A critical examination of Person Centred Counselling and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy applied to a secondary school context. This piece of work will aim to also consider how aspects of these two approaches of counselling could be applied to support students during their journey through adolescence as well as secondary education. The role of the teacher is one that is very complicated. Often the person who stands before a class of students must wear many different hats if they are to be regarded as a good teacher. OfSTED have tried numerous times over the last two decades to describe what an outstanding teacher is.
These judgements have often been based on an impromptu visit to a school once every three to five years where they visit a teacher for up to 20 minutes. Although the inspection criteria have changed somewhat since its initial implementation, it still remains, in my view as a teacher, very staged. In a review of Counselling in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, William Baginsky comments in retrospect that the Education Reform Act 1988, has resulted in teachers and pupils being valued in terms of performance indicators and a move away from a concern with pupils’ personal and social development.
Robson et al. (1999), Teachers are acutely aware of the emphasis on the academic side of the curriculum-their (students) whole life seems to be pressure, course work, test, homework. McLaughlin (1999) The role of the teacher often extends beyond lesson observation criteria where they can be labelled one of four levels. What OfSTED are unable to measure in a quantifiable manner is the complex relationship between the member of staff and the students. Often in my practice I wondered how come some teachers were just better at controlling a class or they seemed more “liked” by the students.
I would listen in amazement in the staffroom how some teachers had a wonderful working and purposeful relation with some students yet I had very little success with them. Having reflected on these stories I found a similar pattern. These teachers were displaying counselling skills that allowed them to build up a trust and understanding with the students. What I was not sure of was whether they were using these skills naturally or if they had developed them.
I have a belief that with time teachers do develop sound counselling skills in order to support the students they work with. In the paper by McLaughlin (2007) her literature review discusses evidence to suggest that that all teachers should have first-level counselling skills, i. e. should be able to listen to pupils and to react to and respond in the emotional domain (Lang, 1993; Hamblin, 1978). Others would suggest that teachers sometimes use the word counselling to encompass activities that professional counsellors would surely not consider to be counselling at all.
These include careers interviews, ad hoc advice, and crisis conversations in the corridor (Mosley, 1993) The purpose of this paper is to consider two types of counselling approaches and consider how elements of these approaches could be developed in my role as a secondary school teacher. To Carl Rogers counselling is about a special relationship that is established between the counsellor and the client- where two people sitting in the same room, the client ‘struggling to be himself’.
Rogers C (1942) Rogers then goes on to suggest that counselling is about ‘the intricate, delicate web of growth which is taking place with the emergence of a self, person’. This idea of growth and actualisation was based on the humanistic approach of Maslow who is famous for his hierarchy of needs. The Actualising Tendency complements Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by attempting to explain the motivation behind a person’s desire to better their self.
Rogers stated that the person-centred approach is built on a basic trust in the person (It) depends on the actualizing tendency present in every living organisms’ tendency to grow, to develop, to realize its full potential. (Rogers, 1986) Rogers’ strong belief in the actualising tendency is evident in client-centred therapy, where the client is free to choose any directions, but actually selects positive and constructive pathways. This can only be explained in terms of a directional tendency inherent in the human organism-a tendency to grow, to develop, to realize its full potential.
(Rogers, 1986) The aim of the Person Centred Therapy approach it can be argued is to create the right conditions for someone to feel actualised during therapy. There is a parallel between the work of the therapist in such a condition and the classrooms within which teachers operate. Education aims to develop the skills of the students in order for them to be able to fulfil their ambitions, or to strengthen this actualising tendency which lives within every child. As many of my colleagues will agree, the desire to self-actualise is stronger in some children than others.
As a result of certain episodes in their personal lives some students become more engaged with education while others seem to become less engaged the older they get. This phenomenon can be in part explained by the Rogers’ explanation of Conditions of Worth. This is when a person alters their true self in order to receive positive regard from others. According to Rogers in order to become a fully functioning person we need to experience unconditional positive regard: feeling loved and worthy no matter what.
