Counselling for children and young people is a critical yet nuanced field. It is a realm that requires professional training and an inherent blend of empathy, adaptability, and innovation. 

We recently invited Emma Bronze to chat on The Healthy Practice podcast from WriteUpp. A Child and Adolescent Integrative Psychotherapist and Founder of Heart to Heart Child Therapy, Emma provided valuable insights to enhance your practice and, ultimately, transform young lives. 

For those of you who are therapists, counsellors, or mental health advocates based in the UK, this episode serves as a compass to navigate this vital terrain. It takes more than a thorough understanding of theories or mastery of techniques to make a real impact. It calls for a deep, enduring connection with young minds, a grasp of their unique challenges, and the ability to apply our knowledge in a manner that respects their individuality.

Listen to the conversation here:

Understanding the Needs of Children and Young People

As children navigate the challenges of growing up, they often encounter various emotional and psychological issues requiring professional intervention. Therefore, it is important to understand the unique needs of children and young people when providing counselling services.

One of the critical aspects of counselling for children and young people is creating a safe and non-judgmental space where they can express their thoughts and feelings freely. This allows them to explore their emotions and experiences without fear of criticism or rejection. 

Emotional Needs

Emotional needs are integral to human development and well-being, particularly for children and young people. Like physical needs, such as food and shelter, emotional needs should be recognised and addressed to ensure healthy growth and resilience.

Children and young people have various emotional needs that must be fulfilled for their well-being. These include: 

  • love
  • acceptance
  • understanding
  • validation
  • belonging

When these needs are met, children and young people develop a strong sense of self-worth, emotional resilience, and the ability to navigate life’s challenges.

Meeting these needs can be achieved through active listening, offering empathy, and providing a safe space for open communication. Creating an environment that acknowledges and validates their emotions enables them to express their thoughts, worries, and fears freely.

Social Needs

Social needs are fundamental to our well-being and happiness. They encompass the desire for connection, belonging, and positive relationships with others. Social needs include friendship, companionship, and a sense of community. These needs are not limited to a specific age group but are particularly crucial during childhood and adolescence, as this is when we are forming social identities and learning how to navigate relationships.

Children and young people thrive when they have opportunities to interact with their peers, family members, and mentors. Positive social interactions play a vital role in their development as they learn essential skills such as empathy, cooperation, and conflict resolution. Through socialising, children and young people also gain a sense of belonging, acceptance, and validation, which is essential for their self-esteem and overall well-being.

Developmental Needs

Developmental needs refer to the various aspects of a child’s growth and well-being that require attention and support. These needs encompass physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development and are crucial in shaping the individual’s overall development and future outcomes.

Common Types of Talking Therapies for Children

Talking therapies, also known as counselling or psychotherapy, are widely used to support individuals, including children and young people, in exploring their feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. These therapeutic approaches provide a safe and confidential space for individuals to address their mental health concerns and work towards positive change. Here are some common types of talking therapies:

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a widely practised therapy that identifies and challenges negative thought patterns and behaviours. It aims to help individuals develop skills to overcome their challenges by changing their thoughts and behaviours. CBT is often effective in addressing anxiety, depression, and phobias.

2. Person-Centred Therapy is a client-centred approach emphasising empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness. This therapy focuses on creating a non-judgmental, supportive environment where individuals can explore their feelings and develop self-awareness and self-acceptance.

3. Family therapy involves working with the entire family to address conflicts, improve communication, and strengthen relationships. It recognises that family dynamics play a significant role in individual well-being and aims to enhance understanding and cooperation among family members.

4. Play Therapy is often used with children to express and explore their emotions and experiences through play. It provides a safe and non-threatening environment where children can communicate and work through their difficulties with the guidance of a trained therapist.

5. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a goal-oriented therapy that focuses on identifying and building on an individual’s strengths and resources. It helps individuals envision solutions to problems and develop practical strategies to achieve their goals.

These are just a few examples of the many talking therapies available. It’s important to remember that therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach and different therapeutic modalities may work better for different individuals. 

Addressing Challenges and Overcoming Barriers

Counselling for children is a vital service that provides support, guidance, and intervention for individuals facing various mental health concerns and emotional struggles. However, some challenges and barriers need to be addressed to ensure the effective delivery of these services and to maximise their impact on the well-being of children and young people.

