The Pretenders I'll Stand by You cover artwork

Songs for Sound Minds #25 – ‘I’ll Stand by You’ by The Pretenders

This week’s pick by The Pretenders was suggested by one of our followers on Facebook: a timeless classic about love and faithfulness in times of trouble. A song made special, not by the experiences of those who wrote it, but by those who heard it.


‘I’ll Stand by You’ started out as a joke that turned into a dream come true for songwriter Billy Steinberg. During a conversation with music publisher Jason Dauman, Steinberg was asked who he wanted to collaborate with in the future.

Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Chrissie Hynde

Thinking the question a joke, Steinberg replied somewhat facetiously: “Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Chrissie Hynde.”

“I said those names because they were three of my favorite songwriters and he sort of took it seriously. Then a little while later he called me up and he said, ‘Chrissie Hynde wants to write with you and Tom (Tom Kelly, Steinberg’s writing partner).’  And I thought, ‘Right.’”

“I get a phone call and this woman said, ‘Billy, this is Chrissie Hynde,’ and I thought somebody was playing with me or something.”

Star struck and a little soft

Despite writing hits like ‘Eternal Flame’ and ‘Like a Virgin’, Steinberg was star struck: “The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering so much I could barely speak because I love The Pretenders.”

Hynde joined Steinberg and Kelly in Los Angeles and their efforts created a total of six songs, including ‘I’ll Stand by You’; but Pretenders fan Steinberg had mixed feelings.

“I remember when we wrote it I felt two things. I felt one, we had written a hit song; and I felt two, a little sheepish that we had written something a little soft, a little generic for The Pretenders… I know that Chrissie felt that way too to some extent.”

The dream turns sour

In an interview with Mojo Chrissie Hynde admitted being unimpressed with the tune: “When I did that song, I thought, Urgh this is s–t.”

The Pretenders I'll Stand by You cover artwork

As the dream turned sour for Steinberg hope emerged in the form of an impromptu gig.

Despite her initial disappointment with the track, Hynde pressed on: “I played it for a couple of girls who weren’t in the [music] business and by the end of it they were both in tears. I said, OK, put it out.”

The universality of the lyrics that Steinberg feared were too soft and generic is exactly what makes ‘I’ll Stand by You’ such a special song.

It speaks of complete love and unquestioning support when we are at our weakest. The kind of love that means someone is there to wipe away our tears and walk with us.

Thanks to Steinberg, Kelly and Hynde we can experience the shared understanding that we all feel that way sometimes. And that we all want to be there to stand by someone we care about.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

us time

Life is busy. For couples with children life is even busier as they shuttle kids from activity to activity, keep the house running and hold down full-time jobs.

It is not a surprise that when our counsellors ask couples about how much ‘ us time ’ they get, the answer is usually ‘no time for that’.

No time for us time


When our counsellors ask why, the responses are again similar.

us time

The general theme being that as a relationship matures, the practicalities of life – raising children, demanding jobs, caring for older relatives – impinge on our time. ‘Us time’ simply gets squeezed out.

That realisation saddens me because we are sleepwalking into an exhausted acceptance that ‘us time’ is a luxury we simply cannot afford.

Thinking about relationships as living entities


We have talked before about how the relationship with our partner is a living entity in its own right. By that definition we must think of it in the same way we would our children; vulnerable, precious gifts that require time, love, attention and protection.

This consequently poses some tricky questions we all need to consider.

Ask yourself honestly if your relationship gets the time it deserves. For example, when was the last time you sat down with your partner and talked? And by talking I don’t mean the nightly bedtime ‘did you pay the insurance?’ Q&A session.

us time

I mean a proper conversation about both of you and your relationship. Discussing hopes, fears, emotions and how you are doing in life right now.

How much love do we give to our relationships?


Equally does your relationship get much love?

In the busyness of life we often take it for granted like the foundations of a house; reliable, out of sight and requiring little thought. Investing love in our relationship becomes something we used to do when it was fresh and vibrant.

Going through the motions during us time


How much attention we give to our relationship goes a long way to deciding how healthy it remains. Neglect a child and their behaviour, health and wellbeing will deteriorate rapidly.

So is ‘us time’ an afterthought?

Do you plan a date night together and really make it a special occasion or is it a case of going through the motion when you have time?

When it does happen are you guilty of being present in body but not mind? Distracted by work emails or Instagram on your smartphone?

us time
This is not what date night is for

Protecting our relationship


When we think about protecting a relationship, typically our minds turn to the risks posed by affairs and neglect. Threats, however, can be more subtle.

