Today we got the chance to interview Nikki, a therapist who works with Next Step. We asked her lots of questions and learned all about her job and the work she does in schools, the ins and outs of therapy and why mental health matters.
What does your job involve?
There are many threads to the job I do for Next Step, which makes it hard to fully capture. The main backbone of my work surrounds mental health, which mainly takes the form of one-to-one counselling sessions with children in schools. The initial referral process, liaising with school and parents/carers, the sessions with the children themselves, school and parent/carer support throughout the duration of the sessions and the ending is all conducted by myself. There are many ways this support could look within the counselling, from verbal communication and exploration, to play or art therapy; play and art therapy being a specific passion of mine! I also lead group work, class work and assemblies on various mental health topics.
What lead you down this career path?
For me, my career was sparked by the love of psychology during my college A Levels. I found it so interesting and found myself researching and analysing myself through all the different theories and modalities. Originally, I secured a place on a psychology degree but something felt a miss, I loved psychology but I couldn’t put my finger on what didn’t feel quite right. This is when I found counselling at an university open event. Counselling for me blended together my love for psychology with the previously missing ingredients of the use of the self, the therapeutic relationship and the want to help and support people. It might sound cliché, but it just felt right! My whole life up that point I was always the go to person for my family and friends in regards to mental health and support. Throughout my counselling journey, I have been able to utilise this basic skill, and build and develop it to where I am today.
What work do you do in schools?
Drawing upon what I have already answered in the first question, children are referred for many, many different reasons. From anger to parental separation, low self-esteem to identity and anxiety to depression. Additionally, and more specifically this year in school, I have ran a friendship group for one class. In this group we used creative exercises to explore friendships and the impact of our words and actions. For example, we started with describing an apple I had in my hands, the children explained that it was ‘normal’, it looked ‘okay’ and was ‘good enough to eat’ because there was no damage. We then took it in turns to pass around the group, one at a time sharing a memory of when we were not such a good friend to someone whilst dropping the apple. We then cut the apple open, to find that it was all bruised, brown and unappealing inside. None of the children said they would eat this now. We then explored how sometimes we can not see the ‘damage’ or the hurt inside of someone. Just because they may present that they are okay to the world, does not mean that they are okay on the inside, meaning that sometimes we might not see how hurtful words or actions could be affecting someone. Another example of a tool I love using within a counselling session is via a technique used in art therapy to express and explore feelings, especially when they are hard to express and articulate. Using a large piece of paper to squirt out feelings/thoughts/worries represented by different colour paints, the child can start to see visually how their feelings look. This can then be explored looking at size, shape, texture etc.
Why is mental well-being so important?
For me, mental health is the very make up of our day to day life and existence as human beings. It affects us in one way or another every second of our lives. Because of this, I personally, I like to view mental health as a spectrum that we continuously move up and down on. Mental health as an umbrella term includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing too. All of which contributes to how we feel, think, act, relate to others and process stressors, so why wouldn’t it be so important should be the real question here!
Did you always want to be a therapist?
No actually, but it did develop into the want to be a therapist. As a very young child I did want to be a forensic scientist. However, this changed to a criminal psychologist through watching so many crime based dramas on TV when I was a teen. My first counselling placement, whilst I was training, cemented my passion for working with children in the future. Now, that’s all I can envision for myself, working with children is my true passion in life.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Without a doubt, it is the feeling of being alongside so many wonderful children on their counselling journey. I feel honoured and very privileged that the children share their lives, worries and thoughts with me. That they trust me to emotionally ‘hold’ them when they are potentially very vulnerable or showing me their truest selves.
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
This may sound like a double edged sword, but similarly to the best thing about my job, the most challenging can be supporting children through some very tough times. Sometimes the things I can support children through are hard or upsetting to hear about, and can sit with you long after the session. However, this is also the best thing about my job, as the child feels able to explore these things with you.
How is a therapist different to other jobs?
As a therapist, I sometimes feel I get to see the most authentic form of a person, which again is something I feel so privileged to witness. Whereas, in other non therapeutic roles I have had in the past, I certainly can not say this. I also feel as a therapist you never know what is coming through your door that day, you can’t fully prepare, rehearse or research. It is dealing with the here and now, what is presented to you on that day, in that moment . I don’t think many jobs in the world are quite like it!
It is clear from talking to Nikki just how passionate she is about her job. Even though its not always easy, and can be challenging at times, we really admire Nikki’s positivity and dedication to helping others.
Thank you Nikki for answering our questions – we hope our readers have learnt something new about therapy today!