Today, I’m kicking off a new series of blog posts entitled “The Therapy Diaries.” Pretty much what it says on the tin. I recently read a book called My Shit Therapist and Other Mental Health Stories by Michelle Thomas, which is an incredibly honest and relatable account of living with mental illness. I’ll be posting my full review of this in my next book review post, but I’ll say that this is one of my favourite mental health reads. Focusing on Thomas’ own experience of living with depression, as well as those of other people from different walks of life, My Shit Therapist looks at how you can navigate life with a mental illness without the bullshit. This book is what inspired me to start my Therapy Diaries series.
Disclaimer: There are no affiliate links in this post. Any book recommendations are based on my own opinions and I have not been compensated in any way.
You may be surprised to know that I’ve had A LOT of therapy. Or you might not. Since the age of probably around 14 or so, I’ve had some form of help for my mental health, and this has been in various forms. Enough of which to come up with a full series anyway. From CBT for my OCD to endless streams of treatment for emetophobia, there’s been plenty to focus on. So, every couple of weeks or so, I’ll be looking back over a specific therapy I’ve had during my life, what it entailed, the positives, the negatives, and anything else that springs to mind. To kick things off, I’m starting with my very first “therapy” experience – school counselling.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional in any way, so any recommendations are based on my own personal experiences. If you are concerned about yours or a loved one’s mental health you should seek support from the links below. I will include links to further information at the end of this post should you wish to find out more about each type of therapy, but please bear in mind that this post is based on my own experience so will more likely differ from everyone else’s. In addition, I’m looking back over the last 10+ years in some cases, so some procedures mentioned may be different to what they are now.
I was referred to the school counselling service when I was around 14 or 15, and this was mainly down to some major issues we were having with our next door neighbours. I won’t go into it too much but my Mum and I lived next to some real assholes (to put it politely) who made our lives a misery – I’m talking threats, loud music, general taunting, you name it. It was getting to the point where it was causing me enough distress for it to affect my school work, so next thing I knew I was sat in the counsellor’s office.
The school counsellor I believe was also a teacher, but given that I wasn’t in any of her classes, I found it very easy to talk to her, and she was lovely. Not only did we discuss my anxiety as a result of my dickhead neighbours, but my emetophobia was also a pretty big focus too.
These would be weekly sessions (during lessons, result) and you would be delivered a little coloured slip from the office a few days before with your appointment on, and on the day you’d be able to skip your lesson for a session that was just under an hour.
What Does It Involve?
The British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) defines school based counselling as “offering troubled/distressed children and young people opportunities to understand and explore their difficulties, within a relationship of agreed confidentiality.” A survey among teachers suggested that around 62% of schools in the UK offer counselling to their pupils.
School counselling for me didn’t have any particular structure. 90% of the time it was just talking, which, if anything was really helpful. We talked through a whole load of things – the problems with our asshole neighbours, my emetophobia, bullying, confidence issues. Pretty much everything that was bothering me at the time. Although 15 year old me had some real priorities – I genuinely remember telling her I was severely worried about a writers’ strike in America at the time, because I was worried it would stop production of Scrubs and Desperate Housewives. Fucking idiot. Note to my 15 year old self – maybe focus on your confidence issues and the emetophobia over your obsession with US TV shows.
At the time I was also experiencing bullying from a number of – let’s call them fucking bellends – at school. Or maybe we’ll refer to them as the Plastics. One of which was making disgusting comments about me in maths and generally making my life hell, the other was a group of girls who just loved taking the piss out of the fact I couldn’t catch a ball during rounders. “Catch the ball, you fucking midget!” is a personal highlight of many a P.E. session. In fact, it got to the point where my counselling sessions were scheduled for during P.E. – while the bullying was eventually dealt with, in the short term, taking me out of the lessons was much easier than facing those absolute bitches.
While there didn’t seem to be many exercises or techniques used, one that I distinctly remember was the ‘empty chair’ technique, which is a technique where you express your feelings towards a specific person as if they were there in front of you. It’s often used in grief counselling, dealing with past trauma and individual counselling for couples. In my case, it was towards a person who I had – and still have – some unresolved emotional issues with. Although, I didn’t get very far – I started it and decided I felt too stupid so refused to go any further. Yes, only I would get embarrassed in the presence of a counsellor who is trained to be non-judgemental. Gold star for me.
It’s weird, but I don’t quite remember how it ended. I think there soon started to be an overlap with GCSEs, along with a bit of absence from the school counsellor herself. I’m not entirely sure what was going on, but I remember one or two sessions being cancelled, and then after that nothing else really happened. It was a shame, while I don’t feel as though I made progress, having an hour each week to just talk about what was upsetting me was something that I looked forward to and it was definitely quite cathartic.
- There didn’t seem to be much of a waiting list, and I was given an appointment fairly quickly.
- It gave you a very good opportunity to just talk about your problems, and of course anything that was going on within school could be dealt with further if necessary.
- It got you out of lessons – not necessarily a good point for some if you end up missing out on essential lessons, but if you’re regularly getting bullied by the Plastics during P.E, missing out on it is definitely not a bad thing.
- Free – no NHS waiting lists but no expensive fees per session.
- Relatively discreet – the coloured slip was usually just passed to you by whoever was working on office duty and no more was said about it.
- While the colourful slip was discreet to most, anyone else under the counselling service would immediately know what it was for. In a way it felt as though there was a bit of solidarity, but it wasn’t great if you really wanted to keep things quiet.
- There didn’t seem to be much of a structure to the sessions, it was pretty much just talking.
- The school counsellor had a number of absences towards the end so it was very difficult to get a session.
Overall, my experience with school counselling was a pretty good one. Of course I can’t speak for every single school counselling service, and this was years ago anyway, but I think having a service like this in place in schools is a highly valuable one.
Have you ever had experience with your school counselling service? Let me know in the comments!
Additional Support and Information
The following contact details are based within the UK. If you live outside of the UK and need mental health support, CALM has a list of international organisations that you can get in touch with.
Mental health support and information. Use this page if you are in need of urgent help.
Free, confidential mental health support available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call from the UK for free on 116 123.
Free, confidential support from trained counsellors for anyone under the age of 19. Call from the UK for free on 0800 1111.
Free and confidential crisis support available 7 days a week, from 5pm till midnight. Call from the UK on 0800 58 58 58 or use the free webchat.