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The impact of schools counselling in managing troubled youngsters: understanding complexity in schools’ approaches to managing troubled youngsters by testing methods to capture synergy and mediatory factors


Background. It is generally accepted that the problem of researching such interventions as counselling in complex systems like schools is that whatever the claims for success between counsellor and young person, that success can be enhanced or undermined by at least two other complex systems, viz school and family (Haigh 199; Lightburn and Warren-Adamson 2006, Warren 2006). Effective measuring of such complex systems is at a very earlier stage. Moreover, it is not only the apparent complexity of systems at a given point that challenges, but we know that systems are self-transformatory over time. They change and the people in them. The above challenges notwithstanding, it is assumed that accepting a counselling scheme into a school is not simply a service involving the rescue of a handful of troubled youngsters, but involves at least a tentative commitment to combining educational and emotional goals in the school. Moreover, it is expected that the plan which the counsellor carries out with the child is shared with school and family and at least at rudimentary level is a shared co-operative endeavour. Within the limits of time and practicality the counsellor impacts upon other systems in her invitation to support her in her one to one intervention. In the early stages, this might be identified as a series of recognisable parts. Over time, and in other settings, researchers have identified that such activity becomes embedded and it becomes more than the some of its parts, called synergy. The system learns to contribute to support as a matter of course and even changes its approach to some children who have needs but who have nothing to do with the counselling service. Thus, from a research point of view, systems become more and more and more complex and more and more difficult to evaluate. But we have to start somewhere.

Purpose. What methods are most appropriate to examine evolving processes and synergy (Corning 1998) in complex staff groups attempting to manage troubled and troublesome youngsters.

Method. The method includes collaborative enquiry - taped discussion of multi-disciplinary school group - head, teachers, administrative staff, counsellor, concierge.

Key findings. We expect to report on:

  • the challenge of analysing professionals' talk,
  • analysing talk as a way of eliciting mediatory factors in complex professional groups.

Key references

Corning, P. A. (1998). The synergism hypothesis. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 21(2).

Haigh, R. (1999). The Quintessence of a therapeutic environment - five universal qualities. In P. Campling & R. Haigh (Eds.), Therapeutic communities: past, present and future (pp. 246-257). London: Jessica Kingsley.

Lightburn, A., & Warren-Adamson, C. (2006). Evaluating family centres: the importance of sensitive outcomes in cross-national studies. International Journal of Child and Family Welfare, 9(1-2), 11-25.

Warren-Adamson, C., & Lightburn, A. (2005). Developing a community-based model for integrated family centre practice. In A. Lightburn, & P. Sessions (Eds.), The handbook of community-based clinical practice (pp. 261-284). New York: Oxford University Press.

Warren-Adamson, C. (2006). Accounting for change in family centres: Making sense of outcomes in Clayhill family centre in Southern England, International Journal of Child and Family Welfare, 9(1-2), 79-91.

Contacts: Chris Warren-Adamson, University of Southampton, School of Social Sciences, Murray Building, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK, E-mail: cawa@soton.ac.uk, Phone 023 8059 5000.

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