A good example is whether your time together is protected. Or is it the first thing to go when schedules get really busy?

Do you nourish it by thanking and praising your partner for what they do or is it more often harsh criticism (to their face or behind their back)?

Give your relationship what it needs to thrive


The relationship with your partner is far too valuable to sacrifice.

We must ask ourselves if packing the week with activities for our kids and working every hour that God sends is worth it if our relationship becomes a deeply unhappy, lonely mess.


The Spark Counselling

The Spark’s couples counselling and marriage counselling services offer the opportunity to speak to a professional counsellor about the difficulties and challenges you are facing in your relationship right now.

To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates, advice and blogs about relationships and how to make them work.

spend time with people

We continue our series of Q&A sessions with members of The Spark team with part 2 of our chat with Jen Graham, Education Services Director.

Catch up with part 1 or dive in to part 2 as we learn more about how The Spark is equipping teachers to improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils.

Plus why we only use experienced counsellors to deliver school based counselling.

Q. How is The Spark supporting teachers and other school staff improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils?


Teachers have such a positive role to play in the lives of children.

It’s fundamentally important that they are provided with opportunities to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills to support pupils most effectively.

parenting teenagers

That’s why we offer Scottish Mental Health First Aid for Young People and Relationship First Aid for Teachers as continuous professional development options.

From these, we’ve seen an increasing confidence in Teachers understanding of mental health, in how relationships are impacted by attachment, and in the skills required to offer the most effective first response support.

Q. Some youth counselling providers place trainee counsellors in schools. Why has The Spark chosen to only use fully-qualified practitioners?


We understand that for many organisations, utilising trainee counsellors is their preferred model.

However, for us, there is nothing more important than ensuring children receive professional support from a fully qualified, professional counsellor.

We don’t deploy trainees or volunteers in schools. We manage to balance the costs of this and still make our services affordable for schools.

Q. The Spark has become Scotland’s biggest provider of school-based counselling. Is there further expansion in the pipeline?


We have experienced significant growth over the last 18 months but it is built upon 10 years’ experience of working with schools. So we’re not a new kid on the block!

It’s our intention to continue this growth to ensure children have access to the best school based counselling service. That requires all CYP counselling agencies in Scotland to play their part.

Ultimately we all want to reduce the pressure on CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

Collectively we can ensure that emotional and mental wellbeing is considered fundamental to every pupil’s readiness to learn.


Take a look at our Children and Young People content for more information about:

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney

In the latest of our Q&A sessions we took some time out to speak to Jen Graham, The Spark’s Education Services Director about school based counselling.

Jen heads up our team of children and young people (CYP) counsellors and trainers. Across Scotland they are supporting over 5,000 pupils, their teachers and families this academic year.

Find out why schools are turning to The Spark for support, the issues our counsellors help children with and the real benefits of school based counselling.

Q. Jen, why are many schools in Scotland choosing to host their own school based counsellors?

“Schools recognise that when pupils are struggling with their emotional and mental wellbeing, they’re not in the best place to learn.

Specialist services such as ours give pupils a confidential space to explore their worries and concerns with a trusted professional.”

Kids learning

“Head Teachers and class teachers recognise the importance of health and wellbeing for pupils. It makes a fundamental contribution to help raising attainment in the class room.”

Q. Are the issues pupils are struggling with in school common across the board?

“The range of issues pupils are referred with are wide ranging and often complex.

Our CYP counsellors can be handling attachment issues, anger and aggression, parental separation, loss, trauma and abuse. Unfortunately we often work with pupils who have had multiple Adverse Childhood Experience’s (ACEs).”

Q. There has been a lot of mention in the media recently about ‘early intervention’ approaches. Is that something The Spark looks to achieve?

“Absolutely. That always has been and continues to be one of our founding principles.

In an ideal world our therapeutic services would be available to pupils as soon as they need support. Not just when an issue has become something more serious. This is why we operate school based counselling from Primary 1 right up to S6 in Scottish schools.

It is of course not always possible to take this approach. But with the creation of the Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), more schools have been able to take an early intervention approach.”

Q. You mentioned PEF funding as a way schools have been able to improve mental health. How much of a positive impact has PEF funding had?

“The Spark has worked in schools for many years but the landscape has changed massively in the last 18 months.

