Football and therapy are not always worlds that interact. Both pride themselves on forms of expression but are played out in different ways. We know that football is a powerful and familiar cultural tool amongst teenagers, while many of these same people feel weary of accessing therapeutic support. With this in mind FBB are rolling out an innovative model which allows young people to access year long intensive therapeutic support with adults from similar backgrounds.
In the past couple of years there has been a 26% rise in referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), with the majority of these referrals being rejected. As Bruk Abdu, FBB’s Head of Interventions and lead Therapeutic Wellbeing Practitioner states that “in a climate where the demand and the need for support in wellbeing is at an all time high,the services in place are overwhelmed by the demand.” It is clear that there has to be better resourced and more culturally relevant services to provide the care and attention that young people need to become more emotionally literate.
FBB’s Therapeutic approach
FBB offers a therapeutic approach that works to “bring a more creative and relational way of working therapeutically, to make it more engaging and less intimidating”. It focuses on the wellbeing of the young person, with wellbeing being broken down into 3 components; agency, belonging and communication. It aims to address these three elements through weekly sessions which are student-led, with therapeutically trained practitioners who create a safe and secure base for the young person to feel a sense of belonging. In doing so an asset-based approach is adopted that helps the young person see beyond the borders of their environment by focusing on the whole self.
At a time where the rewards of instant gratification are the norm, FBB’s TWP team offers an unconventional “anti-short term” approach in comparison to traditional therapy, As Bruk explains “it’s about working towards health and wellness in a holistic, creative and relational way as opposed to giving you six weeks of therapy and then hoping for the best.” Students receive progress reports that track their changes across the school year.
FBB’s TWP programme was successfully piloted in five schools last year with 93% of the at risk students enrolled on the programme not being excluded from school. As Bruk states “we were able to work through that mistrust with other adults in that space and support them throughout the academic school year. Often in a school environment adults are synonymous with authority and we were able to ensure the young people accessed this therapy space.”
In addition to this, FBB aims to work in a culturally relevant way with young people that often feel “alienated, unrepresented and unattended to”. It is about building trust and destigmatising a space of therapy that has often made them feel out of place and where the young person “can’t practically find help”. Whether that is through group or one to one sessions. Another facet to the model is that the team does not mirror and reflect white authority figures within the school but resembles and represents the young people that it works with. Typically counselling as a profession tends to be a white, middle aged and female domain. The FBB team bucks this trend with the team comprising 75% men, 50% BAME and 100% under 35 ensuring that there is a wealth of cultural competency.
The need for more representation was reinforced in the Power The Fight: Therapeutic Intervention for Peace (TIP) report published last week. It champions the power of cultural competency to help bridge the mistrust that many young people from black and brown families feel towards accessing therapy. The report documents the disparity between the experiences of them in comparison to their white counterparts, with black and brown families twice more likely to live in poverty and deprived areas in the UK. It also charts the likelihood of experiencing violence and trauma in these areas but being less likely to receive the therapeutic support. Undoubtedly this cycle of violence and trauma has a detrimental impact on the wellbeing of young people.
The TIP report highlights that organisations that are culturally competent, with trusted relationships such as FBB, are best positioned to work in partnerships with schools, and mental health services. FBB offers an alternative therapeutic approach that is needed and important for the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) of the young people, particularly those who are most at risk of exclusion. The relationships between the therapeutic practitioners and the young people is key. It is imperative where possible for the TWP’s to resemble the young people that they work with because as Bruk explains it, the emotional self awareness has to be modelled through the relationship first. It is about “being able to allow them a space to act out and play out those emotions and being able to co-regulate those emotions.” And “until therapeutically the challenges of that young person are addressed, those opportunities to better develop socially and emotionally won’t necessarily take place.”
FBB’s Therapeutic Wellbing Practice is split into two parts: therapy and advocacy. Bruk explains “it’s not just the work inside of the room that makes the impact we want to see. We believe it is that coupled with everything else that is embedded within our programme.” Advocacy is “working across the different key stakeholders in that young person’s life, that’s what we try and do.” Bruk explains that this is also a process of deeper systemic practice and working through the challenge which exists within the system. Whether that is building a healthy relationship with their social workers, parents, or school teachers, it is about working with all the different layers that make up the young person’s life.
How the pandemic has affected our mental health.
The impact of the pandemic and the lockdown have been heavily felt by the younger generation, making FBB’s therapeutic programme more important now than ever. During this time FBB’s work adapted to continue providing therapy for young people through virtual sessions. This ensured that 91% of the young people who were receiving therapeutic support continued to do so during the lockdown. Bruk states that this “spoke volumes on the therapeutic alliance we were building and the sense of support and healthy relationships that we were building. When some did not have phones or laptops we were still able to address this and continue to support them therapeutically running digital sessions. It’s been a massive success.”
There is no doubt that feelings of isolation and anxiety have recently been felt by all age groups, as a result of the pandemic. While we are living in uncertain times, what we do know for certain is that helping young people ensures a brighter future individually and collectively. FBB’s Therapeutic Wellbeing Pracititoners, such as Bruk, support young people’s wellbeing and equip them with the skills and tools needed for a positive transition into adulthood. Making sure that young people who face borders in their everyday life are able to reach beyond, into a future of limitless opportunities!