Counselling Services for Children and Young People

If you think your child or family might need some extra support with their mental health, here is our advice and information about counselling and where you can get help.

How can counselling services help my child?

Many young people are struggling with how they feel. They are having problems with friends, family or school, they are anxious, depressed, angry or scared and need to talk to someone, but find it difficult to talk to people they know. Counselling and other advice services can help them talk things through, support them without making them feel judged, and in confidence (unless they disclose that their personal safety is at risk). Advice services can make a positive difference to their lives. 

The range of advice services for children and young people includes face-to-face counselling, one-to-one phone calls, webchat, email, forums and face-to-face sessions.

How counselling can help young people

Counselling is the most common form of talking therapy and is sometimes available on the NHS through the GP surgery, or through school-based counselling. It can help young people deal with issues and events and the effects they are having on their mental wellbeing. Counselling could be recommended for young people who are basically healthy but who are struggling with a mental health disorder such as depression or eating disorders; it can address problems with anxiety, bereavement; bullying, anger, relationships, low self-esteem, and self-harm. The counsellor will help explore the problem, the symptoms and strategies for coping.

Different types of counselling

There are different types of counselling, but the most common ones recommended for young people are:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): The approach of CBT is about thinking more positively about life, looking at  how you can get stuck in patterns of behaviour and ways of changing these rather than dwelling on past events. There are typically six or 12 weekly sessions and the therapist sets goals with the young person, often with ‘homework’ to do in between.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is often combined with CBT and helps a young person to focus on difficult thoughts and feeling, rather than avoiding them, so that the fear of them gradually lessens. Therapists can also include meditation, yoga and breathing exercises.

Psychotherapy: This is a more long-term therapy and involves talking about the effects of past events and can be more helpful with long-term problems such as depression or eating disorders. NHS psychotherapists work in clinics or hospitals; some private psychotherapists work from home.

Family Therapy: The whole family works with the family therapist to try and understand the problems they are all having. It can help improve communications between family members and issues such as children’s behavioural problems, disability, family breakdown, addiction and domestic violence.

How can I help my child?

Friends and family can be vital sources of support and can help young people cope with stressful situations and difficult times. When a young person is feeling down or having a hard time, it is important for them to spend time with other people.

Be positive about counselling as an option. Your child might well not ‘gel’ with the first counsellor they see (and this is like people we meet everywhere – we get on with some and not with others). Look for someone else, rather than giving up. Remember they might feel more comfortable with an online service, rather than a face-to-face.

You might want to keep a copy of the U can cope! leaflet (Royal College of Psychiatrists) nearby to read for practical ideas on coping with difficulties. And remember to be hopeful.

These are things that can really make a difference:

  1. Notice changes in your child’s mood. Your instinct will probably tell you if your child is not feeling their best.
  2. Your child may feel that you won’t understand but you can often surprise them… and yourself!
  3. It is important to let them know that you care about them, want what’s best for them and are willing to help if you can.
  4. Be open and available for them to talk over problems, things that are bothering or stressing them or how they are feeling.
  5. Pick a time that is good for you both, where you have enough time to have a proper conversation without being interrupted.
  6. Ask what you can do to help. Stay calm and positive and try to be the ‘strong one’.
  7. Make it clear you will not say anything to anybody else if they don’t want you to. (An exception will be if you have a significant concern for their safety).
  8. Help with practical support; for example, if your child has to go for an appointment but feels uncomfortable about going on their own, go with them, even if you wait outside.
  9. Provide emotional support; this is often a case of listening and being empathetic, rather than trying to find answers or solutions.
  10. Suggest people your child might be safe to confide in (e.g. mum, dad, sibling, other relative, friend, GP, helpline). Encourage them to think about:
    • who they feel easy talking to about personal matters
    • who is non-judgemental and a good listener
    • someone they have known for a while rather than a new friend
    • someone who may have been in a similar situation and would have empathy. (This is often why people choose forums because they feel comfortable talking to people who have experienced similar things to them)

Jo and Sarah from our Parents Helpline share their tips for approaching difficult conversations with your child.

Where can I find a counsellor for my child?

A GP might try to refer a young person to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for counselling, but it is increasingly difficult to do this – the child’s symptoms generally have to be quite extreme to meet referral thresholds and waiting lists can be very long.  However, they might know about alternative local counselling provision for young people.

Schools can also refer young people to CAMHS. In addition, many schools have their own counsellor or mental health nurse on site and young people can often benefit hugely from having this kind of support in school.

Charities offer opportunities for young people to get advice, support and solidarity from helplines, group forums and message boards, email- webchat- text- and email services.

Counsellors and therapists are available privately – it can seem quite overwhelming trying to find someone you think is suitable, so check on bona fide directories and look for recommendations.

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

  • Professional body that sets standards for therapeutic practice, and provides information for therapists, clients of therapy, and the general public. Website includes information about counselling and psychotherapy and how to find the right therapist.
  • Phone: 01455 883 300  (Mon-Fri 09:00 – 17:00)

Association of Child Psychotherapists

  • A register of accredited Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists in the UK. Name search function on website of all who are eligible and available to work in private practice. It aims to uphold high standards in training and practice.

Counselling Directory

  • Lists private counsellors and psychotherapists who are registered by a professional body. They also provide information on the different types of talking therapies including family therapy.

British Psychological Society

  • Information on how psychologists can help with mental health problems, and how to find a psychologist.

Youth Wellbeing Directory

  • Lists of local services for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Counselling for families - Relate

Support, guidance and counselling services for families and young people. When families are going through a tough time, relate offers support to help everyone settle. Phone: 0300 100 1234 or contact your local Relate Centre.

Online and phone support for children and young people:


  • Children can confidentially call, email, or chat online about any problem big or small
  • Freephone helpline: 0800 1111 (24 hour service) 
  • Sign up for a childline account on the website to message a counsellor anytime without  email

The Mix

  • Provides a confidential helpline, email, webchat and telephone counselling service for young people under 25. Advice and information on support services for young people including counselling.
  • Freephone: 0808 808 4994 (daily 13:00-23:00)


  • Provides free, safe, anonymous  online support for young people - counselling, messaging, personal stories. Only available in certain parts of England and Wales.

Relate (for children and young people)

  • Children and young people’s counselling for any young person who’s having problems. 
  • Free Live Chat session with a trained Relate Counsellor
  • Phone: 0300 100 1234  
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