Today was a snow day. The weather had turned, the schools were shut, it was impossible to get cars moving out of the side roads, and so I reluctantly had to accept that I would not be attending college on this day. To be truthful, to have an enforced day of rest was probably a bit of a blessing. I was quite exhausted, having spent a busy week getting my new counselling placement organised.
I am very pleased to say that I have committed to working two days a week at a Young Person’s hostel – assisting clients aged between 16 and 25 by providing them with accommodation, and expecting them to participate with the helping services provided within the building, of which there all sorts of activities and support available – counselling being one of them. These kids present with many different situations; there are young mothers living there, ex-offenders, drug users, orphans, victims of dysfunctional families and abuse, mental illnesses and learning disabilities, to name a few of the obstacles up against these clients. I think the only assumption it would be fair to make about the work will be that no two days will ever be the same!
On my initial meeting with the service manager , I was immediately grabbed by the challenge of the work, and very pleasantly surprised at how well we seemed to ‘click’ and understand what our task together was going to be in this capacity. I suppose you could say, we straightaway realised that we were reading from the same page! He is also a trained counsellor, and firmly believes that the key to success in the work of the hostel is by dealing with the mental health of the clients – the trouble that he has had in the past, though, when trying to provide counselling services, is that of engaging the client. He currently has two other counsellors working there, also on placements, who are working to a traditional counselling model – one of pre-agreed contracts, firm boundaries regarding venues, times of sessions and durations, and both have reported back with frustrations about the clients not sticking to the contracted arrangements; taking mobile phones into sessions, arriving late – if at all, not engaging with process generally. Carl Rogers stated that in order for any counselling to be successful the client must be in psychological contact with the therapist; put simply, these clients are not!
T (the manager) and I discussed how we felt the service needed an ‘in-between counselling service’; one where the clients could be gently acclimatised to the process involved. With these clients, some have never experienced any real kind of boundaries in their lives so far, for one reason or another – they kick against rules purposely and instinctively. For most of them this is their first home of their own, and they are testing out what that freedom means to them; many don’t get out of bed till late, many struggle with working or attending college, with paying their bills, and the day to day drama that being any adolescent involves, let alone a traumatised adolescent (which of course, most of these clients are – how they came to be living at the hostel).
Ellen Noonan’s book ‘counselling young people’ (Routledge, London) which, although drawing heavily on the ideas of Klein and Winnicott, also puts forward the idea that adolescence can be seen as a period of mourning – an extended grief, made more complicated by fluctuating hormone levels and the fact that there seems to be nothing tangible on which to base the focus of the feeling of loss. Even in a non- traumatised young person (and the people surrounding), there is a natural denial (the 1st stage of grief, in the Kubler-Ross model, as we all know) that the end of childhood is something to be mourned. Anger, bargaining, and depression are common reactions to be seen in young people as they go through this; they are forced into change and growth, often against their will, and the lack of control they experience will often push them into a mind-set and behaviour that appears confusing and unfathomable to those around them, often leading to even more problems than they began with.
If you consider this myriad of trauma which presents to every teenager, even those with the most ‘normal’ and ‘understanding’ of upbringings – consider how very hard it must be to be facing this when coming from a ‘dysfunctional’ background; coming out of care, being kicked out of the family home because Mum has a new boyfriend (horrific I know, but it happens), perhaps a strict religious family that can’t cope with the teen’s newly discovered homosexuality, or as already mentioned – drug abuse, alcoholism, the list goes on and on… These kids really, really need the psychological support that counselling can offer them – sometimes the ones that can’t stick to the terms of the counselling agreement are the ones that may even need it the most – and my discussion with T was about how the service needs to be made more flexible, in order to give these kids a chance to make use of it.
We agreed on a strategy, which is perhaps a little unorthodox, in terms of the traditional counselling placement, where I will set up a new ‘drop in’ counselling service; a clinic type operation, advertising my availability between certain hours on certain days, and inviting clients to book time with me as and when they feel they are in need and/or able to attend. In order to promote this service, and really let the clients know what counselling is for, and about, I will try to get to know the clients a little better; perhaps knocking on their flat doors and introducing myself, asking questions where I try to ascertain what kind of counselling service would suit them – would they like me to come to them? Does the thought of a whole hour seem daunting? Is the idea of sitting in a room with ‘what is essentially a stranger’ to begin with seem frightening? How can I bridge the gap between these kid’s lives and the traditional counselling format? Once I have feedback, T and I can design a counselling service that serves the clients more effectively.
Exciting? Hell yeah! I was itching to get cracking straightaway, and did so, with amazing results almost immediately! I can’t express how happy I am with how the placement is working out; the clients are fabulous, the rest of the staff support team are fabulous too, and I feel completely at home there already; totally valued, totally respected and a real sense of validation from the work that I have done there already. There have been learning curves (don’t expect too much in the way of non-pre-arranged client contact before midday – they are all still in bed!) But overall, the response to the service I am offering has been positive, and in only a few weeks of being there I have already completed many valuable counselling hours.
So as you can see, although the Monday college session was missed this week, there has still been lots and lots of hard work going on – and so much learning, and joy gained from this learning, too! The pleasure of being taken out of my own head, and into someone else’s for a few hours during the day, has been phenomenal! I have loved the work, really REALLY, loved it; Affirmation that despite all of doubts in my own abilities, I think I have made the right choice in this path. I really do.