FRIENDS for Life

FRIENDS for Life is an internationally recognised programme that teaches children and young people techniques to cope with anxiety and promote wellbeing, social and emotional skills and resilience.

The programme was developed in Australia by Professor Paula Barrett, from a previously strong evidence base for effective anxiety interventions, designed by Professor Phillip Kendall in the USA.

FRIENDS for Life is the only programme of its kind endorsed by the World Health Organisation as "efficacious across the entire spectrum, as a universal prevention program, as a targeted prevention program and as a treatment."

Research on the programme shows reduced anxiety and depression, increased coping skills and self-esteem, with improvements maintained up to 6 years after the completion of the programme (Barrett, 2006; Stallard et al 2007).

It enables children to learn a range of skills, including how to:

  • identify 'anxiety-increasing' thoughts and to replace them with more helpful thoughts
  • identify anxious (and other difficult) feelings and learn to manage them
  • learn to overcome problems rather than avoid them.

Now in its sixth edition, FRIENDS for Life incorporates resilience and mindfulness into its social-emotional-developmental and cognitive behavioural framework. The Pathways Health and Research website provides further information on the programme and cites research, including studies describing developments to ensure FRIENDS for Life reaches socially and economically disadvantaged and indigenous communities. For more information, please see our background paper:

Download the background paper

FRIENDS for Life builds skills using the FRIENDS mnemonic:

  • F Feelings
  • R Remember to relax
  • I I can do it, I can try
  • E Explore solutions and coping step-plans
  • N Now reward yourself, you’ve done your best
  • D Do practice 
  • S Smile, stay calm, use your support networks

What is the FRIENDS for Life - Learning Disabilities Development project?

Our initial FRIENDS for Life – Learning Disabilities (F4L-LD) development project adapted activities in the internationally recognised FRIENDS for Life programme to be accessible for children and young people with learning disabilities. The adaptations were based on relevant research, expert opinion, our own combined experience (70+ years!) and feedback from pupils, families and session leaders. A systematic evaluation of the adapted FRIENDS for Life programme is currently being planned.

When adapting the FRIENDS activities, the Foundation worked in collaboration with Rowena Rossiter, a Clinical Psychologist with extensive experience of adapting therapies to be accessible for children, young people and adults with learning disabilities. In developing and trialling the adapted FRIENDS activities, we worked alongside staff, children and young people with learning disabilities and their families at Hazel Court School, Sussex; St Nicholas School, Canterbury and Milestone Academy, Kent together with health colleagues from the Sussex Partnership and East Kent University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts.

Our adaptation

During the past few years we have been working with a number of schools and practitioners to try out ways to make FRIENDS for Life activities accessible for children and young people with learning disabilities. Our adaptations consisted of simplified materials with high visual, low verbal content, together with the use of multi-media to make the sessions more meaningful. For example, rather than reading out stories from the workbook, the facilitators performed role-plays of the characters Tom and Pepper, so as to make the content of the sessions more visual.

Other role plays were also facilitated which focused on concepts and feelings that were relevant to the group, such as a role play based on over-excitement, which looked at situations in which over-excitement might be a problem and encouraged young people to think about how to manage their feelings when this happens.

Our guide for practitioners

Since we launched the original guidance in making FRIENDS for Life accessible for children and young people with learning disabilities in 2013, we have learned more by delivering the adapted FRIENDS activities in extra schools, through training events and developing a Community of Practice.

This second revised guide summarises what we have learned so far from adapting activities in FRIENDS for Life, Fun FRIENDS and the new Special FRIENDS to be accessible and appropriate for children and young people with learning disabilities.

It describes how activities in the original FRIENDS for Life and new Special FRIENDS programmes can be adapted. It provides suggestions for helpful activities and resources. It also includes the learning from practitioners who have attended training events for FRIENDS/Special FRIENDS/FRIENDS-LD organised by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

Download the guide



The FRIENDS for Life – Learning Disabilities Development Project was made possible by legacy funding from the estate of Patricia Collen who spent the majority of her life in Normansfield hospital in the United Kingdom. The further development, training events and this second edition of the guide was funded by NHS England.

Our broader FRIENDS for Life – Learning Disabilities Development Research Team includes Professor Paul Stallard, University of Bath, Professor Glyn Murphy, Tizard Centre, University of Kent and Dr Nicky Wood, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust.