When Zach’s dad passed away, the 15-year-old didn’t just find it hard to talk about how he was feeling. He found it hard to go to school each day.
His GCSE’s were fast-approaching. But sitting in the classroom listening to a teacher or thinking about homework or revision was another level of stress on top of the grief he was facing.
When his mum contacted his school to share her concerns, Zach’s tutor encouraged him to get in touch with the school counsellor.
And this was the start of a new, more positive, direction for him.
A space to let everything go
“Counselling gave me a space to let everything go,” says Zach*.
“When you’re dealing with things on your own, you can’t let out exactly what you’re thinking.
“A counsellor is someone who you know you can say everything to.”
Initially Zach was a little anxious about going to see the school counsellor. He didn’t know what people would think.
“I was a bit weirded out about counselling. I was a bit scared. It was a big step.
“But about 20 minutes in, when I started talking everything through, I immediately felt like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. The first session helped so much I knew I wanted to carry on.”
Knowing the service was confidential was a big reassurance to him.
Not going to get judged
“It’s somewhere that you can talk about all your problems in a secure environment.
“You can say exactly what’s in your head and you’re not going to get judged. You don’t have to worry about everything from outside. You know the counsellor will keep your problems to themselves.
“They will listen to you and support you to get through things.
“Even though I was going through a tough time with my dad’s death, I’d just talk about lots of different things that I was getting stressed or sad about. All of those conversations helped.”
He added: “I know my mum and friends are helpful in certain ways. But a counsellor knows how to listen and talk to you in a way that makes a difference to you.
Zach really appreciated visiting a counsellor who was based at his school.
It wasn’t far to go to see her, there were no long waiting lists and the therapy room was in familiar surroundings.
If he was having a difficult time – he could get in touch with her quickly and easily.
“There’s a counsellor here every day. You know that if you’re having a bad day you can ask to come and see her at lunchtime or breaktime for a quick chat or ask to have a session in the next couple of days. It’s so quick and easy to get a session.
“You know you’ve always got it in school, so it’s not as daunting seeing a counsellor somewhere else.
The knowledge that Zach was talking to a trained professional was reassuring to his mum as well.
In safe hands
“At the start, my mum was upset because she didn’t know how to help. But once she knew I was seeing the counsellor, she knew I was in safe hands and that I was getting better.”
Zach can see the difference that counselling has made to him.
“It’s much easier to talk about my feelings now. If certain things get brought up, I don’t break down anymore.
He adds: “If I hadn’t had seen a counsellor, I’d have struggled to get into school.
“I’d have been more worried about coming into school as I’d have been more stressed.
“I’d have had less sleep, I’d have struggled to even get up in the morning. It would have made my life 100 times harder.
“For me, if I hadn’t had counselling I wouldn’t have got through my GCSEs. Even just getting into that hall was a big step.
“I’m so grateful for this support – and it’s so amazing that we have it available at school.”
*Not his real name.
Thanks to the staff and students of Bristol Grammar School for their help with our school counselling case studies.
School counselling in England campaign
We believe that a paid counsellor should be available in every secondary school, academy and FE college in England.
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
'Counselling allows you to reach that lightbulb moment.'
Jake, 17, visited his school counsellor for help when everything got too much for him