Counselling by Nicola Stewart

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Being a mental health specialist and trainer is a varied and rewarding role.  Read my thoughts on current press, pace and progress regarding children's mental health and the support services available to families.

The impact of working on-line: looking after your mental health and wellbeing

By Nicky Stewart, Apr 22 2020 11:53PM

This week many schools 'returned', albeit virtually, to begin a new term on-line with their pupils. Many school staff have spent their Easter break upskilling themselves with the technology required to deliver this on-line curriculum due to the school closures during the COVID19 pandemic. This enormous effort by our education staff to pull together and adapt in these trying times is testament the profession.

I have had the pleasure of working in schools as a counsellor for the last 13 years and I am always humbled by the dedication and commitment of teachers and support staff. In my role I offer support to the whole school community so I am fortunate to see the inner workings of these institutions and that is why I am passionate about supporting our teachers now more than ever. This period of on-line working will need careful review and continued support to protect the wellbeing of, not just our staff, but pupils too.

For school staff reading this now I just want to normalise the feelings you will all no doubt be having at the moment. You may be feeling anxious, exhausted, energised, happy, sad, drained, tearful, angry, irritated, numb.... all of these feelings are normal and part of how we are coping during this quarantine period.

This is your first few days of delivering the on-line curriculum - you have all pulled together to keep our children's education consistent and valued in these extraordinary times and that takes a huge amount of cognitive and emotional demands on you. I know teachers can all deal with the cognitive load but I want to explore the emotional demands right now.

In psychological terms there is a theory that explores how life can bring up 'parallel processes'. On a global scale we are managing uncertainty, fear, and physical disconnection - take a moment to notice where you feel that inside of you. Now take a moment to explore how you feel in your professional roles and personal lives... If any of these feelings are similar this is where the parallel process is happening. At times parallel process can feel overwhelming and can lead you to try and find a source for all these overwhelming feelings. Peel back the layers and take time to acknowledge that it is OK to feel overwhelmed. You are not alone. Take comfort that on some level everyone is feeling this right now. COVID19 is traumatising on many levels and we will need to understand the impact on ourselves before we can offer support to our pupils.

It is SO important you have time to take care of your own wellbeing. Regulated adults are what dis-regulated children need. What do you find is helping you? We will all be very different and that is why wellbeing has to be individual, something we can each feel and experience. Have a look at the 5 ways to Wellbeing and really make time for some of the suggested activities here.

On-line work uses a greater amount of our energy and we can suffer with focus fatigue and freedom freeze - therapists working on-line appreciate this and have regular Supervision to explore the many feelings that may come up during this work. Watch this video to understand how this can impact us all, not just therapists, whilst working on-line.

Having support in place for yourselves and your school community will be essential during this period of on-line teaching and learning. Reach out and connect with your colleagues, supports available and organisations such as Education Support. I am part of a school wellbeing network which offers regular newsletters and meetings for any school staff that support pupil mental health and wellbeing - we always welcome new members! Healthy relationships and connection is so vital when working with trauma - let's stay connected.

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