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Mental Health Week — Counselling

This week is Mental Health Week. We hope that you’ve enjoyed our content thus far.

We have looked at elements in a youth’s life that can contribute to good mental health, such as activity, music, and art therapy. We’ve also taken a look at how CHV staff take care of themselves so that they can best serve youth in need.

Today’s focus is on the role that counselling plays in CHV’s holistic approach to mental health.

Trauma-Informed Care

Sometimes when a youth shares an experience they’ve had, simply sharing that experience can retraumatize them. Part of CHV’s trauma-informed approach is to minimize the chance of retraumatizing a youth.

When youth first arrive at CHV, they meet with a youth worker and go through an intake questionnaire. Youth can share as little or as much as they wish during this session. That youth worker will then meet with a social worker, prior to a youth meeting their social worker for the first time. During the meeting between the youth worker and social worker, information about the youth is shared so that the youth will not have to reshare the same information.

The journey is different for each youth. Sometimes a youth is ready to delve deeper into their trauma and answer more questions given by their social worker prior to meeting with a clinical counsellor, and sometimes they are not ready.

There are youth who come to CHV who have experienced parentification. Essentially, these youth take on a caregiver role within their family and do not have the opportunity to experience childhood. Parentification can affect a youth’s mental health and behaviour.

Louisa, Manager of Social Work and Clinical Supports at CHV, said, “When we talk about mental health, a lot of the youth that have experienced this early childhood responsibility will come across as they have everything together — they present very well. It’s almost like working peer to peer. You are working with somebody who, on the surface, looks like they have it together, but there’s a real lack of focus on the self.”

Some of these parentified youth immediately feel safe when they first come to CHV, so they present well. It’s only later when they feel safe enough to reach out for mental health support that behaviours (that are a result of pain and not knowing how to deal with these feelings) come out. The reverse is also true. Some youth arrive expressing behaviours that are a trauma response, but then later, when they feel safe, drop the behaviours.

Parentified youth often have trouble experiencing joy and pleasure because their role is about taking care of other people and so being able to enjoy themselves is difficult. It is important in counselling for youth to feel safe and supported. Caitlin, Clinical Counsellor at CHV, explains how the initial sessions may go: “There is so much shared care with youth workers and social workers that to have one-to-one time [with a counsellor] feels like a really important thing for a lot of them. They can just download what they’re currently experiencing at Covenant House and start to process a little bit of what has brought them into that situation and what is start working on what will help them, moving forward.”

Art therapy is one approach that counsellors use to help youth express themselves, non-verbally, by creating a piece of art. Again, the art therapist starts by making the space inviting and safe. Often in the art studio there is tea, snacks, and possibly some aroma therapy. Caitlin explains the importance of these details: “Having that baseline of making tea, and keeping the space comfortable is an important first step. If youth can accept that a form of pleasure is to just be there in that space, then that’s at least the first little step to them feeling like they can experience some pleasure. And then, you just try to keep expanding that until there is a little bit of curiosity that presents itself and that may lead to exploring other things.”

At the heart of what the counselling team does is compassion. Caitlin said, “The baseline of care is about meeting those immediate needs such as a comfortable and safe space and something to drink or eat. Compassion is about acknowledging where the youth are at in their journeys and meeting them there.”

Louisa shares her thoughts on compassion: “When I think about compassion, I think about acceptance. I think that acceptance is about recognizing when somebody is in need of mental health support, but isn’t ready to accept it and to just appreciate that. Sometimes all you can do is simply sit with a youth when they’re feeling all the feelings, and know that it’s not about you, it’s the trauma.”

Thank you to the frontline team at CHV for all that you do to support at-risk and vulnerable youth, as they work through trauma and towards their hopes and dreams.