Condition category
Mental and Behavioural Disorders
Date applied
Date assigned
Last edited
Retrospectively registered
Overall trial status
Recruitment status
No longer recruiting

Plain English Summary

Background and study aims.
The study aimed to look at the effectiveness of school-based humanistic counselling in reducing psychological distress in young people.

Who can participate?
The study was for people aged 13-18, who were experiencing some degree of emotional symptoms.

What does the study involve?
Participants were randomly allocated to six weeks of counselling, or asked to wait for counselling.

What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
The benefits were that young people – in both conditions – had an opportunity to experience counselling, which we know from previous research is generally experienced as helpful and is associated with positive gains in psychological wellbeing. However, there was a small risk that people would find the counselling unhelpful or, for a very small percentage, actively hindering.

Where is the study run from?
It was run in Glasgow and in the north-east of England by the University of Strathclyde.

When is the study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
It ran for approximately six months from January 2009, and is now complete.

Who is funding the study?
It was funded primarily by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, with some additional funding from Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS.

Who is the main contact?
Professor Mick Cooper

Trial website

Contact information



Primary contact

Prof Mick Cooper


Contact details

76 Southbrae Drive
G13 1PP
United Kingdom

Additional identifiers

EudraCT number number

Protocol/serial number


Study information

Scientific title

Efficacy of humanistic counselling in schools for emotional distress: a pilot randomised controlled trial



Study hypothesis

For young people (13 - 18 years old) experiencing psychological distress, weekly counselling will be more effective than waiting list conditions.

Ethics approval

University of Strathclyde Ethics Committee approved on the 17th December 2008

Study design

Multicentre randomised controlled pilot study

Primary study design


Secondary study design

Randomised controlled trial

Trial setting


Trial type


Patient information sheet

Not available in web format, please use the contact details below to request a patient information sheet


Emotional distress


Young people were offered weekly counselling for up to six sessions. The nature of the counselling was therapeutic rather than advice- or career-orientated, and was based on the competences for humanistic psychological therapies developed at University College London through funding from Skills for Health. Counselling, defined in this way, puts particular emphasis on the development of a trusting relationship between the therapist and client, and tries to understand the client's 'world' from their point of view. Counsellors were BACP accredited practitioners or equivalent, working within a set of professional ethical guidelines for counselling and psychotherapy. They had experience of working in humanistic ways with young people. A selection of session recordings were audited by the research team to monitor adherence to humanistic psychological therapy competences. The Humanistic Competences Compliance Checklist Version 3 was developed for this purpose. The Checklist was based on the format of the NICE(R) Record Sheet.

Waiting list:
Young people allocated to the control condition were not offered any formal counselling intervention for the six week period. However, they were informed that they had access to the school's full pastoral care provision at any point during the trial, including the school's pre-existing counselling service. At the endpoint assessment, participants in the waiting list condition were offered the option of direct entry to counselling.

Follow-up on both arms was at six weeks from baseline assessment.

Intervention type



Not Applicable

Drug names

Primary outcome measures

Emotional Symptom Score on SDQ (SDQ-ES), measured at baseline and six weeks

Secondary outcome measures

Measured at baseline and six weeks:
1. Total Difficulties Score on SDQ (SDQ-TD)
2. Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ)
3. Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation for Young People (YP-CORE)
4. Experience of Service Questionnaire (ESQ)
5. Social Inclusion Questionnaire (IQYP)
6. Adapted Change Interview (for clients)
7. Adapted Change Interview (for waitlist)

Overall trial start date


Overall trial end date


Reason abandoned


Participant inclusion criteria

1. Aged 13 to 18 years, either sex
2. Experiencing borderline or abnormally high levels of emotional distress, as indicated by a score of 4 or above on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) Emotional Symptoms Subscale at assessment
3. Motivated to attend counselling, as indicated by a response of 'somewhat true' or 'certainly true' on the Anxiety Control Questionnaire (ACQ) at assessment
4. Capable of consenting to participate in research, as indicated by a member of the pastoral care team
5. Greater than 85 per cent attendance at school, as indicated by a member of the pastoral care team

Participant type


Age group




Target number of participants


Participant exclusion criteria

1. Risk of significant harm to self or other, as indicated by a member of the pastoral care team and the researcher at assessment
2. Involvement with other child and young people mental health agencies, including the established school counselling service, as indicated by a member of the pastoral care team and/or the young person at assessment
3. Planning/likely to move school during period of study, as indicated by a member of the pastoral care team and/or the young person at assessment

Recruitment start date


Recruitment end date



Countries of recruitment

United Kingdom

Trial participating centre

76 Southbrae Drive
G13 1PP
United Kingdom

Sponsor information


University of Strathclyde (UK)

Sponsor details

76 Southbrae Drive
G13 1PP
United Kingdom

Sponsor type




Funder type


Funder name

British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (UK)

Alternative name(s)

Funding Body Type

Funding Body Subtype


Funder name

University of Strathclyde (UK)

Alternative name(s)

Funding Body Type

Funding Body Subtype


Funder name

Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Trust (UK)

Alternative name(s)

Funding Body Type

Funding Body Subtype


Results and Publications

Publication and dissemination plan

Not provided at time of registration

Intention to publish date

Participant level data

Not provided at time of registration

Results - basic reporting

Publication summary

1. 2010 results in

Publication citations

  1. Results

    Cooper M, Rowland N, McArthur K, Pattison S, Cromarty K, Richards K, Randomised controlled trial of school-based humanistic counselling for emotional distress in young people: feasibility study and preliminary indications of efficacy., Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health, 2010, 4, 12, doi: 10.1186/1753-2000-4-12.

Additional files

Editorial Notes