Some emotional issues made life difficult for Caleb, aged 8. A Dialogue school counsellor was able to help him talk things through in a safe place.
At eight years old Caleb’s* parents and class teacher referred him to the Dialogue school counselling service. He had angry outbursts at school and at other times withdrew from the other children. He didn’t want to go into school in the mornings; crying and trying to run back home when his parents walked him to school. When in school, he was spending a lot of time alone, avoiding the other children or becoming very angry with them and his teacher. One day he threw a chair across the classroom, followed by hiding away.
Needless to say Caleb’s parents were extremely concerned about him; at home he was a happy and playful boy. He lived with both parents and his 12 year old sister who attended another school locally. His parents had a good relationship and Caleb spent time doing family activities, attending ‘Beavers’ and playing football with his father. The family used to have a dog, who sadly died in the previous summer holidays while Caleb was away on a football trip. His parents explained that Caleb only displayed signs of anxiety just before school, particularly on Sunday nights.
Of course they had asked him about his reluctance to go to school and his attempts to run back home, but he became very angry and refused to talk. His parents found it impossible to get him to ‘open up’ and they felt helpless, as he had always enjoyed school previously and this behaviour was all very new.
Caleb’s parents found out about school counselling from his class teacher. She said it would offer their son a ‘safe place’ to talk and play, where he could try to work through his difficulties.
When Caleb’s parents talked about the possibility of counselling, Caleb was quite reluctant initially, but also quite curious. He asked many questions about what would happen; What will I talk about? What is a Counsellor? Will anyone know I am going to counselling?
Caleb’s parents met with the Dialogue school counsellor for an initial assessment. They were able to ask questions and find out about the school counselling service. The school counsellor discussed the confidentiality policy with the parents. The counsellor was able to gather some information about the family and anything else that could be important for the counselling work. The school counsellor also gave them information on other Dialogue family and counselling services.
In the first session, Caleb cautiously came into the counselling room. He was pleased to see lots of fun things to play with; playdough, paint, games, puppets and a giant sand tray. The counsellor introduced herself and he sat down in a comfy chair with lots of cushions. He noticed that it was really peaceful and he soon began to relax. Over the session, he slowly began talking to the counsellor and describing all the things he liked to do.
Over the next couple of sessions, Caleb was happy and keen to come to counselling. He had begun building a beach in the giant sand tray. Each week he would come and add something new to the beach – an ice cream stand, lots of pretty pebbles, some sunbathing teddies and a crocodile. The counsellor and Caleb talked about everything on the beach and what it meant for Caleb. He began expressing his feelings, about sometimes feeling so angry he could ‘explode’, and then also very ‘sad’.
On the fifth session, Caleb was happy to come in and start playing with his sandy beach. The counsellor had brought in a new set of toys, figures and animals. Caleb very carefully chose a big brown dog and placed him on his beach. He began talking about ‘Roger’, his old dog, who had died. He talked openly about feeling very sad he was ‘gone’ and also angry, that when Roger died, Caleb was away at football and didn’t get to say goodbye.
Over time, Caleb began to talk freely about Roger, and how ‘guilty’ he felt for being away when Roger died. He was able to use the brown toy dog to express his feelings; the counsellor encouraged Caleb to use role play in order for him to talk to Roger. Caleb also expressed feeling anxious about coming to school, as he worried about ‘things happening at home’ when he was at school, learning and having fun.
Caleb and the counsellor talked openly about death, loss and feeling angry. He decided that he wanted to write Roger a letter to say goodbye.
After nine sessions, Caleb talked about feeling less angry and much happier about coming to school in the mornings. He was able to talk to his family about losing Roger and why he felt anxious about leaving the house.
The counsellor felt that Caleb had really benefited from the safe space counselling was able to provide; he was provided with a safe relationship and some creative play so he could express his worries. He was not alone with his grief and was able to slowly accept and understand the loss of Roger and move forwards.
*Name and photo have been changed to protect the child’s identity