Benjamin Clementine

Songs for Sound Minds #18 – ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine


On the surface ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine is a song about bullying. Dig a little deeper and it becomes a celebration of surviving and learning to be at peace with the experience.

Many of us have experienced bullying and the often profound, negative effects on our self-esteem and confidence. In the song Benjamin Clementine – winner of the 2015 Mercury Prize for his haunting debut album ‘At least for now’ – explores the impact bullying had on him.

We won’t leave you alone

Like so many his bullying occurred in school following the transition from primary to secondary. Combined with the eventual divorce of his parents, Clementine struggled to handle the relentless bullying and feelings of helplessness familiar to almost all victims.

‘We won’t leave you alone
We want you to die
We won’t leave you alone.’

The composition of the song was influenced by Clementine’s study of the work of British psychiatrist, Donald Winnicott. Winnicott determined that bullying – albeit on a lesser scale – could produce similar patterns of trauma in patients as those of war.

Where is Aleppoville?

This theme features most obviously in the setting for Clementine’s recollections. Aleppoville – the ‘little city of Aleppo’- is where children experience bullying according to Clementine.

It may not be intentional, but to choose Aleppo as the location of his song is surely more than coincidence. The real Aleppo has of course been at the centre of the ongoing Syrian civil war that has devastated the lives of countless children and families.

Choosing forgiveness

Benjamin ClementineDespite the trauma of his experiences, Clementine draws the song to a conclusion based on his chosen path of acceptance and forgiveness. Realising that he will never know why he was bullied, he has forgiven them – characterised as a single individual, ‘Billy the bully’.

‘Billy the bully, it’s alright
You’ve been forgiven
Come on now Zacchaeus
Come down from your sycamore tree
We’re dancing, roses are found dancing’

Clementine visualises himself inviting Billy to come down from his perch and join him as Jesus of Nazareth did with Zacchaeus the hated tax collector. The traditional roles have been reversed: the bully is the one now fearfully hiding in the tree whilst the victim is free to dance on the ground below.

What makes a bully a bully?

By swapping the roles of the bully and victim Clementine highlights an important truth: that bullies tend to bully as a reaction to their anxieties, pain and unhappiness in their own lives. Interestingly it was Winnicott who first hypothesised the link between anti-social behaviour and an inadequate or ruptured home environment.

According to the NSPCC, nearly half of all children and young people are bullied at some point in their school lives.  Childline reported 24,000 counselling sessions with children about bullying in 2016/17.  The effects on the young person’s mental health can be startling and the NHS website states that bullying can lead to self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Reaching a state of forgiveness is a big challenge for the victims of bullying. Supporting them to reach the kind of contentment found by Clementine is something that we at The Spark embrace as a central purpose of our counselling and support services.

Equally we have a duty to consider the wider issue of how bullies are created. By supporting children who struggle with issues like family breakdown and anger we can prevent them becoming another ‘Billy the bully’.


The Spark’s Children & Young People’s counsellors work in primary and secondary schools supporting individuals to address these inter-connected issues. By working with children dealing with difficult life experiences, we can help to reduce the incidence of bullying in schools.

If you know of someone who is being bullied or whose mental health has been affected by bullying call us on our freephone number 0808 802 0050 or complete and enquiry form.

Find out more about our counselling services and our work providing school-based counsellors.


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

school pupils

The Spark is at the forefront of efforts to improve the mental and emotional wellbeing of school pupils in Scotland. It is widely recognised that a child’s ability and readiness to learn can be compromised by difficult life experiences.

Through counselling, education programmes and training for teachers we are helping schools manage the emotional and mental wellbeing of pupils. Thus allowing teachers and pupils to focus purely on learning and raising attainment.

School pupils come first thanks to counselling services from The Spark


Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP recently visit Abercromby Primary to see the impact that school-based counselling has had on raising attainment. The school has partnered with The Spark since the start of 2017 to provide counselling for pupils.

