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Experiences of an Honorary Child Counsellor for Bridge in Schools

By Ella Vale

Finding and committing to a placement can feel like an enormous aspect of psychotherapeutic or counselling training. Students often have very little insight into the way an organisation works or whether it will provide a good fit for them – or for their training needs – before they apply. This was my experience when I began the search for a clinical placement two years ago, and it was further complicated by the fact that my training was in London, though I was based in the South West. Information about suitable settings was difficult to come by and I felt at a loss. I hope that this blog can provide a little insight for anyone feeling similarly lost at what is a career-informing and sometimes quite daunting crossroads in any therapeutic training.

Not just a trainee, but an Honorary

Clinical placement students are taken on at The Bridge Foundation as Honoraries, a title which I have found both comforting and helpful in my time as a trainee here. I considered it an important nod to the responsibility and commitment shouldered by those on placement, without adding the word ‘trainee’ which may hold particular connotations within schools or for parents and prospective clients. I also felt it acknowledged in some part the previous trainings and experiences many Honoraries have had before they become psychotherapy or counselling trainees. 

My experience of being placed initially in a primary school with Bridge in Schools was hugely positive. I was well supported by the lead therapist there as well as by my supervisor. This support proved vital for negotiating the many unexpected aspects of training, not only understanding the place and scope of clinical work, but also the way that schools operate. Negotiating the vagaries of school roles and titles, rule variations and expectations within, at times, highly defended organisational systems, can be a challenge for any worker, and the provision of a thoughtful space can be difficult for schools to accept. My work in schools has proved complex, necessitating a careful and considered approach, which I may have found difficult without the support of a number of other ‘thinking minds’ to guide me. The provision of 1:1 supervision with a suitably qualified and experienced supervisor is often a prerequisite for acceptable placements, and this is something that The Bridge Foundation takes very seriously. Taking on a secondary setting this year and working with higher levels of risk and Safeguarding concerns, I have been reminded many times that training demands insightful and attentive supervision, from supervisors who are also supported themselves. 

I have also been afforded experiences which are not provided in every placement, including parent work and the opportunity to form close working relationships with staff members, all of which I now view as imperative to the success of therapeutic interventions with children and young people. This is increasingly something employers also want to see evidence of given the complexity of working with children and adolescents who may have many people or organisations involved in their care.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and additional opportunities

Honoraries are expected if possible to attend an additional morning as well as their placement day, when team meetings, CPD and supervision or group supervision takes place. At first, I was concerned about this extra time-commitment, given that like many students I had to work in order to fund my training, as well as find time for study and parenting commitments! 

However, I discovered that this is one of the strongest aspects of the placement offer here at The Bridge Foundation. Attending meetings with a mixture of experienced and newly qualified or training staff, provides the ideal place to learn. This aspect has become an intrinsic part of my own journey towards qualification, influencing my practice, bolstering my written work, and allowing me to internalise a varied and thoughtful approach to work which can perhaps only be provided by such a close team setting. Though The Bridge operates from a psychodynamic perspective, the team also includes Art Therapists, Music Therapists, Psychiatrists, Counselling Psychologists and many other backgrounds, preventing an ‘echo-chamber’ experience that is unfortunately prevalent in many trainings. This has presented me with many opportunities to challenge and reconsider both my training and my practice.

CPD events, providing current and thought-provoking additional trainings, have supported my studies to an enormous extent. Areas where university courses can be reticent or ‘behind the times’ such as race, gender and neurodiversity, have been approached fearlessly during my time here, with the added benefit of a range of views and experience-informed opinions.

Group and Honoraries supervision

Trainees can feel under intense pressure to ‘perform’ given that their work is so scrutinised during training, and I initially approached group supervision with reticence. However, I found that thoughts about my work were in fact gently shared by the group, allowing me to open up possibilities I may not have approached through 1:1 supervision alone, with the added benefit of hearing from experienced therapists about challenges within their own clinical work, allowing me to see first-hand that this learning is life long.

The Honoraries supervision group is another important aspect of the placement offer at The Bridge. In this group, which meets a few times each term, all the Honoraries meet together. This space, where trainees can begin to share their work with others who are also engaged in the unique – and at times disconcerting – journey that is therapeutic training, proved to be a space where there are no foolish questions. Confusions and worries which may feel too exposing to take to larger group meetings could be thought about here, and the Honoraries have their own contact within the senior leadership team for anything which needs to be thought about outside of supervision.

The team

Psychotherapy can be a solitary profession, with surprisingly little opportunity to meet and discuss with others. The Bridge has provided an extraordinary experience for me in its provision of a varied and thoughtful team in which to take those first daunting steps into clinical practice. In return, trainees are expected to commit to the placement fully, with perhaps more responsibility taken on than in some other placements, but the benefits for me have been innumerable. 

I finish my placement feeling able to take on my professional role with a confidence I feel may not have been available to me without the unique support and additional learning offered by The Bridge.

Honorary placements and training opportunities at The Bridge Foundation

Please see our vacancies page for more information about our Honorary scheme, and how to submit your application for a placement among our expert team. 

Did you know that we offer a course for trained adult therapists, or trainees just completing training, looking to expand their practice and increase job opportunities? The Post Graduate Certificate in Psychodynamic Approaches to Counselling Children and Young People in Educational and Community Settings (CCYP) course is delivered over 12 study days, here at The Bridge Foundation, in association with Wessex Counselling & Psychotherapy, and previous participants have found it an invaluable in-depth training opportunity, which has led to relevant employment working with children and adolescents. Find out more and apply here.

If you need emergency support right now or feel a crisis building please remember you are not alone. You can find more helpful resources below.
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