Supporting Conversation Endurance at School

Ontario government policy has continued to elevate the context of school as an additional place to promote and support mental health well-being for students. This provides important opportunities for community mental health agencies and school staff to partner as part of a student’s care, noticing and responding to their efforts as audience to change.  

As an example, many students are encouraged to use the quick access (walk-in) clinics offered by community children’s mental health centres. Quick access clinics were mandated as a core service across the province as part of a diverse service menu and to provide quick access to therapeutic conversations. The addition of One Stop Talk, a provincial virtual single session therapy service, has further created access for children and youth to therapeutic conversations. 

While a single session may refer to a singular moment, it’s misleading if implying and understood as a singular event. These conversations are not singular as their influence lives on through the on-going meaning making process. These conversations ripple into everyday life and may continue to shape meaning over time. At times, this is through more immediate revised action or thinking while other times the influence hibernates. It may take shape months or sometimes years later in moments of reflection or contemplation. 

Conversation endurance is a term used to speak to how these conversations live on after the face-to-face, so they are there for people when they need them. They can be re-visited and built upon. Common practice in SST is for people to leave with some ideas to ‘try out’, called practice areas or next steps. People may also leave with a different way of thinking about things. Whether doing or thinking, the idea is that practice after the session is favourable. 

As part of the Conversation Endurance Map (Cooper, 2024) participants are invited to identify audience to change who would notice and possibly support proposed next steps and the growing story-in-the-making. At times, school staff are identified.  

I have heard stories of students returning to school after visiting the quick access clinic (walk-in) and when asked if it was helpful a quick ‘no’ is the response. It is important to understand that students may be returning to very problem-focused receiving contexts that are not friendly to new information. Action plans co-created in SST can very quickly become eclipsed and overridden in these contexts. 

As audience to change, school staff can play an important part in supporting SST conversations to live on and resist this eclipsing. How staff respond makes a difference. In situations where school staff have permission to do so, here are a few questions to experiment with asking:

What’s been better since your walk-in conversation?

This presuppositional question from SFBT sets a useful trajectory for the conversation. First, it presupposes things have been better, orienting the student to research their daily living for those moments. Three possible answers come available. For more see Durrant, 1995; Metcalf, 2021; Walter & Peller, 1992.

  1. Things are worse: We can then find out about context and barriers as well as how the student has kept things from further decline. 
  2. Things are the same: We can learn from students how they have kept things the same (from getting worse). Never underestimate what it takes to keep things the same. Context can be addressed and discussion to discern the smallest next step to try out can be had. 
  3. Things are a bit better: We can learn from the student what they are doing that is making a difference? What if they were to keep this up? How might the staff support them in these efforts? What are they learning about themselves and what’s possible?

Another way to follow-up after a single session is to ask:

Tell me about your next steps or action plan? What are you practicing?

This nudge back to the co-created action plan assists it to become more visible. Again, staff can look to support the plan, highlight exceptions and preferred moments, or assist to fine tune it as needed. 

Being audience to change, curious about student efforts, and learning about action plans following a single session are important ways that school staff can support their students and work collaboratively with the efforts of community mental health centres. 


Durrant, M.  Creative Strategies for School Problems.  New York: Norton, 1995.

Metcalf, L. (2021). Counseling Toward Solutions: A Practical, Solution-Focused Program for Working with Students, Teachers, and Parents. Routledge.

Walter, J. L., & Pellar, J. (1992). Becoming solution-focused in brief therapy. Routledge.

© Scot J. Cooper Inc. 2023