Scotland's commitment to having a mental health counsellor in every secondary school must not be met by employing people who lack the necessary expertise in working with young people , MSPs were warned today.
All of Scotland's 357 secondary schools should have access to professional counselling services from September.
Concerns were raised by MSPs today about how likely it was that this commitment would be achieved. In response, Laura Meikle, head of the Scottish government's Support and Wellbeing Unit, insisted that the government was on track to hit the target, although she stressed that – given the big range in size of Scotland's secondary schools – some may end up with two counsellors on their premises while other, small schools may end up sharing a counsellor.
School counsellors were the main topic of discussion at today's meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee, where several experts were quizzed.
Mental health: counsellors in schools
Stella Gibson, chief executive of The Spark, which describes itself as Scotland's biggest provider of school-based counselling, stressed that it took time to train a counsellor to work in a school, even if they had extensive experience of counselling adults.
Ms Gibson described the drive to make counselling available to every secondary pupil in Scotland as "incredibly positive".
But she said: "We're not talking about just parachuting counsellors into schools – I don't think that would work."
She added that "schools are incredibly complex places to work" and that "we've spent three years developing the service that we've got – this isn't something that just happens overnight".
Ms Gibson said: "I suppose a concern for me would be that there are organisations who think, 'Oh right, well we could deliver school counselling now – we've got adult counsellors.'"
But some of these organisations might have no experience of the specific demands of school counselling, she stressed.
Ms Gibson, whose organisation was established in 1965, added: "It's taken us three years of hard work to get this absolutely to the point that we've got it – I'm not saying we've got it 100 per cent right, but we have a quality service there."
She added: "It's not just a case of, 'Right, OK, we have to provide 30 counsellors in Glasgow [for example], we'll just drop counsellors into schools – that just wouldn't work at all."