Professor Susan Danby, a leading researcher with QUT’s Faculty of Education, said by understanding how counsellors hear and respond to calls for help, family and friends could learn how to support young people in an active and positive way.
Professor Danby, who will be the guest speaker at a special event to celebrate the faculty’s 20th anniversary later this month, said the best strategy to support teens was by empowering young people to talk about their troubles.
She said when children and young people were having trouble or seeking help, they weighed up the benefits and risks of talking to friends and family.
“While parents and friends might have the strongest claims, some young people turn to those who draw on professional knowledge teachers and counsellors because of their personal and professional relationships,” she said.
An analysis of calls to the Australian Kids Helpline found that children and young people liked to feel in control when seeking help.
Professor Danby has studied how counsellors from the Australian Kids Helpline responded to calls for help from young people.
“Talking to an adult is a strategy often suggested to children experiencing bullying problems, but studies have found many teens think these interventions are not successful,” Professor Danby said.
“Many children report receiving mixed messages from adults, including that they were encouraged to report bullying but then frequently felt they had not been listened to or believed.”
Professor Danby said the approach of active listening taken by Kids Helpline counsellors had proved to be successful in giving children and young people the confidence to talk to their teacher.
“By drawing on strategies such as questioning to bring up the idea of telling a teacher, the counsellors were empowering the caller to be self-directed and to have some degree of control over how they choose to deal with the situation,” she said.
“For example a counsellor may ask a question like ‘have you talked to a teacher yet?’.
“While this question appears to be a history-taking one, where the counsellor is seeking information about what has already been done, it also suggests the possibility that talking to a teacher is a recommended course of action.
“The counsellor’s use of ‘yet’ invokes an expectation that this is something that should be done, if it has not been done already.”
Professor Danby said counsellors were hearing the young callers’ experiences and were empowering the caller to develop assertive communication skills.
“In acknowledging and reinforcing the personal and individual strengths of the callers, the counselling itself was successful, as the counsellors supported and empowered the callers to develop strategies to overcome the impact of bullying,” she said.
Professor Danby said analysis of the calls showed young people’s competency in the ways they present their problems and hear the solutions offered, while the counsellors helped the callers to identify their own coping strategies upon which to draw.
The research was conducted in conjunction with Associate Professor Michael Emmison from UQ and Dr Carly Butler from Loughborough University in the UK.
Executive Dean’s Seminar: Someone to turn to: Children and young people calling for help
Presenter: Professor Susan Danby, QUT Faculty of Education
Date: Tuesday, June 28
Time: 4pm to 5pm
Sandra Hutchinson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 2999 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian Eckersley, QUT media manager, 07 3138 2361 or email@example.com