At 13 Kara* was referred to YMCA Dialogue counselling by her Head of Year. Changes in her behaviour at school were causing concern, with no clear way of finding resolution. A period of counselling within school was able to help Kara identify and express her feelings.
Kara had become disruptive and ‘difficult’ at school, and was sometimes aggressive towards other students and staff. Her teachers could see that she was experiencing a range of emotional difficulties. They knew that her parents had split up earlier in the year after many years of problems. Also her father had recently left the family home. Her Head of Year made the initial contact with the YMCA Dialogue counsellor who was already based within the school.
During her first meeting with a YMCA Dialogue counsellor, Kara’s words came tumbling out in a stream as she talked about some of her experiences. Sadly Kara had witnessed domestic violence between her parents, and both she and her brother had been directly involved at times.
She said she was angry a lot of the time. She fought with her younger sister and sometimes had violent arguments with her mum but at the same time she was also very worried about her mum’s safety.
Sometimes Kara seemed to be very mature – sounding and looking more like a 20 year old. She felt highly protective of her mum and worried about her vulnerability. She wanted mum to spend time with her, her younger sister and older brother. Mum was seeing a new partner who Kara resented. She didn’t want her mum to need a ‘new man’ as she put it although she could understand that her mum would like a partner.
During her counselling sessions, Kara was able to express her anger. She came to realise what had occurred in the family in the past was unacceptable. She was also able to express some ambivalent feelings. Kara talked about how she still loved and missed her dad, even though she didn’t feel able to see him at the moment. She needed a safe place to explore her overwhelming and confusing feelings. But she felt that talking to mum about them would ‘turn into a row’. She also realised her anger towards her father was transferring to other male authority figures, notably one of her male teachers.
However, as the counselling sessions progressed, Kara started to organise, clarify and understand her feelings. She acknowledged her anger and hatred for her father. But she still loved him too, for being her dad. She was able to mourn the loss of some of her relationship with both parents, and, to some extent, the loss of her childhood. With the expression of so much sadness, she reported feeling less angry with others and more understanding. She also expressed her protective feelings towards her mum and her anger at not having been protected herself.
Counselling provided a safe, confidential and respectful space for Kara to express her very confusing and ambivalent feelings. Before this they had threatened to overwhelm her, and spilled out into challenging behaviour. At the end of counselling, Kara reported feeling less angry, having higher self esteem and feeling more settled at home. There were less arguments there as well as at school. She subsequently used the YMCA Dialogue lunchtime drop-in. During these times she reported that she was enjoying school more. She also started taking much more of an interest in her school work and activities.
*Name and photo changed to protect the young person’s identity.