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Counselling and support

Última editado: November 14, 2016

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What are counselling and support services?

In the case of SRGBV, the process of giving advice and emotional support to victims/survivors, witnesses or perpetrators falls under the umbrella term of counselling or support. However, the term counselling has different meanings in different contexts and countries. It typically refers to a type of talking therapy that allows a person to talk about their problems and feelings in a confidential environment.

Safe, easily-accessible, child-sensitive, confidential and independent counselling and reporting mechanisms should be in place to address SRGBV incidents (UNICEF, 2011, p22). Support should be provided to victims/survivors of violence, but also to witnesses and perpetrators, especially students who should also be assisted to overcome the psychological and other problems that they face and that trigger their violent behaviour. It is also important to recognize that teachers and school staff can be victims of school violence and abuse.  

There are several different national strategies for providing counselling and victim/survivor support, ranging from training teachers to be first points of contact and to provide advice (‘guardians’ or ‘mentors’), to recruiting and training guidance counsellors, as well as developing systems of community volunteers, and peer support and counselling. As mentioned above, it is important to consider the needs of special groups, such as children with disabilities, minorities and LGBTI students. 

Country examples – Strategies for providing counselling and victim/survivor support

Training teachers as ‘guardians’ or ‘mentors’

Tanzania: As part of the ‘Guardian Project’ in 185 primary schools, one female teacher was selected in each school by her colleagues to be a ‘guardian’ or mlezi to female students. Mlezi’s were trained to take on a counselling role for girls who experienced sexual violence or harassment, as well as to report rape cases to school boards, courts and district authorities. An impact evaluation of 40 schools with a guardian and 22 ‘control’ schools found:

  • three out of five (61 per cent) girls consulted the mlezis during the first year
  • over half (52 per cent) of girls in schools with a mlezi said they would report sexual harassment by a teacher, compared to none (0 per cent) in control schools
  • the programme increased awareness of sexual abuse of female students by teachers, and the negative publicity of being accused of abuse probably acted as a deterrent to other teachers (educational authorities removed at least two teachers accused of raping students) (Mgalla et al, 1998).

School counsellors

Jamaica: Guidance counsellors in Jamaica are trained to counsel students experiencing personal problems (including violence), but also have wider responsibilities including providing career and academic guidance. Guidance counsellors are well positioned to play a key role in responding to SRGBV in Jamaica. However, a 2005 report by the Jamaica Safe Schools programme noted that counsellors were over-burdened with teaching and administrative duties, and recommended that counsellors had increased access to in-service training. Recent developments in the Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors (JAGCE) include developing and establishing accredited certification and an internationally regarded code of ethics for guidance counsellors.

United States: An approach to disciplining troubled and violent children in schools – called Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) and promoted by the non-profit Lives in the Balance – has been piloted in schools in the US. Initial results were very promising with schools reporting 80 per cent drops in suspensions, disciplinary referrals and incidents of peer aggression (Reynolds, 2015). The approach places counsellors in schools who work closely with the most disruptive and aggressive children, developing strategies that work better than traditional punishments at addressing the needs of the child and effecting real behaviour change. 

Community volunteers

Ghana and Malawi: Through the Doorways training programme, trusted community volunteers were trained to work as counsellors for the USAID Safe Schools programme. These volunteers included village leaders, school staff and trusted individuals from parent–teacher associations or community committees. Community counsellors were trained in basic listening skills, children’s rights and responsibilities and methods to prevent, respond to and report SRGBV incidents. Counsellors were also trained to provide student-friendly, confidential support and to properly report and refer students to service providers. In addition, ongoing technical support and monitoring was provided by district counselling coordinators. Refresher training was provided due to the complexity of SRGBV concepts. A total of 120 community counsellors were trained in 30 schools, reaching 30,000 students over the length of the programme. During the final assessment, students (especially girls) expressed that the counselling services had helped them. Many said they felt overwhelmed with fear and confusion about SRGBV. Primary education officers and head teachers also expressed appreciation of how counsellors were helping victimized children, but also dealing with conflict and anger management issues (DevTech, 2008 and 2005).

Peer support and counselling

Japan: In Japan, SRGBV often involves a type of bullying known as ijime – social exclusion of pupils by large groups. Within this context, peer support and counselling is seen as a particularly effective way of dealing with ijime. Various forms of peer support have been used in Japan, including:

  • all pupils are given training in social skills, but no formal room or activities
  • all pupils are given training, and older pupils learn how to support younger ones, particularly those making the transition from elementary to junior school
  • anonymous forms of peer support, including peer supporters helping pupils via an anonymous email system. Also used in some schools is the Question and Answer Handout Method, whereby students anonymously submit problems in a box and peer supporters provide possible solutions via a handout or written newsletter, made available to all children (James, 2011; Toda, 2005).

Referral to psychological counselling services outside of school

Sierra Leone: The charity Concern is currently working in Sierra Leone with the International Rescue Committee and Médecins Sans Frontières to provide training on rape counselling and supporting a survivor-centred GBV case response system. Currently, girls have to repeat their stories multiple times, in unnecessary detail, which can be harmful and retraumatizing. As part of the Coordinated Action for Protection and Empowerment (CAPE) project, this activity aims to streamline the number of individuals who see it as their role to take the history of survivors and to provide counselling, and to improve the quality of counselling offered. The primary targets of this training are the district mental health officer, any other often self-appointed ‘counsellors’ who play an active role in case-response, as well as women identified as having the potential to play this role.  


Practical action – How to provide SRGBV counselling and victim/survivor support? An Illustrative checklist:


o An appropriate space is provided for students to discuss SRGBV in a safe and confidential way


o Counsellors have time allocated in the school day. If counselling is provided by teachers, administrators should ensure their teaching load is lightened to allow them time for counselling duties and counsellors should receive adequate training

Awareness and trust

o Students know how to access counselling and victim/survivor support services

o Students trust that the service is confidential

Response, support and referral

o Counsellors have adequate counselling skills, including knowing reporting procedures and how to respond to violations of local and national laws

o  Counsellors know how and when to refer students to the appropriate people and services

Risk management

o Protocols are in place for escalating concerns about a child or young person’s mental health and/or safety

o Policies/procedures are in place to help manage any complaints or allegations made by students accessing the service

Other things to consider

o How many sessions will be available to an individual student – is it open-ended?

o How are students prioritized in the event of a waiting list?

o Is the service open to school staff and teachers who have experienced SRGBV?

o Is the service only available to students who have experienced SRGBV, or also those who have perpetrated or witnessed it?

o How to support students through the holidays?

Adapted from: UK Counselling in Schools service; USAID (2009)