“For teenagers, online is their natural mode of communication so they are very relaxed and willing to embrace the counselling sessions. The technology itself is really no big deal to them – it is just the norm!”
Fegans Counsellor Amanda Reid talks about the specific mental health challenges teenagers and their families are facing during lockdown, and how the charity has adapted its counselling services to support them.
Fegans is a registered charity which provides qualified counselling and parent support services across London, the South East and Oxfordshire. Before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, all of its BACP*-registered counsellors held their one-to-one sessions in dedicated counselling rooms at their centres and within schools. When the possibility of lockdown first emerged, Fegans quickly realised that face-to-face sessions would no longer be possible. Abruptly ending counselling with clients with whom it had built trusted relationships could be damaging, and in some cases even dangerous. What’s more the huge stresses of lockdown threatened to compound the mental health issues facing so many young people in the UK today, meaning its services would be in even greater demand than before. So Fegans switched its counselling services online using Zoom video conferencing technology.
Fegans counsellor Amanda Reid has now held over 50 online counselling sessions since lock down lockdown and shares her experiences and insights….
What are the common issues that teenagers are facing right now?
I’d say one of the biggest things is stress around schoolwork, with A-level students in particular feeling overwhelmed with the volume of work and worrying about falling behind. Relationships within the family are obviously another area which have come under greater stress in lockdown. Teenagers are also finding it very hard having their freedom taken away and not being able to socialise with their friends. Existing mental health issues such as self-harm or body dysmorphia are being magnified at this time because there are fewer external distractions and teenagers are spending a lot more time on social media where they can access harmful content.
Interestingly there isn’t a lot of anxiety about the virus itself, but we can certainly see the anxiety of the parent coming through the child!
As we come out of lockdown and schools re-open there will be new issues to deal with. Anxiety about adjusting to the new world and our behaviours. Agoraphobia and OCD for example are more likely to present.
How can counselling help?
Put simply they can share how they are feeling, and I listen. Then we work together to help them find their own solutions. I use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to challenge negative cycles of thinking. For example, if someone is struggling mentally and emotionally with the restrictions of lockdown, we look at it from another perspective. We know what they can’t do right now but what about what they can do? And especially what can they do that feels good for them? They can go for a walk for example. Making a connection with nature is very important.
How has your initial experience of online counselling been and how do your clients find it?
I have been really pleased with how it is going, and the teenagers have adapted incredibly well. For them online is their natural mode of communication so they are very relaxed and willing to embrace the sessions. The technology itself is really no big deal to them – it is just the norm!
It is different to face-to-face, but you learn quickly to adapt. For example at first I found I was unintentionally interrupting but you soon get used to the difference in the flow and I allow more time for a client to respond than I would if we were in the same room. In fact, being comfortable in their own homes removes some of their inhibitions, and so some teenagers are actually willing to share more. You really can feel the connection through the screen.
There are the inevitable technical issues – usually to do with interrupted internet connections – so before we start each session, we discuss with the client what we will do if we encounter that. Often it is simply a case of them moving to another room in the house where the signal is stronger.
How does it work?
Online sessions are available for young people in year 7 and above. Clients are referred to me via Fegans who receive them via phone, email or their website. Just as I would before I start a face-to-face counselling session, I begin by talking to the parents first to find out a bit more about the issues – if of course the teenager agrees. We then arrange a regular time and date for the Zoom sessions, agreeing a suitable room or space in their home (ideally not a bedroom) where they will have privacy, and I give them everything they need to set them up. Each session is 50 minutes and the number of sessions is open-ended, although we will review every six weeks.
How much does it cost?
Individual sessions are charged at £48 but trust funded bursaries are available to help those unable to meet the full cost of therapy.
Is it safe?
Fegans carefully researched the available technology and selected Zoom because it offered encrypted communications, GDPR compliance and complete privacy, and no conversation logs or recordings can be kept. We use secure settings for all of our Zoom meetings and receive very robust training with regular updates from our IT support team. We also had access to a free Open University course via the BACP.
All Fegans counsellors continue to have access to robust safeguarding advice and guidance. Measures have also been put in place where required, to ensure that children, parents and staff are safeguarded and that the welfare and wellbeing of children accessing our services continues to be our paramount concern. If any concerns are raised during sessions that a child may be at risk, then appropriate action will be taken in line with our safeguarding duties and responsibilities.
Do you see a role for online counselling in a future where traditional face-to-face counselling is able to resume?
Absolutely. I see that face-to-face and remote counselling will co-exist to the benefit of both the client and the counsellor. For those who struggle with anxiety, remote counselling in their own homes can be a less stressful experience. It is totally down to the individual and what works best for them.
All of the clients I have seen in lockdown are new, so online counselling is a great way to reach a wider audience.
What advice would you give to a parent who is worried about their teenager?
It is really important to have open conversations with your teenager at this time and ask them what they are worried about. Keep the lines of communication open and look for opportunities to talk when they are relaxed. Be aware of their peer groups and where they are accessing their information. Ensure you provide them with accurate information based on facts – but don’t watch the news all the time.
You can also get excellent free advice from the Digital Family Hub on the Fegans website which contains articles written by Fegans therapists and parent support workers. www.fegans.org.uk/family-hub
To make an enquiry about online counselling click here
*British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
About Fegans: Approaching its 150th year anniversary, Fegans is a Christian charity that has continually delivered care to children and families according to the needs of each succeeding generation. Today, we counsel children and provide parent support, intervention and training. Combining these disciplines gives Fegans the opportunity to work with families holistically… counselling the child, supporting the parent.