This article is written by Krishna Ellsworth who is a Therapeutic Wellbeing Practitioner for FBB. Today on International SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) Day, she reflects on our therapeutic approach at FBB.
In August 2020, I joined FBB as a Therapeutic Wellbeing Practitioner also known as a TWP. We are a diverse team of culturally competent practitioners with 60% of us from BAME backgrounds. We hold qualifications with BACP, UKCP and HPCP and our practices are underpinned by a Neuroscientific, Attachment and Humanistic approach.
Our roles work alongside Project Leads (PL’s) & Educational Assistants (EA’s) who deliver 2 hour weekly sessions with a group of 16 young people over a 3-year period. Modules are carefully devised incorporating a balance of theoretical and practical engagement. SEL skills are taught within a core competencies framework made up of 5 CASEL skills: self management, social awareness, self-awareness, responsible decision making and developing positive relationships.
FBB uses football as an analogy, language and lens to support young people’s understanding of skills in psychosocial development to support them to strive individually and collectively. Once this zone of proximal development is achieved we begin to see how young people are able to scaffold and exercise these skills into other areas of their lives such as with their family at home, teachers at school and within their communities.
As TWP’s we work in a 1:1 setting with 5 of the 16 young people enrolled on the programme who are considered most ‘at risk’ of exclusion or identified as vulnerable for scoring highly on the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale (ACE’s.) In conjunction with liaising with the school and parents, our model symbolises a triangulation of supporting young people across their various environments on micro and macro levels. This multi-dimensional approach allows for an interconnected way of working which optimises our capacity for detail, whereby a team of practitioners can oversee young people in multiple settings giving us access to identify patterns and pick up on the blind spots in their lives.
We have been pleased with the level of participation and engagement from young people attending 1:1 sessions so far, who are usually experienced by the school as ‘challenging’ or ‘hard to reach’ students. Ordinarily, the idea of some of these students entering a 1:1 space with an adult for 50 minutes on a weekly basis would trigger their threat response system. A high proportion of young people we see are boys from black or caribbean backgrounds. Within a context of societal disadvantage where racial inequality is rife, these boys are six times more likely to be excluded than their white counterparts, which makes for complex challenges.
Consequently, these young people are living in a society where they are constantly having to negotiate between their chances of survival, where fears and anxieties are being played out both on conscious and unconscious levels. As a result, the invitation for such a student to enter into a space with someone who may sit directly in front of them, expect to hold eye contact and expect them to open up is likely to be intimidating and provoke their amygdala into a fight, flight or freeze response.
FBB’s therapeutic model significantly reduces young people’s levels of perceived threat. Firstly, participants will already be familiar with FBB as an organisation working within the school as well as multiple staff members who are established within the school environment. If young people are not directly involved or familiar with FBB themselves it is likely that they have seen staff around the school or know of other young people involved with the programmes which can serve to embed a first layer of safety in their minds. Secondly, FBB’s staff make up a wide range of age groups and come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, which allows for an assortment of ways young people can relate to and identify with staff members as well as become more trusting to the organisation as a whole.
Thirdly, we are able to work through ‘epistemic mistrust’ young people can sometimes hold toward authority figures, I have learnt that FBB’s uniform of a tracksuit can be a powerful tool to combat this as it offers relational currency.
In our view, it is these core components which support young people to take that initial first step through the door where they can enter a safe space which is relational, containing and holding. These conditions allow a fertilising of a therapeutic relationship to flourish where young people can be given experience of being related to and validated as well as feel safe enough to develop a ‘reflective thinking space’ in how to make sense of themselves and the world around them.
Within our creative and relational toolboxes, we use: sandtrays, empathy drawings, paints, marble ink and games to build a sense of trust and variation to explore difficult issues through the use of imagery, metaphor and symbolism. The endless ways we as practitioners are able to creatively engage a young person communicates to them that we are adaptive, flexible and can organically work with what they bring rather than imposing a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Instead, we use a range of mediums which facilitates young people to reach into their hearts and minds helping to give them a ‘third eye’ and more conscious insight into their intrinsic and extrinsic processes. In return we can offer them a meaningful sense of understanding to show them that we ‘get it’ which often follows with their own revelations. These therapeutic relationships formed on building trust and consistency allows us as practitioner’s to repeatedly give them the experience that ‘we hear you, we see you and you matter.
One of the most important parts of a TWP’s role is advocacy. This is followed out by attending team around child meetings (TAC), liaising with school safeguarding teams and supporting teachers on how to adopt trauma-informed models of managing behaviour.
In the last few years, mental health issues in young people have been on the rise and only intensified by social media. Now living in the context of a global pandemic and coming to terms with the devastating ways lockdown has worsened these ongoing issues as well has brought new and undiscovered concerns to the surface. It is why 1:1 support in schools is needed more than ever.
FBB has developed a holistic model within the context of schools, parents and community settings, which has allowed for TWP’s to systemically work outside of some limitations therapists working independently may be met with. This has meant FBB’s therapeutic approach in a rapidly shifting world has refreshingly changed the face and space of therapy that can accommodate the needs of young people in a tailored and modernised way.