There is a buzz in school at the moment like it’s the beginning of the new school year. This has been a big lift for us all. However, with that come anxieties, not only for the pupils returning to school but also the ever-presents that have become accustomed to smaller classes and a quieter environment.
The presence of COVID in the room has felt bigger than ever. For the first time I have been hearing those COVID buzzwords come out in the play, social distancing of the characters in the sand and themes of isolation. The need and demand for intervention is high and we know that it’s only going to increase as the effects of post pandemic trauma unfold.
Six months into my not-so-new role and the counselling service is in full swing across our five schools in East Newcastle Upon Tyne. Despite returning to the school year in a national lockdown, my case load has been as busier than ever with a growing waiting list.
All my clients have vulnerable learner status with a place in school throughout lockdown. I felt strongly that my clients needed continuity in a time of more uncertainty and that their counselling should continue. Thankfully, the leaders of the Trust supported this and I was able to continue my work in schools with added precautions.
Some parents and carers wanted their children to work remotely during this time, which has lead to some ethical dilemmas for me. I’ve had to consider whether children had access to a confidential space or a device with a suitable platform as well as potential safeguarding risks whilst maintaining my values and code of ethics. Would I be practicing non-maleficence and putting my clients first if I couldn’t guarantee that I could hold and contain the correct boundaries?
The above apprehensions on my part are also paired with the day to day concerns faced by families during lockdown, from digital inequalities where multiple children are sharing one device to the insurmountable feat of home learning in busy family homes. I had to get creative and think of other ways to hold those clients who I had to temporarily pause. Transitional objects played an important role in keeping connected with my clients throughout the 10 week break. I sent cards to clients as well as resources for creative journaling, lockdown time capsules and mindfulness activities which I hoped allowed my clients to feel held in mind.
I’m realising that working as a counsellor in a school has many unique aspects. Hand delivering Christmas hampers as a Trust to support our most vulnerable families over the break was one of them. This could be considered a blur in boundaries and beyond the counselling role. I consider this one of positive aspects of being embedded into the whole school approach that we provide. Culture and context matter and we have a strong team around the family approach of which I’m very proud to be a part.
The counselling programme is feeling well established now with a clear referral system and a growing understanding of my role across the Trust, developing a culture where counselling is not the solution for all presenting problems and identifying what exactly the need is for that young person. The biggest challenge for me continues to be working with a six week model. Building alliance and trust can be a six week intervention in itself. As a child-led practitioner, it’s a balancing act of trusting the process, providing that time and space for my client whilst trying to set realistic goals for a six week intervention. Although this triggers my 'Hurry Up' and 'Be Perfect' drivers I always put the client’s best interests first.
Access to real mental health support in schools is a child’s right. This message needs to be amplified and the voices of children and young people are crucial to this ongoing fight. I’ve been working with staff across our Trust to gather testimonials from clients that have ended their counselling journey and want to share their experiences and talk about the positive impact that they’ve had. These stories will be listened to and shared by Tyne and Wear Citizens in support of the School Based Counselling Campaign in England.
Testimonials of this nature are instrumental in developing the narrative around the power of therapeutic transformation and the creation of wider change more systemic change – it’s just incredible to see.
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School counselling in England campaign
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Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.