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European Association for Counselling

Mess and containment: or counselling children

Sandplay
Reflections on Counselling Children in Schools

So much has been going on in this first term as a Volunteer Counsellor with Place2Be. Seemingly ‘easy’ sessions have been laden with unconscious communication. Testing my boundaries has been important – am I able to contain the children’s’ emotions? None of the children has been able to verbally articulate what they are feeling – hence the art and play therapy. Can I be trusted? How much can they take from me? Will I set boundaries?

Above all, children want to know if I can tolerate mess – their mess. This is not always easy when working in a school which is a disciplined environment with many rules. But how much should I limit the use of materials when, having trained as an Art Therapist, I value free expression but also need to uphold boundaries? Mess has been an important tool for the 5 to 11 year olds I’ve worked with. How else can they communicate to me about the mess in their lives, or find out if I am able to cope with it? This ‘mess’ can include responses to bullying, loneliness and domestic violence and feelings about being in foster care or about not having a permanent home. Children might also show their feelings through their behaviour – by being aggressive to their peers or withdrawn in the classroom and these behaviours can block their ability and availability to learn.

We usually encourage children to help clean up after sessions, but sometimes the mess is left for me. This is often unconscious and symbolic – the child is communicating that they have a lot of mess in their lives that they need someone else to help them clear up.

Many a session has ended with me feeling flustered, chaotic and overwhelmed – an unconscious projection of feelings that the children feel unable to deal with. The mess is, essentially, left with me to digest on the child’s behalf, to process with Place2Be’s support during supervision and eventually, to give back to them in a more manageable form in future sessions.

for more information please click on Mess and containment: reflections on counselling children in schools

 

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