Following a thought-provoking school and college based counselling ERG meeting, of which I'm a member, I began to wonder how to explain the benefits of counselling to other professionals in education and the wider community, that have no prior knowledge of counselling or psychotherapy.
I began to think about the analogy of a tear in a garment or a piece of fabric, to explain the reparative relationship1 within therapy. The tear can appear due to experiences a child has with their primary caregiver within their early years (attachment theory)2, ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)3 such as relationship breakdowns, bereavement and bullying, or even societal conditioning.
In order to repair this tear, the therapist offers a different experience to the one in the repeating pattern, known as a client's script4, creating a reparative stitch. This stitch is fragile to begin with as the tear may be quite pronounced and the hole could have been there for a while. The first, single stitch can just as easily be undone. Yet over time by repeating this repair and offering a different experience time and time again, the tear will gradually close and strengthen. This was beautifully articulated by an 8-year old client, who described our sessions as, “helping a little bit each session, then it adds up over time”.
I consider this analogy while working with children and young people. As they grow, change and adapt throughout their lives they experience new tears and need new repairs along the way. Only too often the repairs do not come as fast as the tears or repeatedly enough to complete a full recovery. Access to counselling can be difficult for children and young people, as they often don't meet the criteria, which is strict due to demand and funding5. When they do get access, they're often given short term support, which may only offer a limited repair. Instead, children and young people are left with holes in the fabric of their being. They're expected to carry on through life, concentrate at school and reach their full potential. So at what cost do we ignore these holes?
From the Millennium Cohort Study6, it was found that around 7% of children and young people have attempted suicide by the age of 17. In addition, around one in four said that they'd self-harmed in the past year. The need for early intervention and funding preventative strategies was proposed again, just as it's been discussed and recommended time and time again.
Procrastination means to delay or to put off doing something until a later time. Following the reparative stitch analogy and using the term ‘a stitch in time saves nine’7, we can acknowledge that it's better to spend a little time and effort dealing with an issue now rather than wait until later. At which point it may have become worse and take longer to deal with.
We can argue, debate and discuss how the findings show this or that. Yet while we wait, we leave a generation to cope on their own. While we wait, we leave children and young people to become new statistics. While we wait for the correct findings to point us in the right direction we procrastinate, instead of dealing with what we know is happening and what we can see with our own eyes. We don't need another study or research findings. We can just look to our young people and ask them what they want. We can listen, act and save lives. Or, we await the consequences.
1. Clarkson, P. The Therapeutic Relationship. 2nd ed. London: Whurr Publishers Ltd; 2003.
2. Bowlby, J. A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory. London: Routledge; 1988.
3. CDC. Risk and Protective Factors [Internet]. Cdc.gov. 2021. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/riskprotectivefactors.html
4. Erskine, R.G. Life Scripts: Unconscious Relational Patterns and Psychotherapeutic Involvement. In ERSKINE, R.G. (ed.). Life Scripts: A Transactional Analysis of Unconscious Relational Patterns. London: Taylor & Francis Group; 2010.
5. Education Policy Institute. Access to child and adolescent mental health services in 2019 [Internet]. Epi.org.uk. 2020. Available from: https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/access-to-child-and-adolescent-mental-health-services-in-2019/
6. Patalay, P. and Fitzsimons, E. Mental ill-health at age 17 in the UK: Prevalence of and inequalities in psychological distress, self-harm and attempted suicide. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies; 2020.
7. Why Do People Say “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”? [Internet]. Wonderopolis.org. 2021. Available from: https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/why-do-people-say-a-stitch-in-time-saves-nine
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