Refer for external treatment

Schools cannot be expected to counsel severely depressed, distressed, difficult or disturbed children and dysfunctional families. Such cases need to be referred after a few months to psychologists, psychiatrists or other mental health professionals. Unfortunately, stigma, professional fees, denial, pride and false hope stop many parents seeking professional help. However, for parents who outlay hundreds of dollars on electronic 'blah blah' and holidays, the price is negligible compared to having a happy, socially confident kid. Besides, bullying can cause severe anxiety disorders and depression. Parents need to regard it as a medical danger, and respond accordingly when their child is affected. Ideally, schools should insist upon referral for external counselling when necessary and fund these sessions where possible, or find alternative sources of funding for parents on limited incomes, e.g. crimes compensation, child guidance clinics.

• Dealing with bullying doesn't take long: bullies and targets require an average of four to eight sessions with an experienced psychologist.

• The goal is to involve both parents in the first session to obtain the whole story, de-sensitise, re-frame, reprogramme faulty beliefs, assess the injury, validate and begin empowering the family.

• Subsequent sessions build confidence, provide options and teach bully-blocking skills.

• It could involve role-play, video-camera work, homework and feedback to parents to prevent potential sabotage.

• Once the student feels safe and is no longer bullied or bullying, she can learn social survival skills to develop a good bunch of friends and build a support network.

Therapy should produce physical, psychological, academic and social improvements. Look for two levels of change:

1. First order change - the child is able to deal with bullying and make a good bunch of true friends.

2. Second order change - she is happier at home (as relatives and parents observe), her schoolwork improves, and she has fewer health difficulties.

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