stress free Christmas

Trying to achieve a stress free Christmas can feel like an impossible task.

Everything will be busy, last minute and crammed into time we simply do not have.

At The Spark, however, we disagree and believe that a stress free Christmas is possible!

21 tips for a stress free Christmas


To help you de-stress this year we have put together 21 tips for an enjoyable Christmas from start to finish.

stress free Christmas

Starting on 27 November The Spark will be posting a tip a day to help you enjoy the festive season instead of feeling like it is something to survive.

From advice on handling relationships and budgeting, to low-cost way to entertain the family The Spark wants to help you relax this Christmas.

Follow our 21 tips here or on Twitter and Facebook.

Christmas debt credit cards

Christmas is an expensive time of year for all of us as we buy presents, decorate our homes and enjoy nights out. Costs can soon add up and Christmas debt is a significant problem with 1 in 4 adults in the UK feeling pressured into overspending at Christmas.

Loans, credit cards and Christmas debt


Christmas debt credit cards

Many of us can be left feeling we have no choice but to spread the costs of Christmas across loans or credit cards. If we are not careful about where we source credit from, we can end up left with a financial hangover in the New Year.

High interest costs and long repayments – a common feature of many high cost lenders – can leave us with serious financial worries many months after Christmas.

Our friends at Scotcash – a not-for-profit community finance lender – have put together some hints and tips on how to keep on top of your finances this year and avoid Christmas debt.

Take control of your budget


To take control of your Christmas spending the first thing to do is to plan your budget and then stick to it.

The Christmas Calculator tool from Independent Age Scotland lets you see exactly how much money you will need for your Christmas expenses.

Christmas debt food and drink shopping

The calculator breaks down all the usual Christmas spending – for gifts, food and drink, going out – to give you a clear idea of what you can afford.

With a set budget in mind you will be a big step closer to avoiding Christmas debt this year.

Avoid high interest rate borrowing


Wherever possible try to avoid borrowing to finance Christmas so you can start the New Year with as little Christmas debt as possible.

Should you need to spread the cost of Christmas, do a bit of research on the options available to you first. Avoid high cost options such as door step loans and pay day lenders.

Christmas debt

Both will include high interest rates that will leave you paying much more back than you originally borrowed.

By contrast community finance lenders such as Scotcash can provide borrowing at a much lower rate of interest.

What if I’ve run up Christmas debt already?


If you do find yourself in debt, please be assured that there is advice and help available to you.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with information on benefits, grants and money management advice. Organisations such as Step Change Debt Charity can provide over the phone advice and support if you are struggling with debt.

Affordable alternatives to Christmas debt


Community lenders like Scotcash can provide advice and access to affordable loans and other financial products and services. These organisations want to make sure you do not feel trapped in a spiral of high cost credit.

Christmas debt

By providing affordable alternatives and helping individuals and families manage their money better, they are a great way to get your finances back on track.

Find out more about Scotcash and their services.

Counselling and support


Financial worries can be a source of stress and anxiety. Unsecured debts like credit cards and pay-day loans are a common cause of relationship problems and relationship breakdown.

Counselling support for individuals, couples and families struggling with debt cannot provide practical ways to manage and improve your financial situation. It can however help you explore why debt has become an issue, the motivations behind it and ways to tackle those issues.

Find out more about counselling or locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre.

To enquire about counselling freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

youth mental health

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, faces a crisis in youth mental health.

Studies and reports detailing the mental health issues faced by children and adolescents are regularly making the news headlines. The existing NHS-provided child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are under severe pressure which has led to extensive waiting times.

A consultation on youth mental health services in Scotland


The recent announcement of a consultation on youth mental health services by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) represents a cause for optimism.

Young people and their families/carers will be consulted on what does and does not work. With the intention to use this feedback to restructure the current system.

Radical overhaul is needed


This project represents an important step forward.  For too long the status quo in youth mental health has been deemed fit for purpose.

Similarly the views of the young people using those services have been underrepresented.

With some 17,500 young people referred to CAMHS in the past three years not receiving any support, it is clear a radical overhaul is needed.