“Conditions of worth” are the “requirements’ set forth by parents or significant others for “earning” their positive regard (love). A person that has received unconditional positive regard is confident in his/her value and can live a healthy existence. Throughout school and students are always victims of what teachers create as conditions of worth. As a teacher I am guilty of creating such an environment. Education seems to only be concerned with the high achievers. This is clearly seen in the standardised measure of success for schools which is the A*-C headline figure.
For those students who do not fall in this bracket their self-esteem takes an irreparable dent. The worry is that these students have spent the whole of the secondary schooling in a state of anxiety. Unable to seek help or reassurances that the imposed condition of worth by the education system is not a true reflection of their inner self and they have become disengaged with education. The benefits of schooling can be surprisingly long lasting. It is crucial to appreciate that these long-term benefits rely on both effects on cognitive performance and effects of self-esteem and self-efficacy.
School experiences of both academic and non-academic kinds can have a protective effect for children under stress and living otherwise unrewarding lives. Schools are about social experiences as well as scholastic learning. Rutter (1991) As a teacher I faced an inner conflict when dealing with students who I knew were disengaged. I wanted to reflect an Unconditional Positive Regard for the student allowing myself to positively regard the individual (though not necessarily the individual’s behaviours) unconditionally, but I was governed by the culture of the school and the education system.
I was forced to sanction one student for the wrong behaviour and reward another for the correct behaviour thus doing a disservice to both students. For one student I was reinforcing a condition of worth which alters the true self in order to receive positive regard from the teacher, while for the other student I was further disengaging them by sanctioning their behaviour rather than having the time to fully discuss and support them to better themselves and as a by-product their behaviour also. Often as a teacher when dealing with students I would often offer the opportunity for them to make their own choices.
This was particularly evident during option evenings where students would be accompanied by their parents. It is a common theme amongst these events that majority of the time the parents and the student’s do not always agree on what subjects to choose, or the student chooses a subject which they have been unknowingly pressured into by wanting to please their parents to satisfy a condition of worth. As Rogers would suggest the external pressure on the person is overbearing on their inner trust to do what they want.
This phenomenon Rogers explained through the Locus of Evaluation. Some students with a strong internal locus of evaluation would be confident in choosing the subject that they truly wanted to choose. Often t I observed that students would prefer creative subjects such as Art, Music or Drama. The parents would suggest otherwise opting for what they felt was more appropriate disregarding what the student truly wanted to do. For those students with a strong external locus of evaluation they would succumb to the pressures by those they wanted to please the most, their parents.
As an adolescent undertaking the transition from childhood towards adulthood, it can be one of discovery. These discoveries are not always pleasant or hard to come to terms with. The fully functioning person is one who has achieved openness to feelings and experiences and has learned to trust inner urges and intuitions Rogers (1961). Learning to trust these inner feelings is difficult at such a young age. Indeed I would argue adults would struggle with such a concept. According to Rogers, experiences that match the self-image are symbolised (admitted to consciousness) and contribute to gradual changes in the self.
Information or feelings inconsistent with the self-image are said to be incongruent. For example it would be incongruent for a student to think of themselves as good at Art when all of their class colleagues keep telling them how poor their work is. Such experiences which are seriously incongruent with the self-image can be threatening. By denying these experiences it prevents the young adult from changing and creates a gap between their inner self image and reality. As a result the incongruent person becomes confused, vulnerable and dissatisfied.
The complex social interaction between students during the school day can have a lasting effect on life and academic success. Some students would greatly benefit from support with dealing with the anxieties and pressures of the school day. Counselling into schools is not a new phenomenon. In the review by William Baginsky (2007) he suggested that in 1963 the Newsom Report, looking at education for children in the lower streams of secondary schools, recommended the appointment of school counsellors.
In the same year, the National Association for Mental Health held a seminar at which the relationship between schools and counselling was discussed (King, 1999). There followed, from 1965, the establishment of courses at the Universities of Keele and Reading to train people with a minimum of five years’ teaching experience to be school counsellors (Bor et al. , 2002). Such initiatives are very commendable but the person centred counselling approach requires the client to want to change. The client has to want to come for counselling in order to face their anxieties and therein enter the Core Conditions as Rogers explains.