In the past, schools didn’t have the budget to address the needs they could see were there. School based counselling was therefore largely reliant on grant funding.  But all that’s changed with PEF.”

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney
Members of The Spark’s CYP team discuss the impact of school based counselling with Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP.

“We can now engage with Head Teachers and local authorities directly when the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils is considered a priority. With over a decade of experience in this area we have refined our model to one that schools know is effective.

Not all schools need to provide additional support for the emotional and mental wellbeing of their pupils. For those that do, The Spark has a bank of highly experienced, fully-qualified CYP counsellors ready to go into schools.”

Q. How do The Spark’s CYP counsellors integrate into a new school? Does it take long for them to gain the trust of pupils and teachers?

“By working in schools every week, our CYP counsellors become part of the school team. They operate in partnership with teachers and support staff to get a real understanding of the school and its pupils.

Sometimes that’s just one day per week but increasingly there’s a greater need. Many schools have increased their services to 3 or 4 days per week, every week of the academic year.

When it comes to pupils, our aim is to normalise speaking to a counsellor about your emotions and wellbeing. By getting closely involved in pupil assemblies, parents presentations and teachers meetings, we do whatever is needed to show the whole school community that we’re there to support them.”

Q. What outcomes are schools seeing as a result of school based counselling?

“The benefits to schools and individual children and young people vary as much as the difficulties they come with.

At times the changes are small improvements in self-esteem or confidence. In other cases there we will see a significant impact upon attendance/timekeeping and behaviour. Ongoing evaluations and assessments mean we can continuously monitor the progress made by pupils.”

relationship education evaluation
Related article: Evaluation of school based counselling for Clackmannanshire Council

“Feedback from parents is an important aspect of our work. Youth counselling is at its most effective when we are able to work collaboratively with families and teaching staff. In fact we’re told of happier, more communicative children at home by parents regularly.

This positive feedback often spreads to surrounding schools who then decide to work with us. As a charity this is a real positive as it helps us realise our ambition of helping as many children and young people as we can in Scotland.”


In part 2 of our interview we talk about how the The Spark is equipping teachers to improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils, and why the organisation only uses fully-qualified, experienced counsellors to deliver school based counselling.

Take a look at our Children and Young People content for more information about school based counselling, education programmes and training/support for teachers.

CAMHS

Data released last month again highlighted the scale of the challenge Scotland faces as it seeks to improve youth mental health.

Waiting times for young people to be assessed by their local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) grabbed the headlines once more.

In some regions over 80% of referrals are seen within the Government’s stated 18 week limit for referrals. However in many it is as low as just 20%.

CAMHS youth mental health

The data also highlighted the number of ‘rejections’ within each NHS board area. These are the children and young people deemed unsuitable for support through the current system.

CAMHS services are not the problem


The current model of treatment was intended to route all forms of mental health issue – low and high tariff cases – to CAMHS. However in reality CAMHS is now restricted – by various factors – to helping the most vulnerable young people.

Even the terminology – rejections – implies CAMHS services are not interested in helping. The truth is they simply cannot.

And this rather than the headline grabbing statistics on waiting times and rejection rates is where solutions to the problem lie.

What needs to change?


As Scotland’s largest provider of school-based counselling services, The Spark is well placed to understand the realities of the current youth mental health system.

CAMHS self-harm unhappy teenager

The present model – which allows personal issues to escalate into full-blown mental health problems before children are seen by a professional – needs to be turned on its head.

50% of all diagnosable mental health issues in children begin before they reach the age of 14. Scotland therefore needs to break new ground by focusing on prevention first and foremost.

Making early-intervention a priority


Taking an early intervention approach – as The Spark does with our school-based counselling and education programmes – offers a more efficient and effective solution. By focusing on preventing minor issues from becoming major problems we can achieve a step-change in how we tackle youth mental health.

Expanding the current model of youth mental health care


The current model of care is based on a restrictive set of options for young people struggling with mental health issues. Through the NHS model – irrespective of severity – a young person attends their GP and if they cannot resolve the issue the final step is a CAMHS referral.

This ignores the highly skilled youth mental health practitioners’ operating out with NHS infrastructure. Directing young people to third sector providers like The Spark could provide a more inclusive approach.

For those who do not meet criteria for CAMHS support, third sector providers could offer an effective alternative. Thus reducing pressure on CAMHS services and cutting waiting times/rejection rates without the need for huge investment.

Utilising the third sector in support of CAMHS


To achieve this there needs to be better understanding of available services for those on the frontline. GPs, parents, carers, CAMHS themselves need to be equipped with better knowledge of the services available.

