By Siobain Degregorio
Early in her career Siobain Degregorio worked as a carer and manager in two residential child care homes and for a number years she managed an outreach support service for young people who had just left residential care.
Following this Siobain trained and qualified as a psychodynamic counsellor at Birkbeck College while working in schools providing support both to children who were struggling at school, and to their parents.
She is now a psychodynamic counsellor with her own private practice. She is also a Mental Health Trainer for schools because she believes teachers and other school staff have a pivotal and important role in the well being of children and young people and a member of the goodenoughcaring editorial group.
During her counselling training at Birkbeck College Siobain was offered a student placement at the Mulberry Bush School. She started her placement in September 2008 and completed it in July 2010.
When asked to write this article about my experience and time at The Mulberry Bush School as a trainee counsellor my first thought was where to begin and how to encapsulate my time there?
A rush of memories and thoughts came to mind, what could I say? What should I say? I decided to write as I thought and to try and convey my experience of coming into a well respected and certainly influential organisation.
Having come from a background of residential child care my initial response to being asked to go to an interview at The Mulberry Bush was mixed-excitement at having such a prestigious placement but anxiety about whether I would be ‘good enough’ in a Winnicottian sense to see children there.
I got through the interview and was offered a placement! Again my feelings about giving therapy to very distressed and unhappy children was mixed and insecurities surfaced about how much I felt I could offer, feeling very apprehensive I started my placement there.
What I found was the school is a lively and vibrant place to be with lots of adults and children moving from place to place and going about their daily lives. It can be and often was noisy with laughter but more often I would hear the anguish and pain that the children were in as they acted out their destructive and aggressive feelings within the school. I remember listening to the children and the staff as they tried to calm them whilst acknowledging their pain; giving them a ‘good enough experience of no’ [i]
I was amazed by the tenacity and commitment of the staff team and the amount of thought and reflection that went on across the school in thinking about the children they were caring for. This was mirrored in my experience of working within the psychotherapy team, my supervisor was alongside me as I struggled with my experiences in the therapy room.
She encouraged me to think outside the box and not necessarily to follow a traditional way of engaging a child in therapy. By holding my clients in mind and thinking about what it is they needed I was able to develop a more creative and flexible way of working in order to meet my client where they were at rather than expecting them to come to me.
I came to realise that this was at the heart of The Mulberry Bush-that the staff there are able to think about what the children need and then adapt in order to come to them and not as many other adults do expect the children to adapt. That meeting is crucial to the children’s development as I discovered in the therapy room but remaining creative and available is not always easy with such unhappy and disturbed clients.
As Gianna Henry says when she talks about some of the challenges of working with such emotionally deprived children,
‘….they are doubly deprived- deprived both in their families of origin and, later in lives through defensive mechanisms which distance or alienate people who try to become close to them.’[ii] Henry 1988.
My memories and feelings about my time at The Mulberry Bush are mixed ones; I do remember it with fondness, longing and a certain nostalgia but I also remember the tremendous sense of despair and hopelessness that was evoked within me to be confronted with such primitive pain and distress. I learnt a lot about the human condition and the cruelty that one human being can inflict onto another and the lasting consequences for us all.
I do feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to be there, even if only for a limited amount of time and I certainly recognise how I grew not only as a counsellor but as a person too. I wonder if my experience and feelings mirrors something of what the children who are placed there experience themselves? From anxiety and insecurity to a developing sense of themselves and a securer sense of identity?
That is not to say that all children who live at The Mulberry Bush will come out ‘fixed’ but what they are offered is an opportunity to be cared for and thought about, for many of them for the first time in their lives, by adults who love them. They are offered a real alternative!
The Mulberry Bush, its staff and all the children who experience time there are very special indeed…..
Parsons, M and Dermen, S. (1999) ‘The Violent Child and Adolescent’ in Lanyado and Horne, The Handbook of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy London : Routledge pp329-346
Hughes, C. (1999) ‘Deprivation and Children in Care’ in Lanyado and Horne, The Handbook of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy London : Routledge pp293-307