When Liam performed in a school production of Grease, it was a massive step for the teenager who has been involved with mental health services since the age of six.
Looking down from the stage at the audience didn’t fill the 17-year-old with anxiety and self-doubt, instead he enjoyed every minute of the performances.
He’s come a long way from the boy who has struggled with anxiety, depression, negatives voices in his head – and who a few years ago couldn’t cope with being in a classroom with other children.
And Liam credits his school counsellor with helping him get this far and giving him the confidence, not just to get up on stage, but to complete his GCSEs and move on to sixth form.
“Those sessions have saved me, definitely. They completely changed my life,” said Liam.
“I don’t think I would have done my GCSEs if it hadn’t been for counselling. I don’t think I would have got where I wanted. I would have sat at home, hiding away, like I did before.”
Feel like a whole new person
“I feel like a whole new person. It’s amazing,” he added.
“Before, I couldn’t stand up on stage even though I loved drama. I’d never done any production in school because I was too scared to. I had no confidence in myself.
“But my counsellor helped me take part in that production. I read out my audition lines with her. I was so happy I had the part. It was amazing for me.”
Liam first started to work with CAMHS when he was six years old. He was struggling with school and faced a difficult time as his brother was terminally ill.
“I felt very different from a lot of other children – I couldn’t sit with them. I couldn’t do school work because I couldn’t focus. I felt really out of place just sitting in a normal classroom,” he recalls.
“From a really young age I was working with CAMHS to understand why I was acting the way I did, why I couldn’t function in certain places, why I couldn’t do school work.”
It started off well. He described how he saw a “brilliant doctor”.
But then he was moved into a different area, his sessions became less regular and not as consistent.
Liam went to various therapy groups, including one he recalls as being “amazing” where he attended with other kids struggling with anxiety and depression like him.
But it was only available to him for a few months.
He went to another set of one to one sessions, but after a few months they ended. His family were waiting for a call from someone to arrange to new sessions. But the phone never rang.
In the meantime, he was still struggling at school and was being picked on by other kids.
“They moved me out of school because I didn’t feel safe in my environment. When I was in school, I wasn’t in normal classes so I didn’t socialise. That just made me feel a lot worse. I felt different, I felt like a freak. I would criticise myself for everything I did.”
All this time Liam had the constant support from his mum and dad, who were quick to do what they could to help him.
And finally, in year 10, when Liam was back at his secondary school, there was a breakthrough.
He began to see the school counsellor every Wednesday.
“Things picked up from there,” he said,
Support was amazing
“It was the first time I got to see someone and let everything out. It was amazing having that support. That lasted all the way until I finished school.
“I’d go in and I wouldn’t feel any pressure. I’d feel relaxed.
Liam spoke to his counsellor about his medication, sleep, eating habits.
He added: “We’d speak about my anger, because I’d lose my temper and I’d just lash out at walls and she would always sit and just listen.
“She would work with me in different ways to cope. Some sessions we’d talk heavily about problems, and other times we’d just sit and have a nice chat about how everything was going. It was amazing just to have that conversation.”
One of the major issues Liam’s counsellor helped him work through was hearing voices in his head.
Liam said: “I could hear these voices constantly, anytime I did something wrong. If I failed a test or I made a mistake they would be there constantly nicking at me and it got to the point where it would keep me up at night and it would make me feel so on edge, sitting there, hearing it.
“I didn’t want to talk to anyone else about it. But I would speak to my counsellor and say this is what I’m hearing. It was so much easier talking about it rather than sitting and coping with it alone every day.”
The work with his counsellor included a session to ‘introduce the voices into the room’. Liam and his counsellor sat in the therapy room, with an extra chair available for the voices to allow them to be present.
“It was very powerful,” said Liam.
I knew it was ok
“Letting someone see what was happening in my head and knowing that it was ok felt massive for me. I didn’t feel different or a freak like people had called me. I felt normal and ok for once. It really helped.
“I can still remember some of these sessions as if they are fresh in my mind. If I’m struggling, I think of what my counsellor said in those moments and I use that to help me cope. I use what she said to help me progress and to help me stay calm.”
It was the fact he knew he was guaranteed regular sessions with his school counsellor, that made such a difference.
“I didn’t have that worry any more that I only had a certain amount of sessions left, and that I wasn’t going to be able to get the help I needed.
“It was brilliant because I knew that counselling was ‘my weekly thing’.
“It felt a lot easier to have those sessions frequently rather than waiting a month or so if something big had happened and not have anyone by my side to help me.
“When you’re working with someone like that, you feel a bigger bond. You’ve worked through this together.
“Having a counsellor in school is so important. People struggle with different things. People need that accessibility and flexibility that a school counsellor can provide.”
And he described his joy when he secured his first ever part in a school production, the role of Eugene in Grease.
“When I did the production, it was a massive step for me and my family as well.
“It was the first thing my family had even seen me do or even seen me be on stage I had all my family come down from London to see me and I worked so hard for the musical.”
The school production was one of a series of positive developments in Liam’s life last year.
He secured good grades in his GCSEs, became involved in the school’s website and is now in the sixth form, enjoying both drama and photography.
Sense of achievement
“I worked so hard for year 11 to get good grades, I felt such a sense of achievement for once. With my counsellor’s help I had managed to get over everything and do my GCSEs, a thing I thought I could never do.”
Liam glows when he talks about these achievements over the past year, and how is coping with life, generally.
“I’m not taking medication. I’m sleeping properly. I’m eating properly. I’m feeling better in myself. I’m not hearing anything in my head. I don’t need to have that medication just to feel better,” he said.
Liam is quick to recognise the positive impact his counsellor has had on his life and credits her for helping him to be more confident and sociable and learning different ways to cope with his anger and stress, as well as helping him when his granddad died.
But most importantly, he recognises his role in this change.
“I’m very proud of myself and how I’ve turned out. I’ve worked hard for where I’ve got to.”
To find a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist near you visit our Find a Therapist directory.