A number of psychological perspectives have been offered to account for social,
emotional, behavioural difficulties (SEBD) and the legislation and sociocultural context
continues to depict a rather concerning trajectory for this group of young people. It
appears that the views of children and young people with SEBD are discussed at
length, but researched relatively little. Research that has sought their views has been
predominantly retrospective in focus, with very little research encouraging them to
look towards the future. In the small body of research that has asked young people
with SEBD about the future, the psychological concept of ‘possible selves’ has been
applied. The findings suggest that young people with SEBD lack agency, and are more
pessimistic about their futures compared with their mainstream peers.
The current research drew on positive psychology in order to extend the literature and
offer a more useful and optimistic way of conceptualising SEBD. Positive psychology
places emphasis on: the future, strengths, resources and potential, and suggests that
negative experiences can build positive qualities. It is therefore in direct opposition to
a pre-occupation with risk. This research also draws on a social constructivist
epistemology, placing the voice of the young person with SEBD at its centre. It seeks to
better understand their experiences and accepts that meanings are varied and
This research employed a narrative methodology in an attempt to impose less
structure, in order to seek the stories young people with SEBD tell about themselves in
the future. Within the qualitative design, unstructured interviews were used in order
to maximise the potential for capturing individual meaning. The Quality of Life (QoL)
literature was drawn on to facilitate the young people’s narratives, and the life path
tool was used to structure their thinking. Eight young people were interviewed, across
the school and home contexts.
Narrative Oriented Inquiry (NOI) was used to analyse the narratives; a sjuzet-fabula
analysis was carried out to reconstruct the young people’s stories, followed by a
categorical-content analysis to explore themes relevant to the current research. Finally, the tone of the young people’s narratives were analysed to explore how they presented themes of potential and growth in their stories.
The findings indicate that when asked the right questions, young people with SEBD can identify a range of strengths and resources in their lives. Many of the young people also identified qualities that they had built as a result of earlier negative experiences. Overall, the young people’s narratives are progressive in tone and reveal their hopes and aspirations for the future. A number of implications for future research and practice are identified but ultimately, by offering these young people the opportunity to tell their stories, this research permitted them a sense of agency over their lives and allowed them to focus on where they were going, rather than where they had been.