Counselling - could it unlock a brighter future for your child?
Unless you have first-hand experience of living with a troubled child or young person, it can be hard to realise how many countywide are struggling with issues which are disrupting their schooling, destroying friendships, causing them to ditch university or give-up on their first job.
Parents and carers might not immediately spot a problem, but there are tell-tale signs and identifying them early-on is vital. But, even if you are feeling there is no support out there, you are not alone. Help is at hand – and families can access it directly or be referred by a professional worker.
We’re referring to counselling or “the talking treatment” – although in reality it is as much about listening. Whatever term you use, it is proving to be a real lifeline for so many families, when it comes to getting a child or young person to open-up about their problems, so that they can be helped to turn things around.
Naomi Watkins is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Naomi Watkins’ Counselling Hub CIC (NWCH) in Lincoln.
Since it started offering its services to children, teenagers, single adults, couples and families 18 months ago, it has received more than 600 referrals.
Amazingly, more than half of those have involved children and young people between the ages of four and 25-years-old.
“Things which might alert a parent or carer are noticeable changes in a child or young person’s behaviour. Typically, some will become quiet and withdrawn and reticent about engaging in activities or talking to people,” said Naomi.
“Others will do the opposite, and start acting out their frustrations, have difficulty in dealing with their emotions and maybe become hyperactive or act out.
“This may be due to anger management issues, feeling they don’t fit in, the fact that they have been bullied or sexually-abused. Children and young people do also suffer from anxiety and depression and they may well have thoughts of suicide.”
Naomi said that problems can arise irrespective of family size or dynamics and they need to be taken seriously.
“Those struggling can come from any background and any type of family. They may be the only child, part of a big family, fostered or adopted and looked after by one or both parents or have divorced parents.”
Health issues, such as when a child or parent develops cancer, will affect the whole family. It is just one occasion when counselling children can have a positive knock-on effect for everyone.
“When we have a case where a parent gets cancer, we work with organisations like Scunthorpe-based Team Verrico and with Lincoln-based Sophie’s Journey, if the child is ill, and we bring the whole family on board to work through everyone’s emotions and worries,” said Naomi.
Whatever the issue, children, young people and adults, can self-refer themselves to NWCH or may be referred by anyone from a social worker to a GP, Macmillan Nurses, a drug and alcohol service or other medical or education professional.
“When someone contacts us, the first contact they have is with our Office Manager Sally Watkins. She completes an assessment, by telephone or in person if they have visited the Hub. It’s important to discover the nature of the problem and to match the young person with the right counsellor for their needs.
“This will vary because some will have eating disorders, special educational needs or be struggling to come to terms with a bereavement, there are so many different issues.
“When they first visit us, which may be with a parent, parents or social worker, they wait in our reception while the child accompanies our counsellor. They go into one of our especially decorated rooms. We have two for children aged four to 11-years old and a young persons’ room for teenagers and another three for adults.
“The priority for any counselling organisation is to make sure that the child or young person feels safe and relaxed. That’s why the rooms for younger people are filled with toys and games. We often use the toys to ask the children questions. Often our pet therapy dogs help to calm the children. We have also been careful to make the young person’s rooms gender neutral and non-clinical,” said Naomi.
“When we are dealing with a case involving sexual abuse, we find that some youngsters want to share their experiences but others don’t. We tend to focus on life in general and how their experience has impacted their life – we don’t go over the actual abuse itself. We are very careful, a court case may be in progress, and we adhere to the CPS guidelines.”
Whenever anyone goes for counselling two of their first questions are – how long will it take? and how much will my counselling cost?
“In our case we start by setting-up a minimum of twelve sessions, but we review an individual’s progress every six sessions,” said Naomi.
“Thanks to our success in winning funding from The Bromhead Medical Trust and The National Lottery we are delighted to say that, in many cases, we are able to offer free counselling to children and young people through our Acorn and Snowdrop projects,” added Naomi.
“We know counselling works and, at NWCH, we are thrilled to be able to say that we are saving lives. It is so rewarding to be able to turn around young lives, give children and young people fresh hope and help them to build great friendships for the future. Just seeing a child making eye contact again and starting to smile again is fantastic.”