CAMHS youth mental health new direction

And more importantly they need to be given permission to signpost and recommend services that sit outside the NHS infrastructure.

Time to move on from the NHS-only model


We owe it to current and future generations of young people to get a better system in place. In order to do so we must no longer be slavish to the old ‘NHS-only’ models of provision.

Joining up services from both the public and third sectors can fill the gaps in the current model. CAMHS should still have a vital role to play but alongside additional support services.

Indeed this something specifically referred to in the Scottish Government’s own 2017-2027 mental health strategy.

Using the skills and expertise available Scotland can create a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to youth mental health.


School based counselling, education programmes and support

The Spark is Scotland’s largest supplier of school based counselling and support services.

Our specialist Children and Young People counsellors are embedded within the school community, working in partnership with teachers, support staff and families.

Find out more about our school based counselling for Primary and Secondary schools and our dedicated training for teachers.

If your child has been rejected by CAMHS, we may be able to support them with youth counselling. To find out more make an enquiry online or freephone 0808 802 0050.

Though we will all try our hardest to avoid it, at some point in our lives we will experience heartbreak.

Whether it comes from the end of a relationship or a sudden loss, a broken heart can be and often is the greatest trauma we will ever go through.

Dealing with a broken heart and asking: why?

Suffering a broken heart is followed by the determination to answer the simplest yet most complex of questions: why?

Often leading to an endless quest for answers beyond what we already know to be true, but deep-down wish to avoid accepting.

Recovering from a broken heart

In this excellent talk, psychologist Guy Winch discusses how recovering from heartbreak starts with a determination to fight our instincts.

Instincts to idealize and search for answers that aren’t there. Before offering tips on how to, in time, move on.


The Spark Counselling

Are you dealing with relationship breakdown and heartbreak at the moment?

The Spark’s counselling and relationship support services offer the opportunity to speak to a professional counsellor about the difficulties and challenges you are facing right now.

We provide counselling services to individuals, couples, children and young people, and families.

To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates, advice and blogs about relationships and how to make them work.

Valentine's Day gift

When Valentine’s Day comes around we are reminded it is time to focus on that special someone. For a day it is all about demonstrating our love for our spouse or partner.

Soppy cards, flowers and chocolates are all great of course. But the fact we need a prompt is a pretty sad reflection on our efforts for the other 364 days of the year.

Valentine's Day gift

Which – for me anyway – raised a disconcerting thought: why do we often need a reminder to show love to the person we share our life with?

I just don’t have the headspace right now…


On Valentine’s we are encouraged to show our love with gestures and efforts – a special home cooked meal, a small gift or a ‘date night’ perhaps.

Inherent to all of those things is the necessity of time. Space to think about what to do and time to make it happen.

Modern life however has a habit of crowding out those opportunities.

Work, families, kids, bills and the like get in the way. Even having the head space to think “what would he/she enjoy on Valentine’s Day?” can be rare. Hence the need for a reminder on 14 February to find some sliver of time to come up with what is often a rushed and poorly chosen gesture.

Or worse still, nothing at all.

No more passion ‘til next Valentine’s Day


Undoubtedly the daily grind drains the spontaneity that makes a gesture romantic. Amongst emails, insurance renewals and getting the kids to bed the natural desire to express our love for one another gets buried.

Valentine's Day hectic life

But the hectic pace of life is not the only hindrance to expressing our devotion more than once a year.

To love at all is to be vulnerable


Showing our love for someone, expressing how important and vital they are to our own life makes us vulnerable. Committing to another human in this way leaves us exposed to the risk of being hurt. A risk we might naturally try to avoid.

CS Lewis summed it up best in his book The Four Loves when he wrote: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

Not exactly the objective any of us would set for ourselves, is it? Not to mention the fact you will be hard pushed to find a Valentine’s Day card featuring that particular quote.

A greater truth about love


If you are familiar with this quote you will already know that Lewis was writing about a far greater truth concerning relationships and love:

“If you want to make sure of keeping it (your heart) intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

A risk worth taking


To demonstrate our love for another is a risk worth taking. It is good for us – though we might initially fear it – compared to the cold, harsh alternative.

To quote the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone gives you courage.”

Valentine's Day

Enjoy Valentine’s Day and lavish as much love and affection upon your partner as you can. But more importantly, when you wake up on 15 February try to remember that it is just as crucial to do the same today as it was yesterday.


