Article by Emma Steadman
Mental health in schools is a priority
It is really important to lay the foundations of a good relationship at the beginning, so give time to contracting with the school leaders. Many of the places you work may not have had counsellors at the school or may not have thought about the important of mental health in schools. They may therefore need some help exploring what mental health and wellbeing provision for children means in practice.
Everything develops from relationship
So, take time to get to know key people. That can mean school teachers, headteachers, SEN, deputy heads, heads of years, or reception staff (they can make your life much easier!)
Be a bit picky about which school/s you will work with
Basically, it’s worth investing effort in a school that is willing to hear what is needed. It won’t be perfect and there will be teething problems but assess the openness to a therapeutic approach by how they relate to you being there. Going into the reception area and seeing how you and other adults are responded to will tell you a lot about the ethos of the school.
Avoid under-selling yourself
Aim for a balance of being fairly paid for your role whilst not out-pricing yourself. Of course, schools don’t have large budgets. However, they should pay you a reasonable amount for your skills, responsibility and experience. You are not helping by under-charging, as provision gets undercut and poorly managed at times. I would expect to be paid more than the minimum wage after tax for example.
Be clear about what the school needs to be aware of
Be flexible where you can and hold onto the baseline where needed. Good head teachers who understand the important of mental health issues in schools and want a therapeutic focus will listen to you as an expert in your field and take on board your suggestions. You need to be diplomatic, but staff should be open to hearing what they need to bear in mind and willing to find a way that works for both sides. Improving mental health in schools helps students and staff alike.
Hold onto your own power
Be assertive and clear in communication. It can be intimidating going into a school, even as an adult. Teachers can hold an air of authority. Remember you are an adult professional and even though fellow professionals might not understand your framework, it is as valid as theirs. Over time, you can help them expand their thinking by re-framing your conversations.
Know your ethical framework
You can use the ethical frameworks and supervision to help you think about scenarios that are thrown at you. You can draw on other professionals’ knowledge and experience. Remember to use the BACP or UKCP frameworks as they are designed to support you. Teachers understand regulatory bodies and should respect your need to stick to yours.
As much as it is tempting to slip in and out of the school, try not to do it. Basically, keeping in touch with staff makes your life easier. It develops a sense of relationship, gives you contextual information and therefore provides a basis for supporting the system around the child or young person. Your supervisor can also help with the boundaries of this.
Ideally have short, creative workshops for all school staff every year, including lunchtime staff
Non-teaching staff are often key to supporting children and young people who can really struggle at those less structured times. School staff need support as they too are often under a lot of stress. They may also have their own mental health problems. You can find lots of useful resources online, which you can use to give information about mental health in schools, including depression, self-harm and eating disorders. The charity Young Minds is a good place to start. The Department for Education website also has useful health services and resources.
Give time in supervision to think about how you are developing your service / contract in the school.
You can rely on your supervisor, who has probably worked in schools and is aware of the NHS mental health provision e.g. CAMHS in the local area. Therefore, draw on their knowledge,
It takes time however to re-work neural pathways to shift ways of thinking. You can over time encourage flexibility in the school systems in order to improve mental health provision in schools. You can often be a tremendous source of change and support for children and staff. Young people’s mental health is everyone’s top priority.
Most importantly, maintain a sense of humour and keep learning/adapting from experiences!
Emma Steadman is an experienced counsellor and supervisor who has worked in school environments for many years. She will be running an Introduction to Working in Schools day for counsellors and other therapists who are new to school work or who want a fresher. She will mainly be concentrating on the skills needed to contract, set proper boundaries and create a safe holding space for your clients and yourself.
The course will therefore run on a regular basis in Colchester, Essex. For future dates and more details contact Emma directly on firstname.lastname@example.org