During his visit the Deputy First Minister met with pupils, teachers and parents to hear about the benefits of placing youth counsellors in schools. At the conclusion of his visit, the Minister hailed the positive impact of school-based counselling:

school pupils school-based counselling John Swinney The Spark“I was delighted to visit Abercromby Primary School in Clackmannanshire and see first-hand the positive impact and effect that the Spark counselling service is having on young people at the school.

This service is providing a safe space to identified children, giving them an opportunity to explore their feelings and emotions.

Our children’s health and emotional wellbeing is one of the most important considerations that we must take as parents, carers and teachers. Counselling can play a key role in improving pupil health and wellbeing and can have a direct positive impact on attainment.”

Launched at the end of 2016, the Pupil Equity Fund was established to help close the attainment gap. Schools across Scotland have turned to The Spark to support those efforts through school-based counselling.

Supporting pupils dealing with anger issues, parental conflict & family breakdown


Counselling can support pupils as they process significant life challenges. Negative influences upon their lives – parental conflict, poverty, bullying and family breakdown – can severely compromise a child’s readiness to learn.

Mental and emotional support through counselling can reduce the impact of such issues and provide pupils with enhanced opportunities to realise their potential.

Counselling makes a positive impact on young lives


Through counselling and other support services, Abercromby Primary plus 10 other schools in Clackmannanshire have benefitted from The Spark’s therapeutic services for children.

Measured against the Scottish Government’s SHANARRI* indicators, the following outcomes were achieved by the end of the 2016/17 academic year:

  • School pupils that experienced an improvement in their distress levels had an average 9-point shift. A significant improvement by clinical standards
  • Feedback from teachers confirmed that counselling is positively impacting upon behaviour, concentration levels, pupil motivation and pupil resilience
  • 89% of parent responses stated there had been some positive change/lots of positive change in their children.

Youth counsellors have worked on a wide-range of issues with school pupils during the academic year. Presenting problems illustrate the significant challenges facing children and young people growing up in Scotland. These included:

  • Anger and aggression
  • Trauma
  • Anxiety
  • Parental mental health issues
  • Kinship/foster care
  • Loss and bereavement.

Supporting parents and families


Parental feedback from our work in Clackmannanshire confirmed that parents considered counselling a valuable service for their children. Furthermore they believe counselling is having a positive impact upon children in terms of:

  • How happy they are to attend school
  • Attendance and timekeeping
  • Their behaviour at home
  • Their willingness to talk to parents about personal difficulties.

school pupilsUtilising the Pupil Equity Fund to provide counselling is an effective way to close the attainment gap. We have been engaged by schools across Scotland to support in excess of 5,000 pupils during the 2017/18 academic year.

Visit The Spark website to find out how our Children and Young People counselling and programmes could benefit your school. Read about our counselling services for Primary schools and counselling in Secondary schools.

You can also download a copy of the Clackmannanshire Council evaluation referred to in this article.

Relationship First Aid for Teachers

Find out more about the Relationship First Aid for Teachers courses which are delivered throughout the academic year in locations across Scotland.

Counselling in schools

To find out more about how The Spark’s school-based counselling and support services could benefit your school, complete an enquiry form or contact the CYP Team on 0141 222 3910.

* SHANARRI – safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included.

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney visited Abercromby Primary to see how the Pupil Equity Fund is being used to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of children. The Clackmannanshire school is utilising the fund to provide counselling to pupils via The Spark’s Children and Young People Team.

school counselling deputy first minister John Swinney

In Clackmannanshire alone The Spark’s youth counsellors have worked with 55 pupils and their families since the start of 2017, primarily addressing issues of mental and emotional wellbeing.

After meeting with pupils, parents, teachers and The Spark’s school counsellors, the Deputy First Minister said:

“Our children’s health and emotional wellbeing is one of the most important considerations that we must take as parents, carers and teachers. Counselling can play a key role in improving pupil health and wellbeing and can have a direct positive impact on attainment.

We know that if a child’s emotional and mental wellbeing are negatively impacted by difficult experiences, then learning is fundamentally and significantly impaired. 

