As it is national careers week this week (March 1-March 6 2021) I thought it would be good to have some behind the scenes insights. Many people ask me what a day looks like as an emotional well-being consultant, so here it is:
My days are often different as I wear many hats. It’s funny – with me finishing in the NHS in April, it had me thinking that I have always had more than one job. Since I was 15 I juggled 2 jobs and school then college and this has carried on on all through my life.
At University I had 2 main jobs as well as university work. Then I was part of an agency and worked at events at Silverstone and all sorts! When I lived in London after Uni, I had my main job at Great Ormond Street and then worked in 2 different pubs and continued to work for agencies babysitting and doing events! Now when I think about it I have no idea how I used to do it as well as have a social life!
Since 2008 I have always had a main employed role as well as my company! It will feel very strange just doing ‘1 job’ and I think what will keep me entertained is that I will continue to offer different things to different people.
My days start like many of you with the crazy mum juggle trying to get children out the house. 2 children 2 different locations….! Some days are perfect and others can feel quite stressful! I know for me, I can be triggered if I have to deal with any drama before I’ve had my morning tea! On the whole they are fine but life pre-children I was always tight on time and I feel I am always rushing around!
I always ensure I have a break to take the dog out often for a run/have a workout. I love doing this straight after I have dropped my children off and before I start work as it almost calibrates me into the day. I tend to start my working day (if I can… between 9:15 and 9:45 often at 9:30) with a client.
I tend to have 2-3 clients in the morning then grab 20-30-minute break for lunch and then another 2-3 clients in the afternoon. 2 evenings a week I offer a slot as well. I try and have no more than 5-6 clients in a day but I can have sometimes 7 as they are not full hours.
At the moment my youngest daughter is only 2 ½ so I have her at home on a Monday and Friday. This means that those days I have time with her and then do a bit of paperwork/discovery calls/1 client during her naps. On Friday afternoons after school we have been doing Friday Films where we watch a film, eat chocolate and snuggle under a blanket waiting for my husband to get home from work. In the summer we often do Friday Fun where we try and get out and have fun somewhere.
As a Play Therapist
Sometimes I see children in settings but since 2012 when I moved to my current property I have been predominantly seeing children in my summer house (originally it was not as nice and very simplistic!) It was rebuilt in 2016 and I love it! I started my training in 2006 and have been qualified since 2008.
Children come to me for a number of reasons. I often see children who are struggling with self-esteem, confidence, friendships, anxiety, anger, parental separation, trauma, nightmares/sleep problems, suffered abuse, bereavement, or bullying.
Often when a parent refers we have a chat and I will sometimes contact other agencies such as schools, GP’s and aligned health professionals. The child and parent will come for an initial session and then I block in weekly sessions with the child with a review between 6-8 weeks.
I collect the child from my side gate and we walk to my playroom. Sometimes they like to see my dog and give him a treat during their stay. We will then go into the room and I have a little check in where we will see how the week has been and they often chose to tell me things that are worrying for them. We do this through either talking, drawing, utilising emotional faces, using symbols such as figures. Whatever works for that child – we often end up in a flow and it becomes a ritual.
Then they will utilise the space to play in predominantly a non-directive manner. This means they chose and control the sessions and work at their own pace. I am fully present and reflect back. I have specific tools I use so if I see them doing something or they tell me something I can suggest whether they would like to undertake a creative visualisation, represent what they are feeling in a certain way or just follow their process and help them work things out for themselves. With children who are coming for a specific reason such as a trauma, a bereavement, maybe being looked after by others or parental separation I may structure the session differently and follow a structured protocol such as EMDR/CBT/Life Story/Bereavement work.
I find during the sessions, children will gravitate towards specific things and create their own routines within the room. They may do something for several weeks and then shift into the next thing as they work through and process what they need to.
These sessions can be incredibly draining but also very magical as a therapist when you can see a child work through an experience and visibly change before and after sessions.
I try not to have more than 4 children in a day in this way as I need to make sure I am fully present to hold them in the space. In current times I only have 1 child per day due to the amount of cleaning in between.
I love being able to see the parents after session and if we have discussed a technique we then feed this back for them to try out in between sessions. Due to confidentiality I often don’t share what happens in a session with the parents but we have discussed this before and they leave.
As a therapist for a teenager:
This involves a similar process to that of a child. However, I adapt my toolkit to suit. Some children prefer to talk and we operate more CBT/Solution Focused in our approaches, helping through talking therapies to create the outcomes desired. I never fully do this with children and we often draw/mind map/use sand and Lego to represent what is being discussed. By utilising the creative elements of the toolkit as well we tap into the other side of the brain and often find different solutions.
I love working with teenagers and have spent a lot of my working career with them. I especially love the outspoken teenage girls, who deep down are vulnerable and need nurturing. I also love working with shy children and have worked with children who are elected mutes (choose not to talk). This can be really powerful to physically see them shift and change. I work a lot with children in the looked after care system who often have complex trauma and attachment within their past. I love building the trusting relationship and being the person, they open up to and release a lot of their issues with.
Working with Families:
Often when I work with children it becomes apparent that the issues are more holistic. Often it is helpful to have sessions with the parents because, for example, some parents might have very different expectations of the children which can cause the child to become confused and act out.
Sometimes parents need help with handling difficult behaviours or they just want to talk through difficulties such as sleep and separation anxiety. I offer a lot of different approaches and can sometimes end up with whole families including siblings and grandparents if the need arises. This can create the consistency needed to allow the child to feel safe to shift their behaviours.
