My name is Fiona Hutchings and I am an Associate Therapist at The Apple Tree Centre. I’ve offered to write some reflections on my experience of the Creative Counselling for Young People Certificate training last year because I found this course both challenging and really rewarding. I would like to begin by assuring the reader that this is an objective piece of writing and in no way swayed by the fact that I work alongside the course facilitators.
I have worked with young people both as a counsellor and in social support settings since 2002 and I completed my placement as a trainee counsellor with the University of Sheffield. I initially trained in the Person-Centred model and I’ve always tried to be open to working in whatever way makes it easiest for my client to communicate their experiences and feelings. This means that alongside talking therapy in sessions I’ve previously undertaken and used additional training around use of images, image making, writing and music in therapy. I’ve also enjoyed training and peer discussions around narrative and metaphor, incorporating characters from games, books, TV and film, all of which has helped me connect with clients who felt concerned about being judged for their interests. But deep down, I knew that I struggled with the concept of ‘playing’ in therapy.
A few weeks ago I went to hear Shami Chakrabarti speak. She was funny, wise, humble and fallible, so when an audience member asked her: “What is the meaning of life?” – I sat forward in my seat, hoping that she would provide an insightful answer. And she did. She said:
The last year has been an increasingly busy one at the Apple Tree Centre. As we expand our range of work, our team of therapists, and our client caseload, we are learning all the time about what parents need from us as an organisation, and what our therapists need to feel comfortable and confident in the work that they do.
As Non-Directive Play Therapists, we have always emphasised the role of parents in the therapeutic process, and the importance of a trusting relationship – a ‘therapeutic alliance’ – between therapist and parents. We endeavour to make parents and carers feel comfortable and welcome in the waiting room, and sometimes inside the therapy room itself; and we encourage them to attend regular progress reviews, where they can discuss the progress their child is making, the questions they have about the process of therapy or about managing their child’s behaviour, and make sure that the therapist and parents still have the same hopes, are working towards the same goals.
We have passed the half-way point in this term’s Child-Parent Relationship Therapy course. Our group of parents has been learning to spend half an hour every week in ‘special play time’, following their children’s lead and commenting on what they see.
A lot of our focus has been on reflecting the feelings which children express through and around their play.
Rosie and I recently attended the annual BAPT conference, which always brings me a wave of oxygen as I sit in a room of people who have the same training, the same professional ethos, the same experiences as me, and I know that for two days, I won’t need to explain the basis of my work or justify my approach. I attended training through Pink Therapy, where we discussed the intense sense of isolation often experienced by young people with gender dysphoria and the role of the internet and social media in lessening this isolation – as well as the risks which that brings. And now we are in the middle of festival season, when many people gather with their communities, find their ‘spiritual home’, and experience parts of themselves which they are often unable to express in their day-to-day lives.
A few weeks ago we held our first anniversary open evening at The Apple Tree Centre. As part of this event we had to think about all the work we have done over the past year. We had to break it down into specifics: numbers of families supported, professionals trained, parents taught in our group programme, children and young people supported through individual therapy as well as how many connections we had made, the time, thought and research we had put into our monitoring and evaluation measures and so on and so on and ….
It has been a year since we launched The Apple Tree Centre. Last week we opened our doors (& bottles of Prosecco) to fellow therapists, health practitioners and interested professionals to show them round our therapy centre, share our work from the past twelve months and invite them to be part of our plans and hopes for the future.
In this video we talk to those guests about the children and young people we have supported, the parents we have helped and trained to have better relationships with their children and the professionals and students we have taught in our varied and creative CPD workshops. We explain our plans to evaluate our services, including research into the effectiveness of Child Parent Relationship Therapy. We present our plans for CPD workshops over the next year and encourage our guests to share ideas with us for collaborative working and to help us spread the word about The Apple Tree Centre.
We have recently recruited lots of new of counsellors and therapists to join our team – we’re gradually adding their details to our Associate Therapists page!
During this process, we learned some important things about how we see ourselves as an organisation and what we value in other therapists. We had a set of official recruitment criteria, to ensure that we provide a safe and robust service and that we cater to the diverse needs of our clients. We also discovered that the the successful applicants, the therapists who will be part of the Apple Tree Centre, shared some less tangible qualities which we had not known we were looking for, but which are essential to the relationships we want to have with our clients, their families, and the local community.
Yesterday’s workshop, “Using Puppets in Therapy”, was fully booked. I surrendered my own place, and was here in the capacity of receptionist and administrator.
I came back from the post office to find a hushed silence, the occasional murmur drifting down the stairs. Then a door opened, a flurry of footsteps, and a collective gasp of delight as the puppets were revealed for the first time.
At this time of year, we are bombarded with guides to “surviving Christmas”, ranging from beauty tips to gift guides. To contribute further to this mass of advice, we would like to offer parents our top five tips for enjoying – or at least enduring – the festive period with your children.