I was delighted to visit Abercromby Primary School in Clackmannanshire and see first-hand the positive impact and effect that The Spark counselling service is having on young people at the school. This service is providing a safe space to identified children, giving them an opportunity to explore their feelings and emotions.” 

Helping over 5,000 children in 2017/18


During the 2017/18 academic year The Spark will support over 5,000 pupils through counselling and wellbeing services. Investment in those services will come through the Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Fund.

The fund provides £120m that head teachers are able to access in order to close the poverty related attainment gap.

Several Clackmannanshire Council schools are investing in pupil counselling as well as other support services provided by The Spark. Support services include the unique Relationship First Aid for Teachers training.

Positive feedback from parents


Evaluation of counselling completed during the January – May 2017 semester for Clackmannanshire Council demonstrated positive outcomes for pupils, teachers and parents:

  • 61% of pupils initially referred for counselling were experiencing emotional distress. After completing counselling sessions this had reduced to 7%
  • Parents noted substantial positive change in their child following counselling. 89% of parents confirming ‘some positive change’ or ‘lots of positive change’ in their child
  • Teacher feedback confirmed counselling is contributing to SHANARRI wellbeing indicators* and a positive impact on pupil concentration levels, behaviour, coping skills and motivation.

Deputy First Minister hails “positive impact” of school-based counselling


school counselling John Swinney The Spark

Concluding his visit to Abercromby Primary the Deputy First Minister hailed the positive impact of school-based counselling and the collborative approach taken by The Spark:

“With the financial support of the Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Funding – spent at the discretion of Headteachers – this service is carried out effectively through collaborative working between the school and the local authority. 

It is done with the firm understanding that a child’s ability to learn in the classroom does not exist in isolation of the wider circumstances that they may be coping with at home and in their community. It is essential that all children are given appropriate support to achieve their potential.”

Current commitments for the 2017/18 academic year will see The Spark will support over 5,000 Scottish school children. Through our network of coordinators, youth counsellors and service scalability we expect to support more schools in the coming year.

Counselling and support services for schools from The Spark


The Spark’s Children and Young People Team is focused on providing children with the Best Start in Life. Working with children and young people our mission is to help individuals become:

  • confident individuals
  • successful learners
  • effective contributors to society
  • responsible citizens.

Leanr more about The Spark’s school-based counselling and support services by completing an enquiry form. Alternatively contact the CYP Team on 0141 222 3910.

Find out more about The Spark’s Children and Young People programmes and how we can support your school in raising attainment. You can also read about our counselling services for Primary schools and counselling in Secondary schools.

Relationship First Aid for Teachers


Find out more about the Relationship First Aid for Teachers programme delivered throughout the academic year in locations across Scotland.

* SHANARRI – safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included.

children and young people counsellors

The mental health of children and young people has rightly become a mainstream political topic this year. Barely a week has gone by without more worrying research about the mental health of children and young people. Indeed only this week a BBC report highlighted the ‘patchy’ provision of counselling for young people across Scotland.

Society is facing a rising tide of youth mental health problems but there are causes for optimism. The Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Fund is a fine example. Launched in 2016 by Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP, the fund allows head teachers to invest in removing the barriers to learning such as poor mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Schools, children and mental health


youth mental healthThe fund is aimed at giving head teachers autonomy to spend cash to close the poverty related attainment gap. Head teachers now have direct access to a pot of £120m which will benefit over 2,500 schools in Scotland.

Many have chosen to focus on the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of pupils by partnering with The Spark’s Children and Young People Team.

By providing youth counsellors in each school the fund is getting specialist support to children struggling with significant life issues. Evaluations of the subsequent benefits for pupils, teachers and parents over the January-May 2017 semester has been very encouraging.

