Relational interventions aim to support the development of self-regulation skills primarily through the development of positive and supportive relationships with adult or peer mentors, counselors, therapists, or others. Programs in this intervention family range from loosely structured and open-ended programs to more structured programs grounded in a specific curriculum or orientation.
Open-ended. The needs and interests of individual participants often drive the content of open-ended relational interventions. Services can range from mentoring (both adult mentors and peer mentors) or individual and group therapy or counseling. Open-ended relational interventions may use professional therapists or counselors or trained paraprofessionals, peers, teachers, or adult volunteers to deliver services in a non-directive, unstructured way, with emphasis on the development of a mutually trusting relationship between the provider and the participants.
Structured. In contrast, structured relational interventions are guided by specified principles or goals. Common goals of structured relational interventions include helping youth identify and address behaviors that interfere with school success, learn coping skills, and understand and express their thoughts and feelings. Structured relational interventions are delivered by trained adult paraprofessionals, teachers, or professional counselors or therapists typically using group counseling and discussion methods.
Both kinds of relational interventions are delivered one-on-one or in group formats. Most are integrated into schools during the school day.
Characteristics of relational interventions (28 studies contributed evidence):
- Interventions lasted 18 weeks, on average.
- Sessions typically took place at least once a week, with 68 percent occurring one or two times per week.
- Interventions most often took place in a separate space within a school setting (resource room or school counselor’s office; 57%).
- Over half (57%) were delivered using a one-on-one format; the rest were delivered in a group or mixed format.
- Kindergarten children participated in 30-minute small group child-centered play therapy two times per week over eight weeks. Two to three children played and interacted freely in playrooms populated with appropriate toys like those used for individual play therapy but in greater quantity for the group. The goal was to increase self-acceptance and self-reliance, learn coping skills, improve self-control, and connect the play experiences to real life. Group leaders reflect the feelings the child is expressing, return responsibilities for problem-solving to the child, bridge behaviors between group members, and maintain a safe environment through techniques such as limit setting. The supportive interpersonal relationships developed with other group members through play is a key therapeutic mechanism in addition to the therapeutic relationship with the group leader.
- Structured psychoeducational group counseling meetings used group dynamics to meet treatment goals of participants struggling with emotional issues and academic challenges. The group focused on friendship, conflict resolution, study skills and anger control, and were held with students in a school setting for 30 minutes per week for 8 weeks. Each meeting included group activities to encourage interaction and dialogue surrounding that week’s topic, and often included a role-play element as well as a sharing of personal experiences with anger. Meetings ended with a summary of the week’s topic and assignment of homework. The eight topics covered were: recognizing anger, who’s at fault, what’s beneath the anger, controlling the anger, communication strategies, I-messages, the consequences of bullying, and celebrating peace. This intervention was a shortened adaptation of a 12-week program.