Home > Meet our Family Counsellor…Sally Bell
I volunteered in 2013 as part of a creative therapy course. I wanted to find somewhere where I could work creatively with children and young people and got in contact with Beechwood as I knew there was a family service available. In July 2015 I was offered a job as a family counsellor within the Family Team at Beechwood, supporting children, young people, parents and guardians through illness or bereavement within the family.
I worked as a social worker in Manchester for 7 years, as well as previous residential social work. I then trained as a counsellor so that I could work with adults as well as children and young people. I am also trained as a musician and play the violin and piano. I worked for 8 years part-time in a specialist support school doing music lessons and activities with the children.
The support we provide varies depending on their age, their circumstances and who they are.
With primary school aged children, the counselling is much more creative in nature and can involve games, Lego, sand therapy, role play and craft activities, using lots of different materials and creative resources. We allow the children to explore the room and lead the way through non-directive play, as well as introducing some structured activities that suit the circumstances of the child.
With young people and teenagers, many are open to doing art, drawing, painting and craft activities that look into their feelings and emotions in different ways. There are also many coping strategies and exercises that we explore with them for dealing with anxieties and managing anger. A lot of the older children do like to just sit and talk.
In the context of illness, we look at the relationship the child has to the person who is ill, how it has impacted the family and what changes have been made within the family.
We also very much look at their emotions and feelings and do all of this through our creative and play activities.
Most of our bereavement support is account of a life-limiting illness such as cancer; however, we also support bereavements due to sudden death or traumatic circumstances, which differentiates us from the adult team. There are also specific activities we do in relation to grief, such as the memory jar. The exercises and activities initiate discussions and encourages children to open up.
Most of our work is mainly individual one-to-ones with the children and young people, however I enjoy working at Beechwood as it is very much a family orientated service. Beechwood offers the opportunity to speak to and support parents, whereas at a lot of other children’s support services I have worked at, you generally just see the child and have very little contact with the parent or guardian.
I personally think it’s very helpful to work alongside them, as illness and bereavement circumstances happen within the context of the family. The parents and guardians are fully involved with the support whilst we still maintain confidentiality with the young person or child. Being able
to talk to the parent and guardian throughout gives us scope into how their child is coping at school and at home and if they are seeing an improvement in their child’s behaviour and wellbeing.
The Family Team also offers one-to-one parenting support helping them cope with their own grief and emotions which can sometimes affect their children and the dynamics within the family. We also speak and liaise with schools and teachers, offering advice if any of their pupils are experiencing the emotional effects of illness and bereavement, as well as dealing with one-off enquiries from those who may ring up and ask for help, for example we can advise a parent on what to say to their children when their relative has just died.
During the pandemic, we have very much focused on continuing to provide our support which our families have really appreciated. It has been difficult not being able to see a lot of the children and younger people, however it has been really helpful to the parents to know that we are still here if they needed us which in turn, has helped us build relationships with the families in a different way. We were able to offer a lot of telephone support to many of the older children and parents throughout lockdown, but it has been nice to finally get them all back doing one-to-one sessions again!
There are not many other places that offer children and family support quite like Beechwood. Our charity is a lot more informal and there is always a warm welcoming feeling when people walk in. The children seem to love the space and it gives them a specifically private place where they can come out of school and have time to focus on themselves. I really enjoy being able work creatively and using creative activities to explore emotions. I like the dynamic of being able to work with the whole family, which again is an advantage of Beechwood’s support. However, the most rewarding aspect is being able to be a part of their journey, seeing them rebuild their lives and seeing them become a bit more whole again when their world is falling apart.