Background

The rationale behind the circle of friends approach is a simple one and, once understood, almost embarrassingly obvious. It recognises that a significant consequence for someone who shows distressed and difficult behaviour is their likely isolation from their peer group, both in and out of school. Teachers will describe such pupils as "having no friends", "unable to make or sustain relationships", "always fighting or arguing with other pupils". Pupils will describe them as "a nutter", "mad", "always getting done for something" - although as we shall see later when encouraged they are able to give much more balanced descriptions. 

 

When this kind of situation is viewed systemically and with an awareness of the powerful processes of circular causation (Dowling and Osbourne 1985, Miller 1994.) it is easy to see how increasing isolation from your peer group can lead to increasing despair and bad feelings about yourself which are then reflected in your behaviour. Once you internalise the message that nobody likes you or wants to be your friend, feel that they think you are mad, feel that they will do things just to wind you up, it is easy to conclude that you have nothing to lose by giving full vent to your feelings and distress in the way you behave. And when you do, the subsequent behaviour of your classmates simply confirm your worst fears about yourself and how others see you. So is created a very vicious circle in which the effects of your behaviour have become the subsequent causes of your behaviour. 

 

The adults around you and their interventions may accelerate this process. You may find yourself on the receiving end of a behaviour programme which is founded on ignoring difficult behaviour; in case it is reinforced by the reward of attention. (How we came to believe that there could be anything helpful or therapeutic in being ignored by others suggests a further study.) You may not have qualified for a "programme" as such but it is very likely that the message given to the rest of the class by the adults around you will be along the lines of "don't get involved", "it's not your business", "just ignore him". You may find yourself in Time Out or Isolation and although this may be helpful in letting you save face and in limiting your public, it is unlikely in itself to address the unmet needs that are fuelling your behaviour. 

 

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