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

At The Spark we have been supporting couples navigate the ups and downs of life for over 50 years. We can do the same for you.

Find out more about couple counselling or marriage counselling.

Locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre or contact us to discuss your needs.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

Follow us on social media

Get in touch, join the conversation and get the latest tips, blogs and news on Twitter and Facebook.

Valentine's Day

It might be the time of year to celebrate love but that does not mean Valentine’s Day is filled with excitement for everyone. Some will be approaching February 14 with one particular thought: do I break up with her/him before or after Valentine’s Day?

Valentine's Day

I don’t want to be ‘that’ guy on Valentine’s Day…


Society has evolved a sort of unwritten list of “no-no’s” over time. Things like not liking puppies or ignoring queuing etiquette are examples that will raise more than just a Roger Moore-esque eyebrow.

Splitting up with someone at any time around Valentine’s Day is on that same list.

Valentine's Day
You’re breaking up with me… on Valentine’s Day?

From time to time we have all laughed about the guy or girl we know who broke up with their partner before Valentine’s just to save having to buy a gift. Or discussed how we could never be ‘that guy’ (or girl) who dumped someone before Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day and relationships


Joking aside, Valentine’s Day can create genuine anxieties and raise questions about relationships. The kinds of concerns that are more legitimate than simply trying to avoid paying for a nice meal.

It is not uncommon, for example, that Valentine’s Day can bring with it fears about commitment.

Thanks to shrewd marketing by jewellers and the advertising industry, Valentine’s Day tends to be an occasion when relationships achieve new levels of commitment. Marriage proposals are part and parcel of the day, and requests to move in are becoming ever more common.

Peer pressure and the weight of expectation can be problematic. If you are not ready for such a step and think your partner absolutely is, you might feel like calling time on your relationship is the only option.

Valentine’s Day marks the end of ‘cuffing season’


The aftereffects of the Christmas ‘cuffing season’ can also come in to play around this time of year.

The prospect of spending winter nights and the Christmas holiday (party) season alone drives some singletons to ‘cuff’ themselves to a partner.  There is no guarantee however that both parties understand that this might only be a short term thing.

valentine's day holding hands

February can be when the ‘need’ for coupling ends for one half of the relationship as spring approaches and the prospect of a care-free summer rises on the horizon.

Do we still love each other?


At a deeper level Valentine’s Day can bring with it a worrying realisation for some couples.

While ‘other couples’ are excited about picking cards and gifts for Valentine’s Day, you are not. This can trigger plenty of difficult questions: what does that mean for our relationship? Do I still love her/him as much? Does she/he still love me?

What is common to all these scenarios is that to navigate them we need to talk. Not to girlfriends or the lads down the pub, but to our partners.

Talk about it


Too often in relationships we avoid discussing important issues with each other. Instead we allow our own assumptions – he/she is going to propose – to direct our actions.

Frequently these can be inaccurate or incomplete and based on interpretations of what our partner has done or said. Without open and honest dialogue, we can end up causing ourselves and our partners much emotional pain.

Don’t assume, ask!


Your partner may be thinking about a proposal around Valentine’s Day. But if you speak to them about where your relationship is you may find they love you enough to wait until you are both ready.

Or they may be under the impression this is what you want from them and they are not quite ready for the commitment either!

valentine's day talk about it

All relationships move at different speeds. Better communication can help you both understand that you are ultimately heading in the same direction but at slightly different speeds.

There is no right or wrong time to break up with your partner. There are however good and bad reasons to separate.

Make sure this Valentine’s that any decision you take only comes after spending time talking about it.


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work. If you are feeling unsure about a relationship, we can help.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work.

Follow The Spark on social media

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Songs for Sound Minds #24 – ‘Get on With Your Short Life’ by Brian Kennedy


Our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series could very well have been written specifically for January. An antidote if you will to a month spent grappling with our extra ‘holiday weight’, body image angst and post-Christmas diets.

get on with your short life

Celebrity awards season is in full swing and between the Grammys and the Oscars there are plenty of opportunities feel bad about ourselves compared to the ‘beautiful people’.

Many of us will have fallen off the healthy eating bandwagon and simultaneously wondered why our waistline isn’t shrinking.  All in all it is not difficult to find reasons to be unhappy about who we are at this time of year.

Why do you have to waste time on your waistline?

Instead of committing to another fad diet or dropping your hard-earned cash on yet more clothes, we have another suggestion.

