School Counselling at St Thomas More Catholic School
Here at St Thomas More we are committed to improving children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. While mental health issues are relatively common, children and young people do not always get the help that they need as quickly as they should. Issues such as anxiety, low mood, depression, conduct and eating disorders can impact significantly on their happiness and future life chances. With this in mind we have introduced a counselling service in school. Please see below for details.
Role of the counsellor
Counsellors can offer a child/young person a safe and supportive environment to talk over difficult issues in confidence and will listen to his/her views, experiences and feelings without judgement, in an atmosphere of respect and empathy, based on a secure and trusting working relationship. Counsellors can enable the child/young person to focus on their concerns, giving them a vehicle to explore specific problems, make choices, cope with crisis, work through feelings of conflict and improve relationships with others.
For counselling to be successful, the child/young person must want to engage with it. Therefore, it is important to note that counselling is not compulsory and a child/young person may choose not to engage with or choose not to continue counselling. This approach also values the child/young person and respects their right to be informed and involved in decisions concerning themselves, in line with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When a young person is referred for counselling, during the initial session the counsellor will explain the 3 C’s; What is Counselling, Confidentiality and Consent, he/she must be able to make a valid verbal counselling contract, including the ability to understand the principle of confidentiality and the need for this to be overridden where the young person is alleged to be at risk of harm from oneself or another.
There is a need for discretion and confidentiality to be observed as much as possible and respect for the young person’s right to privacy. Therefore, professionals, school staff, or other people involved should take note that discussions with others regarding the referral should only take place on a need-to-know basis and, importantly, with the young person’s permission. Although confidentiality is important, the safety of the child should always come first. Therefore, the need to protect a child will always outweigh the importance of confidentiality.
It is essential that counselling sessions are seen as voluntary and confidential and it is a means of support not a disciplinary measure for a child/young person. It should be made clear that it is an opportunity to talk about problems and worries with a view to resolving or managing them more easily.
The first session is an opportunity for the counsellor and client to make a decision on whether to engage in counselling or not. Those responsible for referring the child/young person must respect the decision of the counsellor and child/young person if it is felt that counselling is not appropriate at the current time.
Counselling can support the development of self-esteem, social confidence, self-identity, as well as the general emotional mental health and well-being of children/young people. In educational settings, counselling supports the emotional health of the child/young person, which underpins academic achievement and facilitates the building and management of helpful relationships.
If the person referring is unsure whether to refer the child/young person for counselling, it may be helpful to discuss concerns with a counsellor in order to clarify the most appropriate way forward. However, this should be done in conjunction with the child/young person.
Referrals will be added to the waiting list, and counselling will be offered on date order. For students who want to explore what counselling has to offer or meet the counsellor they can come along to the lunchtime drop-in, currently Tuesday and Thursday.
Partnership with parents/carers
When working with secondary school-age children and young people, it is not necessary to get parental or carer consent as long as the young person is deemed to be ‘Gillick’ competent. Whilst it is important to work in partnership with parents and carers, this should not impinge on the confidential nature of the counselling sessions.
Working in partnership with parents/carers can benefit the counselling relationship. A question constantly raised and which can present many ethical dilemmas is that of parental right to know if their son or daughter is accessing counselling in the school. Whilst it is acknowledged that working in partnership with parents/carers can benefit the counselling relationship, there is a need to protect counselling confidentiality, which sets definitive limits to parental involvement, decisively underpinned by both ethical and legal factors. The young person has a right to access counselling without their parents’ consent or against their parents’ wishes if they are considered to be ‘Gillick competent’.
The counsellor, in line with their professional bodies requirement, will access supervision with a suitably qualified clinical supervisor who is external and independent of the school. This professional relationship is bound by a similar confidentiality agreement to that of confidentiality in counselling. The counsellor may seek guidance from their supervisor about safeguarding and child protection issues as well as discuss caseload.