Counselling in Schools

School CounsellorWith the new school year starting, new routines, schedules, challenges, hopes and expectations all come with it.  Working as a counsellor in private practice and also with young people in a school setting, I see not only the pressures on young people of adjusting to these changes within school, but also their stress of managing emotional difficulties at home alongside their academic life.

Although there are a number of schools across the UK that provide a counselling service for their students, often with the assistance of a charitable organisation such as Place2be or the YMCA, there are unfortunately far too many schools that still do not have this provision.  There is a wealth of evidence that points to there being a need for mental health support in schools, as can be seen by the following statistics:

  • 1 in 10 children and young people (aged 5-16) suffer from a mental health disorder (i.e. around 3 children in every class) and many continue to have these problems into adulthood;
  • Between 1 in every 12 to 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm;
  • Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression. Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years;

(Sources: Green, H; McGinnit, A; Meltzer, H; et al. (2005) Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain 2004; Mental Health Foundation (2006) Truth Hurts)

There are times when it can be very confusing for a child to understand what is happening to them and express what they are feeling.  A school counselling service can play a vital role in providing young people with support to help them understand their emotions and develop ways of managing their difficulties at school and at home.   There is no doubt that if a child receives support for mental health distress at an early age, then they are less likely to suffer from serious mental health problems as they develop into adulthood.  In addition, from my own experience in working with young people, I can see clear indications of how promoting positive mental health can help improve attendance rates at school and reduce the level of student exclusion.

In the absence of a school counselling service, the next route for mental health support for a child or young person would be via the family General Practitioner, who can complete a referral to a specialist service such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).  There are also several agencies which are committed to providing advice and support for the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people, and some helpful links are at the bottom of this page.

One particular innovative organisation, Relax Kids, produces products and runs workshops for children to help them cope with stress.  The classes teach mindfulness and relaxation strategies for calming down and building their self-esteem.  Relax Kids is being used in some schools and private classes are run in various areas of the UK.

If you know of any child or young person who may benefit from emotional support for mental health difficulties, I would suggest a first step would be to see if any counselling provision is available within their school.  If not, contact via the GP or a referral to a private counsellor can help take things forward.

Sharon Convisser is a counsellor registered with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy.  Telephone  07936 556314 to arrange a free initial consultation or   e-mail sharonc@pacecounselling.co.uk

Useful Links:

http://www.nspcc.org.uk/

http://www.childline.org.uk/

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/

http://www.relaxkids.com/

http://www.bacp.co.uk/

Recovery from Trauma

Restorative Yoga 

Restorative-Yoga-284x200

On a non-professional basis, I recently met Fiona, a woman who was overcoming acute trauma in her life following the tragic death of one of her children. She was inspirational in all that she had done and was continuing to do in the process of re-navigating her life and her emotinal recovery. Fiona told me that a vital part of her trauma recovery was through Restorative Yoga. This prompted me, with Fiona’s permission and some of her words, to write something about restorative yoga and her personal experience of how this had helped her. “Days and nights blurred into one another as I lay on my bedroom floor, fetal position, swaddled in a blanket of paralyzing grief and despair. This was two years ago when the worst thing that could ever happen to me happened, a precious child of mine died. That moment, that very second in time that I laid eyes upon my son’s lifeless body ‘I’ was no longer. Disorientated I could not find my way out of this horrible immobilizing fog until the day restorative yoga showed me the way.” Restorative Yoga uses props like yoga blocks, bolsters and blankets to allow your body to fully relax in each posture. This helps you achieve physical, emotional and mental relaxation. Some poses target specific areas of the body, and others work with the entire body. It promotes stillness, relaxation and a calmer state of mind perhaps more than other forms of yoga and is known to provide healing , reduce stress, and particularly help you overcome emotional distress and anxiety following traumatic events. “Restorative yoga threw me a life line that I grabbed and desperately hung on to. Gradually I began to have body and breath awareness and some days I could transfer this to my day which helped me to cope. Once I became connected to my breath my whole nervous system seemed to calm down and become quieter….” “This meditative style of yoga has given me the coping tools to go to in difficult times. I practice almost every day no matter where I am and most definitely use breath awareness every single day to keep me grounded and going forward. In the home I would use couch cushions, bed pillows, blankets, thick towels. The idea is to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible with no strain and the more fully supported your body is the deeper your sense of relaxation and surrender will be to allow the nervous system to calm down and drop the deepest layers of tension. This allows the Parasympathetic nervous(relax and renew) system to take charge for a while which brings the body back to a state of equilibrium, slows down the heart rate, dilates blood vessels, activates digestion, and stores energy.” It is not unusual to feel disassociated or disconnected from yourself following a traumatic experience. Practices such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation, in addition to talking therapies such as counselling can help bring the body actively into the healing process , alongside the mind, so that you can feel whole again. “While lying on my mat in deep relaxation I became aware of my body, mind, and soul being connected as one riding on the ebb and flow of my natural breath. There was no past, no future, just in the now, in this place of complete stillness and ease. My head and body was so spacious-everything was one with my surroundings-no thoughts, only a profound relaxed feeling of peace….” Fiona trained and qualified as a Restorative Yoga teacher herself in 2013 Useful links: http://www.bwy.org.uk/ http://www.samaritans.org/ If you are struggling to overcome a traumatic experience, or suffering from anxiety, depression or stress, I am offering a free initial counselling session.  Please contact me on 07936 556314 or e-mail: sharonc@pacecounselling.co.uk

Grounding Techniques

There are occasions when emotional pain can feel so overwhelming that it may be helpful to be able to detach from your feelings and stay safe.  In particular, if you have suffered trauma either in the past or recently, you may find yourself struggling with intrusive and disturbing memories of what happened, either feeling overwhelmed with emotions, or perhaps feeling numb and disconnected.  There are certain techniques called ‘Grounding’ which can help you regain a sense of safety and help you tolerate the emotions.  The strategies work by distracting your attention to what is going on externally around you, focussing you on the here and now.  The techniques can be a useful support alongside seeking professional counselling and/or hypnotherapy to help you deal with the underlying issues.

Grounding can be done anywhere at any time and it helps you stay in touch with the present, and not focus on the past or the future.  It is an active strategy and can help with extreme negative feelings.  Here are some grounding strategies which may be of help:

  • Look around your surroundings and focus on the detail around you. For example, observe to yourself, “The walls are cream; there are 4 green chairs etc….” “I am on the train; I am looking out of the windows and I can see gardens; I am on the Bakerloo line and the next station is……”
  • Find something around you that you can see and which appeals to you. Ask yourself what you like about it; what texture it is; what size it is; what shape it is; what colour it is.
  • Say a safety statement such as:  “My name is ………….; I am safe now.  I am in the present, not the past.  The date today is….. and I am standing in the supermarket/office/street etc………”
  • Focus on your breathing. Imagine as you breathe in a balloon inflating in your stomach, and as you breathe out, imagine the balloon deflating.
  • Play a categories game with yourself. For example, try to think of songs, animals, tv shows, countries that begin with A, B, C etc.
  • Eat something and describe the flavours to yourself in detail
  • Describe an everyday activity in detail to yourself. For example, a meal that you cook (“First I peel the onion and then slice it; then I peel some garlic; I fry the onion and garlic and then….etc”)
  • Dig your heels into the ground and feel yourself connected to the ground, or stamp your feet and notice the power in your legs as you do.

One or more of the techniques may suit you better than others and it is important to go with what works for you.  It can be useful to practise the technique(s) regularly, and you do not need to wait until you are feeling in crisis to do this.  The more frequently you can use the strategy when you are not in crisis, the more familiar you will be with it for the times when you feel overwhelmed.

If you are struggling with emotional difficulties and wish to explore the possibility of counselling and/or hypnotherapy, please e-mail sharonc@pacecounselling.co.uk or telephone 07936 556314 to arrange an initial session.

Useful Contacts:

http://www.mind.org.uk/

http://www.samaritans.org/