Making a positive impact on children and families


A recent review of one such programme for Clackmannanshire Council demonstrated a significant positive impact on pupils, teachers and parents:

  • At the outset of the programme 61% of pupils referred for counselling were experiencing emotional distress. By the end of counselling this had reduced to just 7%
  • 89% of parents of pupils receiving counselling indicated there had been ‘some positive change’/‘lots of positive change’ after counselling.

Crucially the benefit of placing counsellors in schools extends to teachers as well as children.

Helping teachers to teach


children and young people counsellorsTeachers noticed improvements in concentration levels, behaviour, motivation and coping skills of pupils receiving counselling. Better motivated and focused pupils foster a better environment for teaching and learning.

Feedback from schools confirmed counselling is making a direct contribution when measured against the 8 SHANARRI* wellbeing indicators .

A number of schools have also utilised The Spark’s training services, providing teachers with relationship education programmes. Relationship First Aid for Teachers equips education professionals with a better understanding of attachment and relationship issues presented by children. Along with the skills to support more effectively in school.

The benefits of youth counselling


Research confirms that allocating the Pupil Equity Fund to school-based counselling and support services makes a real difference to children in Scotland. Here at The Spark we are delighted to play an important role in helping young people realise their potential in school.

Current commitments for academic year 2017/18 will see The Spark support over 5,000 school pupils. With our network of coordinators, youth counsellors and service scalability we expect to work with more schools and local authorities during the academic year.


Counselling services for schools

We would love to talk you about how The Spark’s school-based counselling and support services could benefit your school. Get in touch by completing an enquiry form. Alternatively contact the CYP Team on 0141 222 3910 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday).

Find out more about The Spark’s Children and Young People programmes. You can also read about our counselling services for Primary schools and counselling in Secondary schools.

Read about our Relationship First Aid for Teachers courses which are delivered throughout the academic year in locations across Scotland.

* SHANARRI – safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included.

Jon Bon Jovi Blood on Blood

Songs for Sound Minds #17 – ‘Blood on Blood’ by Bon Jovi


In the Songs for Sound Minds series we often pick tracks because of they have been crafted so that every line serves a very specific purpose. This week we have chosen a song on the basis of just 4 lines.

Blood on Blood by Bon Jovi

Much of Blood on Blood features the kind of lyrics that would have had parents rushing to unplug the cassette player (yes, the song is that old) of their son or daughter. Blood oaths and shoplifting are just a few of the recollections in a song that charts a misspent youth in late 1970s/early 1980s America.

It is not however the acts of the 3 teenage tearaways of Blood on Blood that are important; it is what they represent. And what they represent is something very uplifting.

Jon Bon Jovi Blood on BloodFriendships then and now

Blood on Blood – if we can distil the song down to a single theme – is about friendships. After charting the highs of their youth together, Bon Jovi’s lyrics turn somewhat melancholy. The lead singer of his eponymous band recalls how the trio have grown up and drifted apart.

‘Now Bobby, he’s an uptown lawyer
Danny, he’s a medicine man
And me, I’m just the singer
In a long haired rock’n’roll band’

Blood on Blood quickly turns from a rampaging rock anthem to a sombre reflection on lost friendship. You can hear the sadness in Bon Jovi’s voice at the end of friendships that were once everything to him. Not exactly the kind of uplifting song we usually pick for Songs for Sound Minds, is it?

A long and lonely ride

But like all good storytellers, Bon Jovi is keeping a beautiful conclusion up the sleeve of his leather biker jacket.

‘Through the years and miles between us
It’s been a long and lonely ride
But if I got that call in the dead of the night
I’d be right by your side’

The imagery here is deeply moving. A weary Bon Jovi is roused from his sleep in the wee small hours. The voice at the other end of the phone is one he has not heard in years. But that makes no difference.

No matter how many months or years have passed it is never too long to reach out to that old friend for comfort. Equally it might be time to call up your childhood best friend simply to say: “I know it’s been a while but how are you doing?”

‘Blood on Blood’ by Bon Jovi


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

emotional first aid guy winch

When we experience aches, pains or a chesty cough where do we head? Straight to our local doctor of course. When it comes to emotional pain – guilt, loss, loneliness – what do we do? Most of the time we try to sort it ourselves.

