BACP-accredited service YiS Young People’s Mental Health is celebrating four decades of helping young people.

The organisation – known to most people simply as YiS – first launched in 1981 as part of Milton Keynes Council’s youth and community service and initially provided counselling alongside a full range of advice and information services.

On becoming a charity in its own right in 2007, YiS focussed its work entirely on counselling for young people aged between 11 and 21 who live, work or study within the Milton Keynes unitary authority area.

The service now offers up to eight sessions of therapy, in a choice of community venues, using a ‘6+2’ model and with flexibility to respond to additional clinical need as required which has been important in recent months as the complexity of referrals has increased.

YiS colleagues Toni Moch and Charlotte Carr at an outreach event outside a Co-Op store in Milton Keynes

YiS colleagues Toni Moch and Charlotte Carr at an outreach event outside a Co-Op store in Milton Keynes

In 2020, YiS received 436 referrals to the counselling service and delivered more than 2,000 sessions.

On completing counselling, 95% of young people reported that the service had helped them and 99% said they’d recommend YiS to a friend.

Complex therapeutic need

CEO Gareth Eglinton-Pacitti said: “In the early days of the service it was common that counsellors would be working with young people coping with issues such as exam stress or difficult family relationships.

“We’re now increasingly working with young people with trauma and longer term and more complex therapeutic need.

“During the pandemic we had contact with young people who weren’t sure about starting therapy straight away, but who needed guidance and support, so as part of a project funded by Thames Valley Police we are piloting a coaching service offering light-touch, skills-based personalised support that enables young people to develop tools and techniques to navigate challenges that they are facing.


“As a service we are keen to ensure that we work with young people in ways that they find acceptable and that offers choice”.

Over time it became apparent that an additional focus was needed to help meet the wider range and complexity of needs of the young people coming to the service, requires an additional focus.

This has resulted in recent introduction of a coaching service and a new education and outreach team, delivering groups and workshops that includes signposting and referral to more specialised support.

Reflecting on the different experience of young people in 2021 compared to when the service first opened its doors 40 years ago, Gareth added: “It’s a lot more acceptable for young people to talk about mental health in 2021 and the pandemic has brought into even sharper focus the importance of mental health. In my experience, young people now have a much more nuanced and in-depth understanding and awareness of mental wellbeing and have greater levels of compassion than ever before.”

Survey young people

As a service that puts young people’s experience at the centre of its work, YiS has undertaken projects to canvass and survey young people.

Pandemic experiences have been captured and shared with other services and YIS has been commissioned to run a youth participation feedback survey, capturing the experiences of young people who have completed therapy with CAMHS.

Toni Moch and Annaliese Masaad at a YiS outreach event

Toni Moch and Annaliese Masaad at a YiS outreach event

For Counselling Manager and Clinical Lead Jenny Harknett, being a BACP accredited service is important to YiS, its counsellors, clients, and funders. “It’s important to us that we are part of the professional body and that our service demonstrates that we work to the highest standards. We also value the support and resources that our available such as the Ethics Hub.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we had the technical capacity to offer telephone and online therapy sessions, and having access to the joint training provided by BACP and the Open University provided vital training to allow us to make the transition after only closing the service for one week.”

Looking ahead, YiS is keen to continue to develop counselling support and to respond to the message from young people during the pandemic that there is need for a ‘safe space’.

YiS is working in partnership with other organisations to develop youth support hubs as part of the community that offer the right support and environments for young people to emotionally grow and thrive.