Frank Furedi

Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of Politics of Fear, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture, Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear.

All schoolchildren need counselling, claims Minister
Jamie Doward

Embattled Children's Minister Margaret Hodge was plunged into a new controversy last night after it emerged that she wanted to see children given psychological counselling in schools.

The call was immediately attacked by senior educational experts, who said they feared it would see schools forced into playing the role of 'social workers'.

Writing in the latest edition of the journal Counselling in Education, Hodge said that she hoped counselling would one day 'be delivered in mainstream settings, like schools', and added that 'counselling for pupils and students who are having emotional difficulties both inside and outside school can be a lifeline, a turning-point in their lives'.

Hodge's comments follow the publication of a survey showing that depression will be second only to heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.

According to a new charity, the Depression Alliance, one in five people will be affected by depression at some stage. More than 2.9 million people in Britain are diagnosed as having depression at any one time, the alliance said last week.

'All too often, it seems that there is no one to talk to, that there is no one who will understand what they are going through,' Hodge writes.

She goes on to suggest that there is a need to encourage the development of multi-disciplinary teams of workers consisting of trained counsellors and other professionals who will work alongside teachers and also called for a debate on where the funding should come from.

'Whether the funding comes from the school or from the Children's Trust [the government taskforce that helps disadvantaged five- to 13-year-olds] is an issue for discussion. I'm interested in people's views,' Hodge writes.

The ideas are being explored as part of the Government's consultation exercise on its recent Green Paper Every Child Matters, which examines introducing new services to schools.

'I believe that schools are in the best position to give children and young people the skills they need to meet the challenges we all have to face in life, and that includes emotional wellbeing,' Hodge writes.

Her calls received warm support from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and other mental health professionals.

Phillip Hodson, fellow of the BACP, said that introducing counsellors to schools would help the Government to meet its recruitment targets for the teaching profession. 'It would make teaching more attractive. Teachers could concentrate on being teachers,' Hodson said.

He pointed out that there had recently been a spate of concerns about whether children should be prescribed anti-depressants and that many experts doubted whether they worked.

'If you look at the prescription of anti-depressants, they've doubled in something like 10 years,' Hodson said. 'But if they don't work, what are you going to do? If you can't use the pills, how are you going to treat the ills?'

Mark Prever, a counsellor who works with schoolchildren in Birmingham, said the strains of modern society meant that counselling was increasingly necessary for today's pupils.

'It is hard for children growing up now. The pressures on young people are considerable. For me, counselling should be something you're entitled to, no matter what your age. Older people can buy counselling, but young people don't have the money.'

But Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent and author of Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in An Anxious Age, expressed deep scepticism over the plans.

'It's a bad idea. It would swamp the school system with non-educational issues. It already spends too much time acting as a social worker,' Furedi said.

'Ministers have got to ask themselves how far they want to go in allowing professionals to take over children's lives?

'More and more aspects of human beings' lives are being put into the hands of an army of professionals,' Furedi said.

First published in the Guardian, 18 April 2004