Students cannot be forced into counselling in mainstream education. But for some it seems that they would value someone who is prepared to engage with them under the Core Conditions. The following quote is taken directly from a study in a secondary school which demonstrates the need for Person Centred Approach and how suitable it is in this context. ‘Students did want to talk about problems at home but they had no real expectations of staff being able to solve them. On the whole they just needed to air them. (McLaughlin et al. , 1995).
In afore mentioned review by William Baginsky his review suggests that Rogers’ Person Centred Model easily lends itself perfectly to the school context because of its understanding of conflict between the ‘real self’ and the ‘self-concept’ and the positive experiences provided for clients through ‘empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard’. This was also the approach adopted by school counsellors of the 1960s and 1970s (McLaughlin, 1999) If teachers were to truly embrace the fundamentals of PCT they would have to face a crisis of their own.
A helper who engages with a client under the core conditions of PCT are expected to remain completely impartial. By this I mean that they must not guide the client towards what they feel is the right route. For example when dealing with poor behaviour there should be respect and no judgment, however bad the behaviour, thus separating the person from the bad behaviour Gatongi (2007). Potentially this could lead to a situation where bad behaviour is not sanctioned and consequently send out wrong signals to other students. Not to mention parents and local authorities. It is also interesting to mention Rogers’ view on education.
Rogers applied some of the experiences he learned from his work with adults to form a view on the way education should be practised. His humanistic views on education claimed that a person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning (Rogers, 1951). This is a result of Rogers’ work on Personality Theory. This states that we as human beings exist in a constantly changing world of experience where we are at the centre. Rogers believed that what the student does is more important than what the teacher does, meaning that the individual experiences of the learner is essential to what is learned.
The instructor should be open to learning from the students and also working to connect the students to the subject matter. Frequent interaction with the students will help achieve this goal. The instructor’s acceptance of being a mentor who guides rather than the expert who tells is instrumental to student-centred, nonthreatening, and unforced learning. (Rogers 1951). Reflecting on these paragraphs remind me that these are the reason why I initially entered into this profession. I value above all else the relationship between myself as the teacher and the student.
In a very similar way in which the relationship between the client and person centred therapist is so crucial to the wellbeing of the client and valued above all else by the therapist. In a dialogue by Haugh and Paul it is discussed that it is accepted beyond doubt that the therapeutic conditions developed by Rogers are important factors in the success of all approaches. Furthermore it is suggested that client motivation is a much more significant predictor of outcome than therapist attitude or use of methods, Cooper (2008).
For some clients they feel that the work by Rogers does not offer them the ability to measure progress in terms of their wellbeing or ability to change their behaviour. Cognitive-behavioural therapies for works in schools because its theoretical underpinning and therapeutic process are consistent with what pupils are already familiar with in school in approaches to the handling of ideas and study, Platts and Williamson (2000) Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is derived from Aaron Beck’s cognitive model in 1976. This work has been developed to cater for many different situations and conditions.
It is the most widely used method of counselling therapy in the National Health Service. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) CBT can help how an individual thinks (cognitive) and what they do (behaviour). Unlike Psychodynamic counselling therapy which focusses on causes of distress in the past, it searches for ways to improve the clients’ state of mind in the present moment. CBT circles around what is described by the RCP as a vicious circle of four elements. The first of these elements is the situation.
For some people a simple encounter in a street can trigger off Automatic Negative Thoughts. This leads to the person feeling low, sad and rejected. These feelings can then be manifested through physical pain such as stomach cramps. The final element is the action which is the person becoming more withdrawn and avoiding situations similar to the trigger incident. For some this simplified sequence can lead to depression. Aaron Beck recognised this pattern of events in his studies concerned with depression. Beck’s work claims that emotions are not produced by events but rather by interpretation of events.
Through the interpretation of these events our minds begin to build up beliefs about ourselves. Beck found that depressed patients tended to avoid the situations that involved rejection or disapproval Squires (2001). For students this could mean truanting or the avoidance of school altogether. The beliefs that an individual then builds up about themselves can direct behaviour. It can cause an individual to enter an unconditional state of mind where they think of themselves as worthless. This can lead to medical implications which are manifested both physically and mentally.
