As someone who struggled with mental health issues during adolescence, I understand how difficult and challenging it can be to cope with fluctuating emotions and feelings whilst at school. Trying to thrive in educational settings, whilst going through such profound physiological and psychological changes and development, is confusing.
Even amongst peers there is an embarrassment and sense of shame to what is going on inside, the unique experience is isolating. Attachment, identity, acceptance, belonging, family, race, culture, traumatic experiences, sexual orientation and bullying are to name just a few of the issues and hurdles children and young people face, all whilst trying to understand their changing selves and engage and prosper in educational life.
There were no professional mental health resources available to me when I started to have negative thoughts and experiences as an adolescent. Counselling was unheard of when I was at school in the 1990s. The title ‘counsellor’ was unknown - a psychological professional was called a ‘therapist’ or more commonly at the time a ‘shrink’. These words brought images of a confused person lying on a chaise longue, whilst a professional therapist sat nearby, analysing everything that was said to determine whether the patient was crazy.
Going through my own struggles whilst a teen and trying to cope, my inner self shut down and numbed off from a world which I saw as untrustworthy and painful. This had a devastating effect on myself, relationships and education. I missed out on further educational opportunities as I chose to avoid the settings in fear of further suffering. I left school and got a job in an industry I had no interest in. I then went on to make the best of what little opportunities I could achieve on minimal qualifications. Having a talking therapy resource available to me whilst at school would have made the world of difference to me and my potential opportunities. I would have thrived rather than survived childhood.
I am now 40 years old and after four years of study around family commitments I am a qualified counsellor. This feels amazing… I have finally achieved the education and qualification I dreamed of. Through my own difficulties during adolescence I feel inspired to help young people to gain access to therapy and other professional services.
I now help and support young people in a sixth form college who are struggling with their own journey through childhood. But this comes at a price to me, the only choice I have with using my qualification is to volunteer my time and services. There are minimal paid counselling jobs in educational settings in England. Unfortunately, I do not know how much longer I can continue to have no income. I am lucky enough to have a supportive family, but 2020 was hard. COVID-19 has added to life’s complications and this has had a detrimental effect on society and the mental wellbeing of our younger population.
Our children and young people have had childhood experiences taken away from them that can never be replaced. To name a few - education, SATs, GCSEs, A-levels, leaving celebrations, camps, year group experiences, proms, graduations and the last dance. Dealing with the loss of freedom coupled with the potential loss of loved ones has seen a dramatic downturn in the mental wellbeing of our young.
Our children are our future, they need therapeutic support to help process and understand all aspects of changing life.
Our counsellors want the opportunity to be able to help young people through this emotional process.
How you can support our school counselling campaign
Sue Pattison and Maggie Robson, joint Chairs of BACP Children, Young People and Families division, ask you to support our campaign for a paid counsellor in every secondary school, academy and FE college in England
Investing in school counsellors should no longer be a debate
Rachael Nevin-Lewis talks about her experience of being a 'pilot' school counsellor and how we need to invest in a longer term commitment.
No one size fits all
Pete English discusses the important role of school counsellors for children's mental health
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.