselling.

Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling Psychology at the University of Roehampton, who co-led the project and is one of our members, said: "School counselling provides vital support for children and young people. Our research shows that it can bring about significant improvements in mental wellbeing.

"By talking to a professionally trained counsellor, children and young people can get things off their chests, work out solutions to their difficulties, and develop life skills like being more assertive and relating more positively to others.

"This reduction in services comes at a particularly bad time. We know that Covid-19 is creating more emotional difficulties and stress for children and young people. It’s a massive problem if they then do not have the support to work these problems out."

We’re campaigning for the Government to fund a paid counsellor in every secondary school in England and made the case for this to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in June.

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland already have statutory funded school counselling services.