We (try to) keep calm and carry on. Instead of seeking the help of a professional – as we do for physical health problems – we soldier on. Often with wildly varying degrees of success or failure.

The concept of emotional first aid


It is this preference for dealing with mental health challenges on our own that has inspired the concept of emotional first aid. In this thought-provoking talk, psychologist Guy Winch encourages us to stop trying to cope on our own and practice emotional first aid instead.

Based on an attitude that views physical, emotional and mental pain in exactly the same way, Winch suggests we treat all these ailments with professional help.



The Spark Counselling

Are you dealing with emotional or relationship issues 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.

online counselling

When we think of counselling most of us will picture people sitting together in a quiet room talking. For the majority of individuals, couples and families this is indeed what counselling looks like. But the growth of digital technology has opened up a new form of therapy that is changing how we view counselling.

Limited options no more


Just a few years ago the options for counselling were limited to in-person or telephone sessions. Where attending therapy appointments at a counselling centre or speaking on the phone was impractical, alternatives were sparse.

Thankfully online counselling has changed things for the better.

Online counselling offers more choice


online counselling via mobile phoneOnline counselling now offers clients greater choice. How an individual or couple fit counselling sessions into their daily lives is now much more flexible. For some there might be aspects of in-person or telephone counselling that do not appeal. By contrast options such as therapy via interactive online chat or video calling can alleviate some concerns.

From a practical perspective, online counselling offers an alternative where traditional counselling settings are not practical. For example fitting in-person therapy appointments around childcare can make it all but impossible to attend. Online counselling offers a realistic alternative.

Fitting online counselling into hectic, everyday life


Similarly individuals who travel extensively for work can benefit from being able to access support no matter their location. Video calling can provide a means to connect with a therapist wherever work or travel may take a client. Maintaining a consistent therapeutic experience and ensuring progress being made continues.

Online counselling via live chat can also provide additional benefits like access to transcripts of each session. It can be difficult to remember all points discussed during a therapy session. Transcripts are beneficial therefore as a way to review key points between counselling sessions.

Online counselling can be a safer option for some


online counsellingIn more serious cases, individuals living with a difficult partner/spouse can feel in-person and/or telephone appointments are not safe. Completing a live chat session via a laptop or tablet can offer a more discrete alternative that can be completed at work for example.

Counselling via video calling can also offer an element of face-to-face content between counsellor and client even if physically being in the same room together is impossible. Many clients benefit from face-to-face interaction with their counsellor through online video calling.

Online counselling with The Spark


At The Spark we offer a range of online counselling options. From live chat to video calling, we can provide counselling services that suit your particular needs. You can find out more about our counselling services for individuals, couples and families on our website.

Alternatively freephone our team on 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry to discuss how The Spark can provide counselling that meets your requirements.

Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Society over 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. The impact of dementia on sufferers and their carers is deeply upsetting. In particular the effect on their relationship is a very emotionally and mentally painful feature of this illness.

The symptoms of dementia and the inevitable loss of the sufferers’ personality can push relationships to breaking point.

Losing the person you love to dementia


DementiaTypical symptoms can include impaired decision-making and problem solving. Meaning previously simple tasks like cooking a meal or going to buy groceries become very difficult. A dementia sufferer’s personality can change quite rapidly. Thus individuals who were once happy and relatively care-free can become easily frustrated, angry, anxious or depressed as a consequence of the illness.

Sufferers can in some cases experience delusions which result in them falsely accusing loved ones of stealing. The belief that their nearest and dearest are taking money, clothes or family heirlooms is a common symptom associated with certain kinds of dementia.

Can relationships survive dementia?


Common to all of these is the pressure it places upon relationships. Spouses, children and grand-children often take on responsibility as a primary carer.

Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and the like tend to fall solely on the shoulders of the carer. Mood changes, accusations of theft and worsening memory take an emotional toll on both the sufferer and carer. The deterioration of the relationship can be as painful for the carer as watching a loved one they once knew intimately, slowly drift away.

