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Ways Forward In Schools

WAYS FORWARD IN SCHOOLS. Interactive counselling software for the classroom. Price pound;95, two user pound;140, five user pound;170;

Solution focused brief therapy (SFBT) focuses on the future, drawing on people's strengths, rather than on the past and their problems. It doesn't ask: "What's the problem?" but "What are you doing to make things better?"

Jonathan Hales, a therapist from Brighton, has been using SFBT for nearly 10 years. He saw in its logical progression the potential for a computer mediated conversation, where users could be prompted to think about, and begin to resolve, their difficulties, not by a counsellor but through a database, each question helping the user to think more clearly about their situation and what they can do to move on.

Questions such as, "Was there a time when things were worse than they are now?" help users to focus on how the situation can change. This might be followed by, "What did you do that changed things?" to emphasise the power people have in difficult situations. There is also the "miracle question", which directs users' thoughts to what the future could look like. "If by magic things were made perfect overnight, what would be different tomorrow morning?"

At the end of the session a summary is shown detailing what the user has done and can do to alleviate the problem. The dialogue can be printed, but not saved, if the user wants a reminder of their answers. Apart from offering a tool for professional counsellors and therapists, it could be used by pastoral staff, for peer support and individuals solely interacting with the computer. While some knowledge of SFBT is helpful, it is not a prerequisite.

It could be used confidentially by students who aren't ready to share their problems. Or by teachers and learning mentors as a way to help pupils start to engage. There is the potential for peer mentoring with pupils talking to each other.

Ben Hayes, an educational psychologist in Kent, used it with a pupil in foster care who was excluded. He said: "It allowed me to interact and start to find some solutions with him. The fact that it is a computer program made it the ideal tool for engaging him."

At Coleridge community college in Cambridge, Jayne Summerfield believes it helps students to keep "focused on one problem at a time"; while at Great Baddow high school in Chelmsford, Senco Jane Keary reports: "They like the way it reflects back what they have typed because it helps them think."

This program offers schools a simple yet powerful way of helping pupils to move on using the resources they each have.

John Galloway, advisory teacher for ICTSEN, Tower Hamlets

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