Listen to one of Ireland’s most under-rated singer songwriters, Brian Kennedy and his simple advice: get on with your short life.

You know you’re only dreaming

Accompanied by one of the catchiest of catchy tunes, ‘Get on With Your Short Life’ is a worthwhile reminder of how we tend to focus on the wrong things in life.

Clothes, looking younger and the aspiration to be like those on the red carpet can dominate our thinking. We end up tied in knots trying to be the version of ourselves we think will bring the most happiness.

get on with your short life
Of course she woke up looking like this…

The tragedy of it all is that we miss out on ‘this sweet precious time’ that is life. The time we spend pursuing the right shoes, new clothes and the ‘perfect’ waistline cannot be recovered.

It is time with loved ones, experiencing the joy and security of good relationships that is lost forever.

Stop daydreaming and get on with your short life

As Brian suggests, stop the ‘if only’ daydreaming and get on with enjoying this short life. You’ll be glad you did.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

conflict and the brain

Colleagues from The Spark attended the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution’s Annual Conference (SCCR) last week entitled ‘Conflict. It’s all about the brain…or is it?’

The conference focused on how the interaction between our body, feelings and mind determines how we behave.

In particular there was a focus on how this relates to the mental health and behaviour of children and young people, issues that are central to the work we do here at The Spark.

Scotland’s Mental Health strategy


The Ministerial Address was given by Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Childcare and Early Years.  The Minister covered a broad range of Scottish Government policies including the 10 Year Mental Health Strategy and Education Attainment Challenge.

conflict Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy

We have talked elsewhere about The Spark’s increasing contribution to the Scottish Government’s agenda. Our school based counselling and support services are available to over 5,000 children this academic year.

This is complemented by educational programmes building emotional resilience in children and tackling issues like cyber-bullying and violence.

The triumvirate of support is completed by our dedicated training for teachers and support staff in schools.

‘We do talk about our feelings – just about a year after we’ve had them’


A particular highlight from the conference was the presentation by James Docherty from Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit.

James offered up one of the most memorable quotes from the day: ‘In Scotland we do talk about our feelings – just about a year after we’ve had them.’

conflict SCCR 2018 conference images

This brought a laugh of recognition from the audience. Unsurprisingly we still have some way to go in Scotland when it comes to feelings and emotions.

The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences


James talked about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) which are a key area of focus for those working with the excluded.  Troubled family relationships lead to troubled children at home, school and in the community.

Those children with ACEs of neglect, household adversity and overt abuse have been shown to have a greatly increased likelihood of health harming behaviours in later life.

These significantly impact on the behaviours we exhibit towards others, subsequently undermining family and community cohesion and leading to a wide range of societal problems.

The Spark’s Tackling Violence programme


The Spark operates the ‘Tackling Violence’ programme in schools and evaluations regularly demonstrate the effectiveness of the course. Developing awareness of the damaging impact of violence on personal, family and community relationships is the objective of the programme.

Typically 90% or more of participating young people have a greater awareness and understanding of:

  • the impact violence can have on their community
  • the consequences of being in a gang and
  • the impact their choices have on their future.

This awareness of the impact of feelings on behaviour ties in with the main theme of the SCCR conference.

Conflict and the Emotional Homunculus


Dr Sara Watkin, SCCR Medical Advisor, introduced us to the Emotional Homunculus – the part of the brain that uses feelings and emotions to decide how we will act and react.

This included a whistle stop tour of the brain and an overview of the five primary emotional states we experience. These states along with the associated chemicals released in the body (the ‘Drugs Cabinet of your Mind’) impact upon our behaviour and responses during conflict situations:

  • Anxious and Afraid
  • Fight or Flight
  • Freeze and Shutdown
  • Rest and Digest and
  • Alert and Engaged.

In using the Emotional Homunculus model SCCR is ultimately aiming to help us cope better with conflict situations by understanding how thoughts and feelings impact upon our behaviour.

Tackling conflict through emotional resilience


The Spark has made a commitment to utilise the resources and information created by SCCR.

By sharing with our counsellors working schools we intend to help children and young people improve their understanding of how their emotions and bodies work to influence their well-being.

The Spark – counselling and relationship support for all


Through our work with individuals, couples, families, children and young people we are helping people to get the best out of their relationships.

The Spark provides a range of support services including counselling, free online resources, the free Relationship Helpline, Relationship MOT and school-based counselling.

For more information on the Emotional Homunculus and your #CranialCocktail visit the SCCR website.