Working with adults:
I am really enjoying pivoting into life coaching. I have been supporting adults for many years around trauma and anxiety support. The life coaching now includes helping people with lifestyle routine and especially at the moment career shift. My work with people operates usually on a therapist’s hour. There is some flexibility within this and I always ensure we are at a safe place to close down the sessions. When working with adults I utilise so many different tools and techniques and love watching people physically get the ah-ha moments and the shifts they need to start to make changes. I am always amazed at how dynamics change when this happens.
As well as holding my own caseload of clients, I also love supporting others with their clients. I try and ensure balance in my day so I love having a bit of supervision within my day. This involves other therapists bringing their clients to talk through and we explore what might be going on for them and can use creative parts of the toolkit such as sand and drawing to represent a client/a session to see if anything else comes out. I love this work as it brings so many ah ha moments. I love supporting others with their personal development and can also recommend strategies/different pathways during sessions and explore what happens next time.
Working with organisations:
So, this is a new area in which I have fallen in love with! I started working with organisations by offering trainings to schools around topics such as life story and Lego therapy and supervising staff 1:1. This has evolved massively and since COVID I have been offering support for schools in terms of wellbeing. I offer 2 hour slots every half term – half of these around staff well-being and half looking at complex and challenging children in the schools.
This has evolved and I am now running regular workshops around stress management, routines, self-care, sleep and thought reframing to name a few. I have something lined up working with a local University, a large company who works with allied professionals in the community and the local NHS trust I currently work in supporting the staff around well-being.
So many people are struggling and organisations are now much more aware of this and trying to implement strategies as part of their business strategy. I am also now signed up to a corporate well-being expo in June virtually and next March in-person at the Excel Centre in London. It all feels very exciting and I can feel myself being drawn into this world!
Alongside this I have my app and I am looking at how I can create a full package of support including courses around mindfulness, sleep and thought re-framing. I tested the app a bit last year and am looking at rolling out a sleep programme shortly and a mindfulness one in the summer.
I see this as an exciting extra I am going to be running and will have different levels including a self-help as well as a supported package.
Being Employed: NHS/COUNCIL/PRIVATE SECTOR
What I have always loved about my employed work is the teams I have worked in. Most teams I have worked in have a ‘Team Meeting’ on a Wednesday (predominantly because they have part time workers). We also have space to do reflective practice, supervision and things such as complex case discussions where we can unpick cases with everyone’s input. I love working in multi-disciplinary teams alongside so many different practitioners. It really emphasises to me how everyone has different perspectives and I really value different ideas I can bring into my own work.
On the whole when you work in these roles you are in charge of your own diary. This means you need to be really good at managing time. I learnt this the hard way as I often used to react to things as they happened which meant paperwork and admin would often get left behind! I now time-block my admin to ensure I have time and treat it as protected space much like I would offer that to clients.
I wanted to spend a bit of time talking about social work as it has a bad rep! I was a social worker in different teams for over a decade. I started as a family support worker and spent years saying I would never become a social worker only to realise I was basically doing the same job without the pay grade! I did used to believe the media and feel that social workers would take children away. It was only when working in the system you realise that is the last thing they want to do. In children’s social care set ups, there is a lot of paperwork especially around court processes.
In every team I was part of, the work was around supporting the families to keep children at home. There were a lot of bits that were judgement calls and that was where people differed. I operate on a risk management front and there were others who were very risk adverse.
The people I met and worked with have taught me so much about myself and about how to support people. It was such a rewarding job. I have helped people work through some incredibly risky situations. I have visited people in prison, I have had some interesting sessions with clients which have kept me on my toes and taught me so much about how to manage conflict.
I know when I came into the work I felt very de-skilled and was tasked with doing some parenting and it felt quite overwhelming. I have worked in London as well as in Sussex and I think I am the sort of person who picks up skills and runs with it quickly and never got phased.
The job is definitely not for everyone and the amount of people I saw come and go as you have to have a certain personality to be able to manage crisis, be empathic and also help people move on. You need to be strong without being authoritarian and someone a child and a parent can relate to – a tough balancing act at times.
Similar to my other work it is a very independent role where you predominantly have your own cases, support duty systems and come together as a team. This is what I really like. Slightly different to my private work though it was dealing with a lot more crisis so I would think I had a certain diary for the day but a crisis would come in which needed prioritising and the whole day would change in an instant. I used to thrive on this. NHS work is very similar but seems more contained in some way.
The work was so rewarding especially working at supporting the parent-child relationship. I have worked with some amazing professionals who have taught me so much but also some very challenging times.
Unfortunately, a re-design did not go quite as hoped and the whole culture became very toxic with a blame mentality. It was across the news a few years ago and I was so glad I left when I did as I had been so close to burnout and was starting to feel like I had to be there and was trapped. I have always loved what I did and I was really glad I made the move when I did.
I wouldn’t change my time doing it but definitely feel that type of work is not for me anymore. It has enabled me to obtain a recognised qualification to be able to expand my emotional well-being and mental health pathway and has given me so many useful skills so it was really invaluable.
I originally wanted to be a Psychologist but just couldn’t get in the front door. Basically, now I am doing the same type of work and I just went in a different direction. It just goes to show, there really isn’t just one way of reaching your goals and there are always options and alternatives!