Counsellors’ strength-based practices in secondary schools: Managing multiple metanarratives
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Secondary school counsellors are often in a pivotal position to affect the lives of our young people and thus the philosophical framework and counselling modalities which inform and influence their practice are significant. This research explores the contribution school counsellors make towards positive youth development using strength-based counselling practices through the lens of a narrative methodology. Strength-based counselling draws from the ethos of positive psychology and focuses on promoting an adolescent’s strengths to enhance their wellbeing rather than focusing on limitations and problems. Most research into strength-based counselling focuses on the wellbeing of adults. Positive outcomes among youth and how these are achieved have received less attention. It is thus important to explore the role counsellors’ strength-based practices play in managing adolescents wellbeing, especially given the high incidence of youth suicide in New Zealand (Mental Health Foundation, 2017; Ministry of Health, 2016). To this end, counsellors in secondary schools in Auckland, New Zealand, were interviewed using semi-structured interviews to elicit their narratives on strength-based counselling. The aims of the research were: To examine the multiple metanarratives available to counsellors in a secondary school context; to make sense of how these metanarratives construct strength-based counselling practices; to examine the potential influence of these constructions on co-creating adolescent wellbeing; and to explore the broader community’s influence on a counsellor’s practice. A distinct method of narrative analysis evolved in two stages: Narrative storyboards for form and content; and Narrative storyboards for context and metanarratives. These storyboards each reflect a different aspect of a counsellor’s narrative thereby adding a depth and richness to the interpretation process. The construction of this method of analysis drew on the research of a selection of authors who engage with narrative as theory and practice (Crossley, 2000; Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, & Zilber, 1998; Zilber, Tuval-Mashiach, & Lieblich, 2008). Multiple metanarratives vie for counsellors’ attention and their adherence to their preferred metanarrative are erratic; drawing intermittently on both the traditional deficit metanarrative of the counselling profession as well as the strength metanarrative of strength-based counselling. The meanings counsellors assign to these metanarratives and the educational/counselling theories and school/systemic policies that underpin them may either encourage or discourage strength-based counselling in schools. This thesis further introduces a model for co-creating adolescent wellbeing using a strength-based counselling approach. Drawing from counsellors’ narratives and counselling processes this model for co-creating adolescent wellbeing may assist counsellors in a practical way: it provides school counsellors with a foundation from which to think about their practice in a strength-based manner but without ignoring existing issues and inherent tensions. This study is uniquely set in a New Zealand context and makes a contribution to our understanding of the diverse, complex and multifaceted nature of school counsellors’ strength-based practices in secondary schools. By acknowledging the multiple metanarratives that support and/or diminish a school counsellor’s practice, being mindful of the contexts school counsellors negotiate, and embracing the understandings that can be gleaned from their narratives, we may be more able to enhance our ability to address the prevalence of mental health issues for adolescents and enhance adolescent wellbeing.