For many school children they are conditioned by culture and the education system that “I must do well in everything I do, otherwise I will be a failure”. This perception is one that I have witnessed first-hand on the numerous results day with which I have been involved. The tears and anxiety that was evident across the faces of these young adults was in essence my doing as a teacher. I had unwillingly conditioned them to value results above all else and for those who did not achieve I also set them up for a situation where they have to face their academic shortcomings.
This situation can be described as a critical incident and is said to activate a dysfunctional belief which then produces negative automatic thoughts. The young adults are then left feeling “I am a failure, there’s no point doing anything! ” This attitude occurs in every lesson. Student’s often lack the resolve to improve their own learning is not down to them not wanting to learn but more the fear of failure and the situation where their own dysfunctional beliefs produces negative thoughts.
The frustration of these students is then exhibited through poor behaviour. Research indicates that CBT can be applied to students for whom behaviour is regarded an issue. One of the main strength of CBT is that it is very much lead by the therapist. There is a strict time limit where there are outcomes to be achieved and targets to be met before the next session. This is different to the therapy offered by the work of Carl Rogers which has also been identified as successful in a school context Baginsky (2004).
Goals are clearly specified, decisions are made on how to best meet those goals and how to measure progress towards the goals to provide feedback Squires (2001). This approach is beneficial to school as it allows them to measure progress of the students. The progress can be measured through the amount of behaviour referrals one student may face throughout the school day. Bush (1996) suggests that CBT works because it sticks to the point, it is structured and it is focused. The main advantage of CBT is its adaptability to a number of situations.
In schools its use is not only concerned with dealing or supporting poor behaviour of students. As the education system is resistant to migrate from the rigid examination process, I believe that CBT would be very useful in helping students to deal with the anxieties and pressures of exams. In such an instance it could be argued that the aim of CBT is to help the child to identify possible cognitive deficits and distortions, to reality-test them, and then to teach new skills or challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs, and replace them with more rational thinking (Kendall 1990).
The CBT model is particularly useful as it involves the young adult to: (a) Recognise anxious feelings and bodily reactions to anxiety, (b) it helps to clarify thoughts or the mental process in anxiety provoking situations, (c) it allows the young adult to develop coping skills such as modifying self-anxious talk into coping self-talk (d) it allows to evaluate outcomes. The training methods involve realistic role plays where the client and counsellor are able to model actual life situations.
The behavioural treatment is based upon the belief that fear and anxiety are learnt responses, that have been conditioned, and therefore these can be unlearned. CBT has been particularly helpful in helping students to deal with their own behaviour. Teachers would argue that there may be the link (although a weak one) between poor student behaviour and teacher wellbeing Hastings and Bham (2003). As a result school resources are often implemented to correct poor behaviour. There is also numerous research to justify that poor behaviour effects overall academic achievement.
Poor academic performance is related to the onset, frequency, persistence, and seriousness of delinquent offending in both boys and girls. Higher academic performance, conversely, is associated with refraining or desisting from offending (Maguin & Loeber, 1996). In one study by squires he states that CBT can be used to support students with behavioural problems. In this research he concluded that with a six hour period of CBT counselling there had been improvements in the student behaviour.
The students selected portrayed the necessary anxieties that would benefit from a period of CBT. Although this study is not conclusive it does support the belief that CBT can be used to improve self-control for students with behavioural difficulties. One particular quote from the study I believe demonstrates the benefit of CBT counselling: “I am able to talk about my feelings”. This for the student was a sign of real progress, which is one of the main advantages of CBT. Despite such quotes out of the 23 students that embarked on the counselling six did not complete the full sessions.
This demonstrates that for some CBT is not their preferred type of counselling so it’s not a case of one method suits all. It is worth noting that these students were selected by their teachers rather than volunteering. Overall it can be argued that the research was successful in demonstrating that counselling can have a positive impact on student behaviour. I am certain that if more of the students that I worked with had the access to counselling or the opportunity to chat to members of staff then they may have had more rewarding experience of school.
