The feasibility and acceptability of a PCT-informed psychological intervention for young people in a school setting

  • Anamaria Churchman

Student thesis: Phd


Half of all mental health problems start during adolescence and their sustainable effects are numerous. During adolescence, friction in the parent-child relationship can affect young people’s wellbeing. Latest government policies and research suggest schools could be used as a hub for offering psychological support to young people. The current thesis sought to establish the acceptability and feasibility of a Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) informed psychological intervention in the school setting. The approach is twofold - one aspect explores the feasibility and acceptability of Method of Levels therapy (MOL). Secondly, considering the most prevalent difficulties in school counselling (family conflict) the thesis shifts to then focus on developing a parent-child activity. The thesis comprises of three studies. Although separate, they build on one another with each phase informing the next. Phase one consists of a case-series of MOL with young people, followed by in-depth interviews exploring young people’s experience of receiving MOL. During phase two, a parent-child activity was developed to support young people and parents to explore important goals. A small case-series followed by semi-structured interviews was conducted to gather data during this phase. Phase three consists of a case-series exploring whether MOL and the parent-child activity can be used together as a two-component intervention to support young people experiencing psychological distress. Initial findings from phase one suggest that MOL is a feasible and acceptable form of psychological support for young people in the school setting. A total of 14 participants (out of 16) found the activity acceptable and 12 were retained for the duration of the study. Preliminary data suggest that a larger study should be considered. Qualitative data was collected from 14 participants. During the intervention, choice and control were reported as facilitating the therapeutic process, enhancing the experience and offering the right platform to explore difficulties. The parent-child activity developed during phase two received positive feedback from a small number of families (N=6) who found it helpful. Participants reported that engagement in the activity contributed to increased communication and helped them understand each other better. The final phase of the study sought to understand if the two components of the approach could be used together to support young people. Seven families were successfully recruited into the study and six provided data at the last follow-up appointment, four months after the end of the intervention. All young people (N=5) who completed the study (and met criteria for clinical levels of distress) recovered following the intervention. Qualitative data collected from all dyads completing the study (N=6) revealed that the intervention was acceptable and useful to them. The opportunity to talk was reported as the most helpful aspect of the intervention. Participants reported that talking offered increased understanding and broader perspectives on their difficulties which helped to find solutions to their problems. The parent-child activity was reported as contributing to improved family communication and relationships, whilst MOL offered young people the opportunity to work things out for themselves.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSara Tai (Supervisor) & Warren Mansell (Supervisor)


  • school counselling
  • Perceptual Control Theory
  • parent-child conflict
  • Method of Levels therapy

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