Year 9 Travellers Programme

Exploring Life’s Changes

Travellers is a school-based mental health promotion programme for young people in Year Nine that enhances connectedness and supports changes in life’s journey. It consists of eight two-hour sessions. It is a research-based resiliency building course designed by Pauline Dickinson of the University of Auckland.

Each group had a maximum of ten students, and we run eight groups a year.

“I feel pretty good about myself now. Before I used to feel that all my problems were piling up and now I feel I can sort them out. It seems that since I’ve been in the group everything’s changed and it’s all going my way now, like I’m just sorting out my problems, nothing can stop me now. I can deal with it. I used to try and keep my problems to myself and now I’m using my friends and I go to the school counsellor and sort them out. That was my big change from being in the Travellers group.”

Why Travellers?

Young people today are experiencing change at a pace more rapid than previous generations. At an individual level, they experience the biological, cognitive and psychosocial developmental changes associated with adolescence. Additional life change events experienced may include:

  • Changing schools
  • Changing friendships
  • The loss of something or someone close, such as family member or pet
  • Changing residence such as moving cities or countries
  • Changing family status such as parental separation or remarriage
  • Changing state of wellbeing e.g. self-esteem, illness or injury

When young people struggle to adjust to changes in their lives emotional distress may result, particularly if they do not have the necessary skills and/or support.

About the Travellers group programme…

Travellers aims to foster the healthy development of young people by:

  • exploring their change experiences;
  • developing ways to navigate their movement through change in safe and adaptive ways;
  • supporting young people in exploring links between the ways in which they think and feel about change situations and how their thoughts and feelings influence how they cope and respond; and
  • enhancing supportive environments for young people experiencing change, and thereby improving their learning outcomes.

The name Travellers:

The name Travellers reflects the idea that “life is a journey” which involves change. The “journey” metaphor is one that young people in the pilot groups related to well:

“It sounded adventurous and it wasn’t embarrassing. I talked to my friends about it and that was good.”

Findings from the Travellers pilot project

Young people reported how their experience in Travellers enhanced their connections with peers, family members, staff and facilitators:

“It’s different now. Before I went to Travellers I didn’t really get along with my friends. I just felt invisible; no-one was listening to me or cared about me. Well now I speak up to them and finally they care about me and I’m not invisible any more.”

“I can talk to people and the counsellor. I could share my feelings and it was kept personal. I got on with people in the group. I get on with teachers now. I didn’t get on with them before Travellers. I talk to my form teacher about stuff now.”

Young people reported being able to access additional support and counselling as a result of taking part in Travellers:

“I got to know the counsellor in the group and I went to her. I wouldn’t have gone to her if I hadn’t got to know her in the group.”

“I would go to friends and family. I wouldn’t have done that before. I kept my troubles to myself.”

Young people’s emotional distress reduced:

“It was really good and everyone should go. I got mentally stronger from doing Travellers.”

“Before Travellers I was low coming to a new school and I’m now happy and feel pretty special that I was chosen.”

“It was really good, especially for Year 9 students because it helps you ease into new surroundings and it sort of explains things.”

Young people reported improved school performance:

“I’ve changed in how I relate to teachers. I’ve been good and stuff, since I did Travellers I’m getting better reports.”

“Before I did Travellers I was a lot lazier and it’s made me more motivated and wanting to do something with my life.”

Counsellors’ comments reflect the positive outcomes Travellers has in schools:

“I perceive Travellers as an example of powerful, cutting edge, secondary school guidance counselling. To meet counselling needs proactively and time-effectively in small groups needs to be an approach we take if we want to have a significant impact on the emotional health of our school population.” Margaret Hoogendoorn

A Principals’ comment highlights the effectiveness of Travellers in schools:

“We see Travellers as a very valuable addition to the work that we do and that early identification is really valuable. We see it as very effective. It allows counsellors to engage with the young people in a more positive way to begin with and then if they need to unpack some of their concerns, they’ve already got the relationship.”

Questions parents might have about Travellers

How is selection for the programme done?

By the administration of a 15-25 minute survey to all Year Nine students early in Term one of the school year to identify young people for the Travellers programme. Also, our Nurses refer students when after administering the HEEADSSS assessment they think a students would benefit from this intervention.

Does my child have to participate?

Participation is voluntary. You may choose to withhold permission for your child to take part in the initial Year Nine survey as well as for your child to participate in the group. However it is recommended that your child is encouraged to participate in Travellers as it has been found to be extremely beneficial for those young people who have previously taken part.

What if the survey indicates significant distress for a young person?

If a young person is identified as experiencing a significant level of emotional distress, the school counsellor will follow established school protocols and ethical counselling practice.

When does the Travellers group take place?

During school time and with a sensitivity to students’ academic attendance requirements.

For further information please contact:

Margaret Hoogendoorn, Head of Guidance


The Travellers Project Manager
PO Box 7309, Wellington South
New Zealand
Free phone 0800 299 100