I am not suggesting that staff did not offer their support when students came knocking on the classroom door, but rather that they were not encouraged to do so. Teacher training I believe is in part to blame for this culture. As teachers we have been trained to teach in a very prescriptive manner focusing on the final products which in all cases are exam results. In order to achieve these exam results and avoid any external pressures and inquisitions we develop a routine of lessons which are planned to endure the students is prepared to achieve a target grade in that particular subject.
Students are supported in school in order to achieve this singular objective. As a form tutor I valued the pastoral support that I was able to offer to my students. I indeed loved this role enormously as it was a rare opportunity to talk to students about what they wanted and not about what I had to cover in my syllabus. In a very cynic viewpoint, I believe that pastoral support was provided in order to support students to pass their exams and secondly to help with the day to day school life.
It has been suggested that the psychological climate of many schools is now more akin to frightened organisations. These organisations live in fear of public punishment which stifles risk-taking despite hard work and the introduction of new initiatives. Watkins (1999) I am aware that for some students Person Centred Therapy may not work while for others they may be more responsive to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I am confident that counselling has a very important role to play in education.
There have been many models of counselling implemented in schools over the last half century. Twelve different models of counselling service provision are mentioned in a review commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Group when reviewing counselling into schools. Of the twelve mentioned I am familiar with three of the models mentioned. The school where I was employed had access to the services provided by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Their support was mainly accessed primarily through referrals from the school although the procedures were not always clear.
Form tutors would not always be informed of tutees who would be working with the CAMHS group. Multi agency teams similar to the Behaviour and Education Support Teams also operated in conjunction with the local authority but it was again unclear how a child was referred to these sorts of support schemes. Although the school nurses made themselves known to the students counselling was not always a service that they readily advertised. This lack of awareness of counselling opportunities in my previous school does not seem to be an isolated incident.
Indeed this is a recurring pattern, possibly explained by the findings of Welsh Assembly Group’ Review. During their research it became apparent that some school offered very little in terms of counselling. In quite a number of cases the counselling was covered by teaching staff or an external agency. Of the recommendations offered by the review the following statement is one that I can draw comparisons with from my previous experience. The lack of awareness on behalf of the teaching staff and also students made counselling almost a forgotten form of support.
“Information about services must be readily available and informative, and referral systems must be developed that ensure the service is easily accessible to potential clients and their referrers. A school ethos in which counselling is understood as a professional activity and which regards counselling as an important part of its student support services is essential” As a teacher I value above all else the support that I am able to offer the student. Having embarked on this particular module I discovered that my profession required for me to display counselling skills.
These were taken for granted that if I was to work with children that I should somehow possess these skills. These personal feelings were echoed before I embarked on my PGCE by researcher where it was claimed that in recent years there has been more concern in schools about cognitive, rather than psychosocial, development Lloyd (1999), I am a firm believer that skills can be taught and I begin to question why I was never offered the opportunity to develop counselling skills during my PGCE or further in my career in CPD sessions.
The Welsh Assembly Group allude to budgets and lack of finance as a possible reason as to why these opportunities were never offered in schools. Budget allocations are the responsibility of the headmasters and above all else what they are most concerned with are grades. In the meantime all I can offer a student is guidance and an opportunity to listen to them and to not hijack the conversation or steer it away from their chosen topic. So therefore it would be foolish of me to expect sudden changes once I return to secondary teaching. Indeed I do not expect to see school counsellors in whichever school I will teach in.
As with many education innovations it seems that there are pioneers full of good intention but lacking the support and strategies to get them to the Promised Land Robinson (1995) References Baginsky, M. (2004). Peer support: expectations and realities. Pastoral Care in Education, 22 1: 3-9. Baginsky, W. (2004): School Counselling in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: A Review: NSPCC Information Briefings Beck, A. T. (1976) Cognitive Therapy and Emotional Disorders. New York: New American Library Bor R. , Ebner-Landy J. , Gill S and Brace C (2002) Counselling in schools.
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