The children referred have presented with a range of emotional and behavioural difficulties. They have also suffered from a multiplicity of experiences, anxiety, suicide ideation , including family separations, domestic violence, bereavement, abuse and / or neglect. Working with these children, we are aware that aspects of their personal identities, such as, ethnicity, refugee status or social deprivation, can impact upon
their experience within the therapeutic relationship, and needs to be
explored as a part of the process.
In the vignettes that follow, although other circumstances may have been a feature
of the engagement, there is a focus on the specific key issues.
Munroe at the age of five years, had been placed on the Child Protection Register under the category of ‘Neglect’. he was referred to our service aged seven, shortly after his birth mother had died in uncertain circumstances. In class M who was considered to be an able child, was easily distracted and would then become disruptive, encouraging others to join him in expressions of rudeness to his teacher, or being provocative in other ways. Also, at times, he was inexplicably fearful & tearful.
There was considerable liaison with his father, who following M’s mother’s death, was extremely concerned as to whether he would be able to settle at all.M was willing and eager to attend regularly. He appreciated the freedom in counselling, to be able to either talk or paint, whatever was uppermost in his mind. He also came to appreciate the reliability of the planned weekly sessions, and the regular boundaries. It was hard for him to understand the ‘expectations’ that can surround bereavement, when for him, aspects of his relationship with his mother had been detrimental to his welfare, both physically and psychically.
He conveyed how confusing this was to him, through his therapeutic play, which often centred around ‘motherless’ characters. As the work progressed, he could begin to appreciate what the concerns about such a ‘loss’ might mean. He also expressed how he felt a great need to be able to achieve a sense of having control in his life. He did this through play with puppets, he described how it felt to be on the receiving end of teachers’ ‘rules & regulations.’ In this way, his profound experience of being vulnerable to the decisions and choices of others, who had not taken his needs into account, came through and could be acknowledged.
“M was better able to participate and engage and could begin to realize his potential”.
The liaison with his dad and school proved immensely helpful. Meetings included M and he was able to experience adults thinking together, with the aim of facilitating his development and well-being. As his therapy progressed, he was able to contribute more clearly about his wishes and his fears and to find words to talk about his memories. Gradually this capacity to be more verbally coherent emerged in the classroom setting as well. M was better able to participate and engage and could begin to realize his potential. At home, his father reported that although unplanned for changes did upset him, the strong outbursts of distress had completely subsided. Therapeutic endings are always planned and this was particularly important for M in order not to replicate earlier incidences of sudden loss M had a term to anticipate and process this experience of separation and transition.
Marlene was referred to our service because of non attendance , self harming and disruptive behaviour in the classroom. She was well-known to the school, which had been trying to work with her family. M’s mother reported domestic violence between herself and M’s dad, and struggled to manage her daughters behaviour. Her father reported concerns about his wife’s mental health. Neither would attend meetings at which the other parent was present, though they both still resided in the family home.
M expressed her relief at having a time, in which she could be creative and express her feelings through images. Drawing in class had often got her into trouble with his teacher.
M attended sessions each week and enjoyed the opportunity to talk, draw, creating graphic images of depicting death, where wild creatures attack unsuspecting people. We spent time together talking about these scenes and she would often enter into this imaginary world, thinking about what was happening to the characters – alternately asking for protection, or being an aggressor.
“She is managing better in class and her learning is much improved”.
As M settled into counselling, her self-harming behaviour has stopped for within the first term . She is managing better in class and her learning is much improved. M writes a home-school diary in which she records positive experiences and achievements.
In therapy she is now using creative medium to explore her emotions, relationships and the consequences of actions – thinking about what is positive and negative. Through her creative work, M has thought deeply about how it feels to be responded to with anger, violence or a betrayal of trust. She is now beginning to explore how different it feels to be caring, responsible and concerned for others.