Schools are a positive setting for providing access to mental health support, according to research into parents’ and carers’ views of school counselling.

The study, led by our Research Assistant Phaedra Longhurst, found that parents and carers felt that school counselling improved young people’s self-confidence and happiness, enhanced their sense of self, and improved relationships and academic performance.

Parents and carers also felt it was helpful that the counselling was in a familiar setting and could be fitted round daily routines.

And they said that confidentiality was an important aspect of the service, said it was positive that the counsellor was independent from the school and reflected that self-referral meant young people had a greater sense of autonomy.

The research was published in the latest edition of Counselling and Psychotherapy Research journal.

It’s part of the wider ETHOS study - Effectiveness and Cost-effectiveness Trial of Humanistic Counselling in Schools – and was based on 17 interviews with parents and carers of 13 to 16 year olds who’d participated in the ETHOS project.


The researchers have drawn up recommendations that they hope will have implications for both policy and practice.

They are:

  • School-based counselling services should consider creating closer links with other mental health services: such as Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS); relevant professional staff, for instance school staff and GPs; and also parents and carers.
  • School staff, including teachers and counsellors, should improve communications with parents and carers to ensure access to information about their services and encourage young people to reach out to the services if needed. However, this should not compromise confidentiality between a young person and their counsellor.
  • School-based counselling services should consider incorporating alternative and complementary supportive resources for instance online activities to help reach young people and reduce service waiting times.

Phaedra said: “Until now the research into parents and carers perceptions has been limited. It’s been fascinating to explore how parents and carers are seeing first-hand the benefits of their children having counselling at their school.

“Parents and carers feel that schools are an ideal environment for the provision of professional mental health support, as they reach young people in a natural, convenient setting and promote and widen access to both universal support and targeted interventions.


“This adds to the growing body of evidence emphasising the positives of school counselling and supporting schools as a promising setting for the provision of mental health support.”

Parents and carers did raise some concerns about the counselling too, including that they didn’t get enough information about the service from schools, that the number of sessions could sometimes be too limited and that sometimes the positive impact of school counselling lessened over time.

Some of these concerns are reflective of the counselling being delivered as part of a rigorously controlled trial (such as the limited number of sessions) and are not necessarily reflective of how school-based counselling services work more generally, whereas other concerns have helped inform the policy and practice recommendations.

The researchers also said that future research should include young people and their parents and carers as part of continued development of mental health services.

Read the full open-access research paper ‘They need somebody to talk to’