Dementia effects relationships within the whole family


But it is not only the relationship between carer and dementia sufferer that can be compromised. Relationships between the carer and their own partner, children and wider family can also be damaged. Increasing amounts of time spent caring for an elderly relative leaves little time to maintain a marriage or family relationship. The stress of caring can also easily spill over in to those relationships.

Dementia can appear like a life sentence for carers. The illness forces us to watch a loved one disappear. Meanwhile the pressure and responsibilities upon our own shoulders increase. There are thankfully ways to help ease the burden and make the best of your associated relationships.

Hurtful comments are not deliberate


It is important to understand that your loved one cannot control this process. Changes in mood, delusions and at times nasty and hurtful comments are not of their choosing. Dementia is the result of diseases and conditions that damage brain cells. The hurtful words may come from the mouth of your loved one but they are not deliberate.

Focus on positives and not dementia


DementiaFocusing on the positives can provide a break from the negativity that often surrounds dementia. Place your attention upon the things your loved one can still do as opposed to the things they cannot do. As a child grows we celebrate what they can do and almost entirely ignore what they are yet to learn. A similar approach can be beneficial when dealing with dementia.

Similarly, pay close attention to moments of positivity during your time with them. For example a kind word, smile or a time of laughter are the moments to take away from each visit. Not the repetitive conversations or forgetfulness.

Make time to deal with your own emotions


As a carer it is important to confront rather than ignore the feelings and emotions you are experiencing. Talking about your situation and how it is impacting upon you can help deal with difficult emotions.

Share your situation with other family members or friends. Join support groups and meet with fellow carers. Try your best not to bottle up how you are feeling.

At times carers may experience feelings of anger and resentment towards their loved one. Admitting having such feelings to a family member for example can create other emotions of shame and guilt.

When talking to family is not enough


Those feelings are completely natural under the difficult circumstances of dementia. But talking about them to family members can sometimes be impossible. Counselling can provide a safe place where you can talk freely and openly about how you feel.

A counsellor has no emotional ties to the situation which allows them to be impartial and fair. Unlike a family member who is emotionally involved in the situation, a counsellor is completely removed from it.

Look after yourself as well as your loved one


Finally it is important to look after yourself. Carers can feel duty-bound to be on call 24/7. Often that creates intense feelings of guilt at taking a day off or spending time doing something purely for themselves.

In reality not taking time out can lead to carers being emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, consequently unable to look after their loved one.

Dementia is a tragic illness but it need not be the case that carers have to suffer alone and in silence. Organisations like Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer Scotland, Dementia UK and Age Concern offer help, support and advice for carers. Counselling charities like The Spark can also help address the complicated relationship issues that emerge when dealing with dementia.


Are you a carer looking after a loved one with dementia? Could you benefit from talking to a counsellor about your relationship to talk to someone?

Life can be challenging at times. And speaking to a loved one or friend sometimes is not enough to help overcome those challenges. Speaking to a counsellor can help you understand the problems you face and decide how to move forward positively.

Find out more about our counselling services for couples, individuals and families on freephone 0808 802 0050. Alternatively find your nearest counselling centre or complete an enquiry form.

Lifestyle fashion magazines

Imagine a new product is about to be launched. This product has amazing capabilities. It has the power to make you dislike at least one aspect of your lifestyle intensely. Chances are it could leave you feeling deeply unhappy about your appearance, clothes or body shape. And using this product might cause you to feel like everyone else is doing life well and you are definitely not.

Would you use this product?

What if I was to tell you that this product, in various formats, shifts over 150,000 units per week. Would that change your mind?

How about the fact you need to pay for it. Yes, you get all the goodness mentioned above in exchange for some of the cash you have worked hard to earn. Would you buy it now?

It will probably come as a surprise but a good number of us have probably bought this product at least once in the past two weeks.

