Marilyn arrived for the talk, laden down with ‘stuff’ – official things like laptops and paperwork, but also a ton of toys, games and stuff that children and young people use to engage.  The 2 aspects haven’t always got a lot in common or sometimes a little juxtaposed.  It struck me as I looked back on this day that working with children can be this way.  

With her reputation preceding her – the room was at full capacity as we settled down for an enriched day.

The day started with a game of bingo that invited us to reflect on our own childhood experiences.  Practical reflections and working in small groups was continuous throughout the day.   These included our own experiences of being supported as a young person (or lack thereof) and what it was like to feel supported.

There is much to contend with when working with children that has little to do with the counselling process, at times.  Or at least, many things impact and interfere with the ability to stretch ourselves and our child clients to reach their full potential in the counselling room.    

Our location

Where we work, sets the scene for how we work and very often the physical limitations.  Marilyn works in schools with children and often has a decent size floor-space (non-carpeted enhances messy play options) which allows for more creativity and ‘mess’ for children to touch, play, create, feel or whatever the space allows them to do.

In some instances, it could be a computer game, briefly played or explained that allows Marilyn as a counsellor to access the workings of the child’s mind, allow them to connect with a character or give others roles in those games, explaining their worlds a little more clearly.

Children by nature are not prone to sit down face to face and discuss emotional well-being so the flexibility is paramount in this work, to allow the flow of information.  Connection with our child client is essential and that trust and play over time allows them to share what’s happening in their world.

Marilyn shared many ways of engaging with young people, from the most basic and simple toy (eg pack of cards) to a mini drone (with trepidation, she admits).

Our limitations

When working with children, there are multiple factors to consider.  Confidentiality has to be carefully negotiated when working within an agency, school and mental health services.  As with many services, the underfunding of our mental health services, means counselling is often being used as an intervention for mental health issues.  This adds significantly to the daily challenges of supporting children in our care.


Very often there will need to be collaboration with multi agencies eg social services and schools and an ability to shift between the paradigm of working creatively with the children and shifting to the necessary bureaucracy that comes with the territory.

Similarly, in May 2019, the BACP (whom many of our counsellors are registered with) have released a 2nd edition of a Counsellor’s Competencies guide for humanistic counselling work with children and young people [48 pages] to peruse.  There are some interesting requirements in that document, including a basic understanding of psychopharmacology.

Many commented that although they don’t work at all with children or young people that they work with the child inside the person – and that particularly aspect rang through for me.  How do we resolve things as an adult if we haven’t had the chance to either be a child and/or recover from childhood trauma.

There was lots of self-reflection and practical exercises to enhance our understanding of our own world as a child, as clearly it can impact on our work with children.  

We worked on several roleplays as either the counsellor or the child/young person.  A glimpse into how complex the work can feel in the moment.

A thoroughly enriching day that nourished our minds to enhance our practice and knowledge in this area.

Thank you Marilyn.

Sinead Mitchell