Therapeutic Thinking

An explanation of Therapeutic Thinking, it's aims and supporting resources.

What is Therapeutic Thinking?

Therapeutic Thinking is a school based and led approach developed by Angela Wadham. It is an embedded ethos, characterised by an inclusive culture and underpinned by best practice, policy and plans.

Its philosophy focuses on supporting children and young people's (CYPs) emotional wellbeing and mental health. It also develops an understanding of responding to CYP who may communicate through their behaviours.

Therapeutic Thinking uses a range of resources to analyse an individual's behaviour to better understand their needs. This enables better planning for the child, their class and the wider school or setting.


What is the West Sussex context?

West Sussex County Council (WSCC) work with 14 other counties and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) to embed the Therapeutic Thinking approach.

Each county or MAT has a Therapeutic Lead. Leads meet at least three times a year to share experiences, expertise and resources.

Establishing the approach is a core aspect of WSCC's Education and Learning Strategy 2022-2025. It is a key driver for improving expertise and support for inclusion in schools and post-16 education settings.

Therapeutic Thinking principles

The Therapeutic Thinking approach helps senior leaders to develop policies and plans that support staff in implementing a therapeutic approach. These policies provide a clear ‘job description’ for all staff to follow.

The Therapeutic Thinking approach challenges the concepts of ‘bribes and sanctions’ frequently used in behaviour management. These often result in CYP only following instructions because they will ‘get something’ for doing so. Instead, the approach seeks to encourage CYP to develop internal discipline. The aim is that they are always able to behave in a positive way, without adult management.

WSCC's Therapeutic Thinking aims

Aims are to:

  • develop a common language and a joint approach that is followed by all professionals in West Sussex
  • support schools and settings with developing a therapeutic approach to behaviour
  • develop understanding of the inseparable link between teaching, learning and behaviour
  • improve staff confidence and safety
  • support the inclusion of those with difficult or dangerous behaviours
  • reduce or eliminate exclusions
  • support consistency within services
  • support Senior Leadership Teams in the development of quality policy and planning
  • establish a consistent system of analysis and planning which enables behaviour progression.

How do we support our aims?

We run training courses that are available to all schools .

Our hope is that two people from every school in West Sussex will attend the full training. Attendees become qualified tutors who can share knowledge and skills in their setting, resulting in a consistent behaviour management approach across West Sussex.

See our Therapeutic Thinking training page.

Further reading and resources

West Sussex case studies

WSCC documents

  • Behaviour Policy Framework September 2021 -
    August 2022

Other guidance and policies

  • Mental health and behaviour in schools (March 2016) and revised (November 2018): DfE guidance
  • Timpson Review of school exclusions: March 2019
  • Behaviour in schools: February 2024
  • Suspension and permanent exclusion from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England, including pupil movement: May 2023
  • Behaviour and mental health in schools: Children and young people's mental health coalition

Key texts

  • Joseph, S. (ed.) (1999), A Voice for the Child: The inspirational words of Janusz Korczak London: Thorsons
  • Robinson, K and Aronica, L. (2010) The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything London: Penguin
  • Kohn, A. (1999) Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes Boston: Mariner Books
  • Goleman, D. (1996) Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ London: Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Cain, S. (2013) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking London: Penguin
  • Thorn, J. (2020) A Quiet Education: Challenging the extrovert ideal in our schools London: John Catt Educational Ltd