HAVING AN impartial adult to confide in can improve youngsters' learning because it stops them dwelling on their problems in class, claims a new study*.
A pilot project in Glasgow, which provided access to a counsellor for hundreds of secondary pupils, resulted in six out of 10 surveyed saying they believed it helped them study and learn better.
Mick Cooper of Strathclyde University, the author of the report evaluating the Counselling in Schools Project, said: "Although most young people come to counselling with emotional and relationship issues rather than academic ones, after talking their problems through with a supportive adult they often find that they are more able to concentrate on their classwork."
Susan McGinnis, project co-ordinator, said: "Our intention was never to link counselling to academic achievement, but we were interested to see how counselling could reduce barriers to learning."
She found that pupils who were interviewed after receiving counselling said it helped them to stop dwelling on their worries while in class. "Sometimes it was just a matter of getting it off their chest."
Ms McGinnis, who counselled in one of the schools from the beginning of the pilot in 2002, said talking helped youngsters who could feel trapped in life. "They can't get a divorce, they can't change a lot, so they cope,"
One of the key findings was that nearly half the youngsters taking up counselling were boys, at 47 per cent. "It is a surprising statistic because people have an assumption that boys don't want to talk about things."
Young people's greatest concerns tended to relate to family life, such as divorce and bereavement, although Ms McGinnis is keen to stress the service is not an attempt to replace parents but is an additional outlet.
"Having an adult as a support, who isn't necessarily going to tell them what to do, is the best of both worlds - it's quite a new experience for a lot of them," she said.
Greater Glasgow NHS Board funded the intial pilot, run in conjunction with Glasgow Education Services and Strathclyde University in three schools from September 2002. Now 12 schools are involved in the project. Guidance or pastoral care teachers usually referred pupils for counselling, although self-referral was seen as an important option for pupils.
Counsellors communicated with the participating schools' guidance departments, but maintained strict confidentiality except in cases of abuse where they were compelled to disclose it following discussion with the pupil involved.
Eight out of 10 of nearly 400 pupils surveyed felt counselling helped them "a lot" or "quite a lot", and all the pastoral staff involved felt it was a valuable addition to existing pastoral provision.
*For the full report on The Counselling in Schools Project, see www.tes.co.ukscotland