Lifestyle magazines are bad for your health


lifestyle magazinesI am talking about lifestyle magazines. You know the kind: fashion, gossip, celebrity and my personal favourite – titles that claim to have your ‘health’ as their focus.

Loaded with ways to get a six-pack or legs like a supermodel they are strong on physical wellbeing but shaky on what ‘get bikini fit in 6 weeks’ does to our mental health.

How we view ourselves – and how we believe others view us – are significant contributors to our mental health. For good or bad, self-perception plays a role in influencing mental health. Lifestyle magazines provide a way for readers to compare and contrast themselves to celebrities consciously and unconsciously. The outcome of that comparison is usually unfavourable.

Airbrushed, Photoshopped, nipped, tucked and squeezed


Regularly the images of celebs presented by lifestyle magazines are doctored. This is not limited to physical manipulation of everything from skin tone to waist size. Even when stars have not been airbrushed and their thighs shrunk via Photoshop, their glamourous lives are in effect airbrushed too.

Few realities of day-to-day living make it on to the glossy pages. Money concerns are never mentioned and neither is the stress of balancing work and home life. Nor the challenge of coping with the rising cost of living despite not having had a pay rise in years. It is rare to read such articles and simply think ‘that’s nice for him/her’. Instead we are left with feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem and jealousy.

Lifestyle magazines are not real life


Lifestyle magazines of the past
Women’s lifestyle magazines: different decade, same issue.

It takes a strong person to leaf through pages and confidently assert that this is not real life. For decades women have been subject to page after page of unrealistic expectations.

The picture perfect vision presented is one of looking fabulous, slim, fit and successful. Mother to adorable children but strong and feminine at the same time. An independent women but still smitten with their partner. Basically a montage of all the best bits from Beyonce’s music videos throughout her career.

Men now face a similar onslaught. To be a successful man requires the combination of a ripped body, rugged, macho strength but the sensitivity of an adoring husband. The modern man should be a captain of industry but weak at the knees when it comes to his child. Always looking spectacular but 100% committed to his partner.

Assured self-confidence or crippling disappointment?


When our own reality falls short of the airbrushed perfection on the page how are we likely to respond? With assured self-confidence or crippling disappointment? Consider going through this process regularly as you read through a magazine and ask yourself this question: is this good for my mental health?

There is an inherently cruel paradox about how lifestyle magazines present celebrities to readers. Publications place them on a pedestal for us to admire and worship. Then they take delight in seeing them fall and fall hard.

What are we getting from this?


What do we take from reading lifestyle magazines? They help us to idolise individuals, their success and lifestyles. Then they knock them down and delight in their failure. The sensationalist headlines are familiar:

“Singer bares the bikini flab on holiday”

“Married TV hunk slept with co-star”

“Shocking post-baby pics”

Cigarettes come with a warning about how bad they are for your health. Unhealthy foods come with warnings about their fat and sugar content. We are clearly getting better at promoting good physical health as not just good to have but vitally important. By contrast mental health still sits somewhere in the background – a nice to have have but not essential.

If as a society we are serious about mental health – and we absolutely should be – then lifestyle magazines should probably come with a warning too.


Life can be challenging at times. And speaking to a loved one or friend sometimes is not enough to help overcome those challenges. Speaking to a counsellor can help you understand the problems you face and decide how to move forward positively.

Find out more about our counselling services for couples, individuals and families on freephone 0808 802 0050. Alternatively find your local counselling centre or make an enquiry.

Being a parent to a teenager is tricky at the best of times. High school exams are barely over when attention turns to the next stress-triggering milestone: exam results day.

Parents can end up just as distressed as the kids who sat the exams. The near constant squeeze on prospects for an increasingly disadvantaged millennial generation has ratcheted up the pressure to ‘do well’. Both parents and young adults can end up believing their results will either make or break their future.

Do exam results define your future?

exam results day stressWhich is a nice segue in to our first recommendation: to read one of our earlier articles – Do exam results define your future? The good news (spoiler alert) is that they do not but that might not pacify a distraught teen immediately after they open their envelope or read their text alert.

