Supporting Special FRIENDS, a CBT intervention promoting resilience for children and young people with special educational needs.

Special FRIENDS is a CBT-based resilience program, designed for children and young people with autism and learning difficulties, proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Developed and evaluated in the UK by Dr. Gemma Slack (The Psychology Tree) and Dr. Caroline Smith in partnership with Prof. Paula Barrett (FRIENDS Resilience), Special FRIENDS uses an evidence-based, adapted CBT protocol to enable equal access to the international FRIENDS intervention for people with special educational needs.


The Psychology Tree is working closely with The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities and Dr Rowena Rossiter (University of Kent) to train facilitators to deliver this program in schools and health services throughout the UK. Since 2013, the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities has supported projects to enable FRIENDS to be accessible and appropriate for those with more substantial learning needs, see links below for the evidence-base and guidance behind their adaptation of FRIENDS activities for people learning disabilities.


People love Special FRIENDS and here we share our feedback from the days hosted by The Foundation.


Interactive Training Days

FRIENDS facilitators practicing pizza massage activity.

  • The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities have hosted 5 FRIENDS days where we have trained over 100 FRIENDS facilitators including mainstream and special school staff, psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and mental health professionals.
  • When we asked these new facilitators how useful the training was, we scored an average of 9.4 out of 10.
  • When we asked facilitators to rate the quality of our training, we scored an average of 9.7 out of 10.
  • When we asked if facilitators felt confident to run Special FRIENDS straight away, we scored an average of 8.5 out of 10.

We are confident that people love our training and most are ready to start delivering Special FRIENDS straight away. Anyone who is not quite ready after the day, says they need a little more time to study the detailed lesson plans and instructions that we provide before starting their first FRIENDS group.

Building confidence is key, so we recommend spending some time planning and practicing activities before running your first FRIENDS group. Plus, the abundance of material in the programs means that you can adapt the activities to suit the needs of your group. This flexibility increases engagement and leads to success in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression and promoting resilience. FRIENDS works! See the links to literature at the bottom for the evidence base.


Using LEGO

Elements of LEGO-Based Therapy are used in Special FRIENDS to teach team building and build collaborative skills.

We asked our FRIENDS facilitators what works well during our training:


"There were lots of ideas for resources, interactive activities and clear delivery of the material."


"Órlaith highlighted how to step up and down activities to suit different abilities."


"The training was very informative and interactive. I have learned a lot."


"Mixture of theory and practical kept us engaged throughout."


"I really enjoyed the practical elements and the incorporation of theory behind the programme, so engaging."


"The practical activities really brought the programme to life."


We pay equal attention to suggestions for improvement. Most frequently, we are asked for more training days throughout the UK, cheaper resources and more time for specialisation of the programs. So:

  • The Psychology Tree now has training dates throughout the UK for individuals and we are available to host days in your institution anywhere in the UK and Ireland.
  • The Psychology Tree and The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities are working together to curate the best resources to support the FRIENDS programmes and will soon have dedicated webpages to support our facilitators.
  • We now offer tailored training days where we focus on the FRIENDS programs that will best suit your organisation. Currently these programs include Fun FRIENDS, FRIENDS for Life, My FRIENDS Youth, Special FRIENDS and The Adult Resilience Programme.

Feelings Flashcards

Using emotion flashcards to understand how young people describe emotions.

Contact us if you have any questions or would like to access FRIENDS training!