Dealing with Resistance or Reluctance

No matter how much they may need support and guidance, it’s not uncommon for children or young people to exhibit resistance or reluctance towards participating in counselling sessions. Counsellors must approach this challenge with understanding, empathy, and patience.

Fear and uncertainty are the main reasons for resistance or reluctance. Children may be unsure what to expect from counselling or have negative preconceived notions about the process. Counsellors need to address these concerns and explain the purpose and benefits of counselling in a child-friendly and age-appropriate manner.

By understanding their fears and concerns, involving them in the decision-making process, creating a safe and supportive environment, and building a strong therapeutic alliance, counsellors can effectively overcome these barriers and help children and young people achieve positive outcomes in counselling.

Building connections with shy or introverted children

Building connections with shy or introverted children requires a sensitive and understanding approach. Creating a safe and non-threatening environment, allowing ample time for them to warm up, active listening, incorporating creativity, tailoring the approach, and building trust are all important strategies. By doing this, counsellors can effectively engage with shy or introverted children, helping them feel valued, heard, and supported in the counselling process.

How to Become a Qualified Counsellor for Children in the UK

In the UK, becoming a qualified counsellor for children and young people requires meeting specific eligibility criteria. These criteria ensure professionals have the qualifications and skills to provide effective and ethical counselling services.

One of the key eligibility requirements is completing accredited counselling courses. These courses provide individuals with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed for working with young clients. Degrees in counselling, psychology, or social work can serve as a foundation, along with specialised training in counselling children and young people. By completing these courses, aspiring counsellors gain an in-depth understanding of child development, mental health concerns, and therapeutic approaches specific to this population.

You’ll also need to gain relevant experience in the field. This includes completing placement experiences or internships in settings that cater to children and young people, such as schools, mental health charities, or specialised counselling centres. 

UK Accreditation Standards

Accreditation standards play a crucial role in ensuring service quality and effectiveness. In the United Kingdom, accreditation standards are set by professional bodies like the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the National Counselling and Psychotherapy Society (NCPS), and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). These accreditation standards serve as a benchmark for counsellors to meet in order to practice ethically and effectively.

By completing accredited counselling courses, gaining practical experience, adhering to an ethical framework, and engaging in ongoing professional development, counsellors can ensure they are well-equipped to provide effective and ethical services to children and young people. These accreditation standards benefit the counsellors themselves and contribute to the overall well-being and mental health of the younger generations in the UK.

The Role of Technology in Connecting with Children and Young People in Counselling Sessions

Integrating technology into counselling can create a more engaging and accessible client experience.

One way technology can facilitate connection is through online counselling sessions. With the convenience of video conferencing platforms, counsellors can reach children and young people who may have difficulty accessing traditional face-to-face sessions. Online counselling sessions allow for the same level of professionalism and confidentiality as in-person sessions, providing a safe space for clients to express themselves.

Technology also offers a range of creative therapy options that can be particularly effective for engaging children and young people. Art therapy, for example, can be facilitated through virtual platforms, allowing clients to express their emotions and experiences through drawings, paintings, or other visual art forms. 

Another way technology enhances the counselling experience is through safe and secure apps and online communities. These platforms allow children and young people to connect with others experiencing similar challenges. It offers a sense of support and community, reducing feelings of isolation and promoting emotional well-being. Mobile apps and online communities can also provide access to resources, self-help tools, and educational materials, empowering clients to participate in their mental health journey actively.

Privacy and confidentiality must be carefully adhered to to protect client information. Counsellors must use secure practice management software and inform clients about data protection policies. Counsellors also need to be mindful of the potential for technology to create a barrier between themselves and their clients. Face-to-face interactions foster trust and connection; balancing technology and in-person sessions can be important to maintain the therapeutic relationship.

Listen to The Healthy Practice Podcast

The Healthy Practice guides you through the common problems of starting your own practice.

We aim to help you take control of other aspects of practice management – including work-life balance, marketing, finances, & more – by offering insights & tips from practitioners who have mastered the early stages of private practice.

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Ellie is WriteUpp’s in-house Content Creator. Her research and writing for private practitioners focuses on marketing, business growth, data security, and more. She also hosts WriteUpp’s podcast The Healthy Practice; the show that guides practitioners in the early stages of their careers through every aspect of practice management. Outside of work Ellie writes a mental health blog, studies mindfulness and is a keen nature photographer.