As Clinical Lead for Children and Young People’s Services at The Retreat I have seen the impact of lockdown on children and young people.
Some children with social anxiety may have initially felt relieved not to go to school. However, after a period of lockdown they have found themselves feeling increasingly anxious about returning to school and mixing with other children. Their increased anxiety levels may have made it difficult for them to leave their home. They may have lost contact with their friends or feel anxious about returning to school in case they feel ‘left out’ of friendship groups or may be fearful of being bullied.
Some young people have found Zoom a very uncomfortable form of social contact that has made them feel worse.
Online therapy can provide a way for children and young people to stay connected with their therapist or counsellor, particularly when they have already formed a therapeutic relationship with them. However, for children who have had difficult or traumatic experiences, face to face therapy sessions are usually the most helpful way to enable them to recover.
For example, we know from research and experience the harmful effects on children who have grown up with parents whose relationship has involved physical or emotional abuse.
Traumatic and difficult memories are usually held as sensory memories that children can find difficult to put into words, partly because the language parts of their brain are still developing and partly because traumatic memories are processed differently to normal memories.
In face to face sessions children often find that through the medium of play, eg with miniature figures, or sensory play with sand and clay they are able to get in touch with previously inaccessible memories and process their experiences in a safe environment. Young people may find artwork, music, story, poems or song lyrics helpful.
Some children with hyperactivity problems have found that lockdown has exacerbated their symptoms and many parents are exhausted.
The number of angry outbursts and arguments may have increased, the child may have increased difficulties settling and focusing on activities. On the other hand, some children may have become increasingly quiet and withdrawn. Face to face therapy sessions with the child and parent together can help the parents learn and practice a range of interventions to help the child regulate their emotions and engage with fun or learning activities.
In the absence of face to face therapy services during lockdown some young people have resorted to unhealthy coping strategies such as self-harm, withdrawing from relationships, eating problems or engaging in risky behaviours.
Young people with existing problems such OCD, or anxiety and low mood have found their symptoms have increased and this may be interfering with them achieving the next stage of their life goals, such as preparing for GCSE courses, or preparing for college or university. Therapy can provide a way for young people to manage their symptoms so they can achieve their full potential on the next stage of their life journey.
For children, young people and families who want face to face therapy sessions we have specific procedures to help protect against COVID. We want to provide an option for those who would find face to face therapy sessions helpful.