Students unlikely to tell counsellors problems as they are often teachers too

A new survey of almost 900 teenagers reveals they are reluctant to tell teachers their problems and are also unlikely to speak with a school counsellor — because they are often teachers.

The study also found that secondary school students want to keep the counselling role separate from the classroom, and are afraid that if they raise an issue with a counsellor, they in turn will tell their parents.

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors said the research “just confirms the damage that was done by the cuts of the last five years”.

The confidential survey responses from 856 teenagers aged 15 to 17 years, taken from 11 schools, was followed up by 35 students participating in four different focus groups.

It focused on the responses of how young people dealt with problems involving mental health and stress and where they would turn for help, if at all. It showed that while students have regular contact with teachers and school guidance counsellors, there is a “marked reluctance to use them” with 84% of the students surveyed saying they would not do so.

According to the report: “Professional help-seeking for problems was not common among young people.”

The majority of respondents had no serious emotional or mental health problem that they believe required professional help, but almost one-third (32%) did, yet just over one-fifth of those actually got help. The majority (78%) sought no professional help. As for those who had self-harmed, teachers were chosen as a help source by only 3% of that cohort.

Most young people (92%) said they have someone they could speak to about issues that bothered them — 83% go to a friend and 65% to their mother. “Strikingly, however, the most unlikely confidant was a teacher with 84% of young people identifying that they would not be able to talk to a teacher.”

The reasons given was the dual role that many school counsellors/teachers have; and limits on confidentiality.

One student said: “It just doesn’t feel right when you’re in class with a teacher one minute and then the next you are sitting in a small office and you are supposed to be telling them your problems.”

According to the report, “many young people stated a preference for an independent source of counselling within their school”, as currently exists in the North.

Betty McLaughlin, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, said she is “not surprised” at the findings. “It’s a conflict of interest,” she said. “One minute you are a disciplinarian and the next you are supposed to be a friend and confidant.”

Budget 2017 committed to taking 400 guidance counsellors out of the classroom.

The study, entitled ‘It Just Doesn’t Feel Right’: A Mixed Methods Study of Help-Seeking in Irish Schools, was written by Dr Louise Doyle of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin and by Margaret Treacy and Ann Sheridan of UCD. It will be published in the journal Advances in School Mental Health Promotion.

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