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Supporting young minds: The Matthew Hackney Foundation's impact

At The Matthew Hackney Foundation, our wonderful counsellors send us reports on their counselling experiences in the schools that they work with. They do this so that we can get a better understanding of the work that our counsellors are doing, as well as the children that we are helping. Of course, everything is confidential, and we do not know the names/identities of the children. However, we do get a short background story of why they are partaking in counselling, what type of counselling has benefited them, and how they are getting since starting their sessions.

Our lovely counsellor Gemma recently sent us a report on two children who she worked with in a local school. She speaks of these two children who she worked with for a period of 10 weeks. The first child presented anger within the classroom and home, as well as struggling with friendships. The second child is expressing anxious tendencies due to issues at home.

When a child undertakes counselling, the counsellor must take a very different approach to that of an adult who requires counselling. Speaking from first hand experience, the counselling I had when I was younger was very gentle and it required less understanding of emotion or feeling. I was never asked, ‘why do I feel this?’ explicitly or ‘how does your feelings impact your day to day life?’. Instead, you come to find that the adult in your life does all the talking for you, before you even step into the room. They already know what you are dealing with, which benefits the child. They can take their time to ease themselves into the counselling environment and befriend the counsellor before opening up to them. It’s hard for children to express their emotions fully, and usually that results in anger (as we see in child 1 or anxiety, which we see in child 2).

Child counselling evolves around breaking down these defence mechanisms (because children are stronger than you know. You may think ‘that is just what they are like’, but usually there is something going on behind closed doors). For me, I was a shy child. I was anxious, sometimes angry, and very closed off. Although counselling didn’t work out for me, whether that was the counselling itself or the child that I was, it did help me understand my pain and why I was feeling the way I felt.

Gemma states in her report that she used the ‘Anger Iceberg’ model with child 1 (see below).

As I have said before, the anger that the child felt is ultimately triggered by other emotions and other happenings in this child’s life. Models like these help the child the visualise what they are feeling, rather than asking them outright (they might not want to tell the counsellor explicitly – much like I didn’t). These models make it simple for the child, not that children need simplicity, but it is easier for them to understand their emotions. At the end of Gemma’s sessions with this child, they told Gemma that ‘I like talking to you’ and that ‘it gets me out of class’.

When working with child 2, Gemma introduced game play and third person talking. Due to the child’s anxiety surrounding their home life, Gemma also introduced grounding techniques to help the child with panic attacks and gave them a set of coping skills to use when their home life is getting too much for the child. Gemma and the child built a therapeutic relationship of trust, patience, empathy, kindness, and compassion. This helped the child to understand that adults can be safe and that it’s okay to talk to people about their worries and help and support.

As I stated previously, counselling children requires a kind and gentle approach and Gemma has done an amazing job helping these children open up and come to terms with how they are feeling.

World Mental Health Day has just passed us, and the importance of The Matthew Hackney Foundation and the work that we do has become increasingly important in today’s climate. Recently there has been a massive increase in cases of children needing counselling without the means of accessing it.

As stated on the ITV website (ITV’s Britain Get Talking returns ahead of World Mental Health Day, with its most important act yet: calling on schools and parents across the UK to set a homework task like no other – ITV plc), mental health has decline in school children by 40%. That’s nearly half of school children who are suffering in schools today. In an attempt to combat this decline, schools have set a ‘homework’ task that ‘encourages young people to have a proper chat with an adult they trust about the hardest subject on their minds’. This is a good start and ITV have made a clear statement that something needs to be done about children’s mental health. However, as stated previously, not all children have access to a safe home environment and adults that they trust.

Counselling is not always the answer, but it definitely helps children to open up in a safe environment with adults (who they don’t know on the outside world, but are kind and friendly) and talk about their worries. I credit ITV for exposing such an important topic, but while it sheds a light on the decline of children’s mental health, it also illustrates that not all children have to facilities to discuss their worries at home. The Matthew Hackney Foundation strives to give children a safe space to talk.

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