So the team here at The Spark have put our heads together to come up with some advice for parents waiting for exam results day. As one of the leading providers of counselling to pupils in Scottish schools, we know what makes teens tick. And the first tip, like most things in life for parents, is to plan ahead.

Tip #1 from our school counsellors – it is all about planning


Like most things in life for parents it is all in the planning.

The process starts before exam results drop through the letterbox or pop up on a smartphone screen.

Before exam results day…

First and foremost, try not to get sucked in to the role of ‘competitive dad/mum’; comparing your child to their classmates and setting unrealistic targets. Parents will often offer rewards conditional upon certain exam results. This can be a great way to motivate young people to study but it can be counterproductive if, to coin a phrase, they don’t make the grade.

Focus instead on celebrating what they do achieve. Deep down you will know whether your son/daughter gave it their best shot and if they did, recognise and reward that. They might never have been school dux material even if they gave 100%. Therefore defining them simply by the grades they receive belittles the time and effort invested in sitting the exams.

Surviving the pressure-cooker environment of exams itself is worthy of celebration and reward.

Tip #2 from our school counsellors – is your child a big ball of anxiety or cool as a cucumber?


exam results day stress anxietyThe character of each child will differ markedly on how they view exam results day. Some will be beside themselves with anxiety (again we suggest a look at ‘Do exam results define your future?’ ). Meanwhile others will be confident and assured whatever the outcome.

Talk to them about how they are feeling. Ask them to be honest about how they feel in terms of your role but be prepared to take it on the chin.

Do they feel like there is a huge, scary expectation from you and your partner? Are they mostly anxious about disappointing you or is the pressure coming from within themselves? How do they feel about their prospects compared to their friends and peer group?

Help your child unwind

Discussing this can help them to unwind. It can also help all of you understand how best to approach the final few days before results arrive. Will time spent with friends eliminate their anxieties about poor results or accentuate them? Is it time to enjoy a Netflix comedy boxset binge or tune in to a chill out playlist on Spotify? Or is it better to let them enjoy their last few days of ‘freedom’ before returning to school, starting further education or getting a job?

One thing that is essential in any scenario is to assure them of your love and support. Emphasise that your relationship with them and care for them is not contingent upon achieving certain exam results.

Tip #3 from our school counsellors – let them decide


In advance of exam results day agree with your child how they want to receive their results. As their parent you want to and have a right to know. But this is their day, their exam results and the next step in their future. Give them the space and time they need.

Some kids will want to ‘rip the Band-Aid off’ and get it over and done with at home. Others might prefer to receive their results in the company of their friends. Conversely some might prefer a quiet, private place to find out how they’ve done.

Parents can help by listening and respecting their decision. It is also important to be available to share the experience and prepare for different outcomes. Your child may feel they really struggled during exam time in which case expecting straight A’s is not going to help anyone. Managing your own emotions is important too.

For example, anger directed towards an already disappointed son/daughter will be very unhelpful to both of you. Equally a response of indifference from you can be as damaging.

The days after exam results day

exam results day - successCelebrating good exam results is of course important. But so too is celebrating the achievements we mentioned earlier: completing the exam digest; investing their best efforts in study and receiving qualifications in various subjects.

In most cases your daughter/son will be happy and relieved about their exam results. Where there is disappointment they will need your support and encouragement.

A bit of creative thinking might be required to consider alternative routes to their preferred career. Encourage them to access further support and information wherever possible and options available to them.

Skills Development Scotland run an exam results helpline on the day exam results are received. The service aims to assist young adults in their post exam results decisions. If your child had intended to go to college or university contacting the institution is worthwhile. Their preferred college/university may still be able to offer them a place even if they did not get the result they were hoping for.


If the stress of exams is causing relationship issues for you as a parent – perhaps between you and your child or you and your partner – The Spark can provide counselling and support for couples, individuals  and families.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 to find out more about counselling and support or complete a counselling enquiry form.