After training in psychology in London, Phillipa returned to her home county of Warwickshire and spent 10 years working with adults with learning difficulties and mental health problems. In 2001 she trained as a therapist, completing a Postgraduate Diploma in counselling with a view to working with young people. She first began counselling at a local grammar school in 2008 and, in 2017, she and her specially trained (and rather adorable!) therapy dog, Scooby, joined the Kingsley team.
Q: Tell us about your role at Kingsley.
A: Mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing, yet statistics show that a staggering 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems
do not receive appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age (source: www.mentalhealth.org.uk). Anxiety, low mood, depression, bereavement, eating disorders and family problems can all impact significantly on a person’s health, happiness and future life chances. Working closely with the pastoral team, my role as Wellbeing Counsellor is to provide one-to-one support to students who are experiencing a range of issues. By addressing these issues early on, they tend to be easier to manage and less problematic in the future.
Q: Do all schools employ wellbeing counsellors?
A: Sadly, it isn’t compulsory for schools in England to offer counselling services, and the schools that do often buy ‘face time’ with external counsellors who are detached from the school. My relationship with Kingsley is very different. I am employed by the school (on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and, as such, enjoy close working relationships with both students and staff. Having been at Kingsley for over two years now, I have an excellent understanding of how the school operates, and I attend weekly staff meetings to keep abreast of any changes. As well as liaising closely with the School Nurse, Head of Learning Support and pastoral team, I support and advise teaching staff, raising awareness of wellbeing and mental health issues, and empowering them to help the students in their care. This whole school approach to student wellbeing is crucial, as everyone has a part to play.
Q: How do students make an appointment to see you?
A: Students are often referred by their families, class teachers (in Prep) or year heads (in Senior School), but they can and do self-refer. Appointments are up to an hour long
and their frequency depends on individual needs. It is not uncommon for students to see me once a week to begin with and then less frequently as they improve. Unlike some
counselling services, students are not limited to a certain number of appointments. They can also email me, or drop in during break times if they need to see me urgently.
Q: Are appointments available outside of school hours?
A: Kingsley has taken the decision not to offer counselling sessions outside of school hours and this is something I support. There are enough pressures on young people during evenings and weekends – homework, clubs and sporting fixtures, to name just a few. Furthermore, students tend to feel tired at the end of the school day and need some down time. To get the most out of their counselling sessions, they must be well rested and alert. I try, as far as possible, to avoid disrupting key lessons, and to vary appointment times so that the same lessons are not missed each week. This generally works very well.
Q: What happens during counselling sessions?
A: When children and adolescents experience distressing emotions or situations, it can be incredibly difficult for them to find a way forward. The sessions provide students with time away from their busy schedules to focus on themselves, and a safe space to explore difficult questions. We always focus on what the student (rather than the person who has referred the student) wants to focus on. For example, if someone has been referred because of a bereavement but wishes to spend time talking about a friendship issue then that’s absolutely fine. When a person is grieving, the normal stresses and strains of life can become too much and these may be what they need help with in order to cope. Students share their problems, hopes and fears with me and I help them to process these and make positive changes and choices. I also suggest coping strategies and help them to identify a wider support network, which may include people both in and out of school.
Q: Tell us about Scooby!
A: Scooby is a specially trained Papillon dog – a breed known for companionship. He spent many hours visiting care homes and schools in preparation for his role at Kingsley. It is well-known (and scientifically proven) that interaction with dogs can have significant benefits for our mental and physical wellbeing. Spending time with a gentle and loving furry friend can release endorphins (feel-good hormones), provide comfort and decrease blood pressure. Of course, some people are not dog lovers, in which case Scooby doesn’t attend the session. Most of the students at Kingsley are very fond of him, though, and find he helps them to relax and open up about how they are feeling.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: The fact that it makes such a difference to people’s lives. One should never underestimate how much people appreciate and benefit from being heard. It’s a huge privilege
to get to know students so intimately and to see them making better life choices as a result of my time with them.
Q: What advice would you give to students and staff to improve their general wellbeing?
A: I think we need to learn to look after ourselves, and to increase our self-care when we hit life’s hurdles. Even though we may not feel like it, eating and sleeping well, exercising and having down time can make a huge difference to our wellbeing. We also need to look after each other – something we’re already very good at at Kingsley. If we know a friend or colleague is having problems, it’s important not to judge or jump to conclusions, as we probably don’t fully understand what they’re going through. Instead, we should show kindness and signpost them to places where they can get help.