What about the young people still waiting for support?


Undoubtedly the insight from the consultation will be invaluable in reshaping youth mental health provision in Scotland. However important and valuable those conclusions may be, they will be small comfort to the thousands of young people currently struggling unsupported with mental health problems.

Particularly when we consider that a number of potential sources of additional support exist right now to tackle these challenges.

Too many young people, not enough appointments


Demand for CAMHS services outstrips the available resources in most of Scotland’s NHS board areas. This leaves many young people to wait anywhere between 18 and 50 weeks for an appointment with a specialist.

The tragedy of this scenario is that third sector organisations like The Spark could support NHS services.

Providing more youth mental health services to meet demand


With professional Children and Young People Counsellors employed by third sector organisations, issues like anxiety and depression could be supported out with CAMHS.

By providing much needed additional resources waiting times could be reduced. Over-stretched CAMHS services could then be focused on those young people with the most complex and challenging issues.

An out of date attitude to youth mental health


Young people are referred to CAMHS for assessment and diagnosis of a mental health problem. Support is, therefore, focused on treating young people once a problem is established. This approach is outdated.

Half of all diagnosable mental health problems in children start before the age of 14.

Furthermore 10% of children aged between 5 and 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.

Adopting an early intervention approach


An early intervention approach offers a more effective solution by working to prevent minor issues escalating. Third sector organisations like The Spark are leading proponents of early intervention approaches for youth mental health.

Child crying youth mental health

Firstly through school based counselling we are supporting children to deal with life challenges that can escalate in to more serious issues. Secondly we are able to foster life skills like resilience and emotional regulation amongst children in order to deal with the challenges of growing up.

Indeed evaluation of The Spark’s school-based counselling has demonstrated the significant impact early intervention can make on the mental health of young people.

Furthermore the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy (2017-2027) sets out a commitment to review counselling services in schools.

Equipping teachers to tackle youth mental health challenges


Pressure on CAMHS services has resulted in additional responsibilities falling to school teachers. Yet Scottish teachers feel underequipped to provide an initial source of mental health support to young people.

Where school-based counselling provision is not possible, The Spark provides dedicated training courses for teaching staff.

Dedicated training for teachers


Our Relationship First Aid for Teachers and Scottish Mental Health First Aid courses can equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to provide first responder support.

A long-term step in the right direction


The commitment to consult with young people in shaping future policy on mental health services is to be applauded.

Here at The Spark we stand ready to support both the Scottish Government and SAMH however we can.

In the interim however we must use the resources at our disposal to help those young people currently suffering mental health problems.

change in relationships

There is nothing permanent except change’. Heraclitus

This particular Greek philosopher had life pegged some 2,500 years ago: change is inevitable.

The world around us changes, as do we as life progresses. Aside from the physical aspects of ageing, over time we evolve in our attitudes, beliefs and priorities.

Change can lead to new opportunities, experiences and personal self-improvement. When it is considered in the context of relationships however it can be perceived as a threat.

change in relationships

‘But I don’t want them to change’

In the midst of a happy, contented relationship the prospect of a partner changing – for example, their outlook on life – is capable of instilling fear.

Thoughts race through our minds at the prospect: ‘I love him/her as they are now’, ‘I don’t want our relationship to change’ or ‘I want them to stay the same’.

The idea that they might be losing interest in shared activities or their attitude to work (why they do it and who for) can feel like the beginning of the end. Or result in us forcing our loved one to stay as they are, leading almost inevitably to resentment and anger.

Change is scary

Naturally we are averse to change and have been since our earliest years.

As children we are reluctant to sleep in our own beds, relinquish the comfort blanket and sleep with the light off.

Those strong emotions never really leave us completely once we reach adulthood, like loss, sadness or anxiety.

From our experience counselling couples for over 50 years, almost all long-term relationships experience multiple periods of change.

During that time we have also determined that it does not need to be a frightening or divisive process.

Change creates powerful emotions

The first step in dealing with change in a relationship is to accept that change naturally creates powerful emotions.

It takes time to come to terms with them and to rationalise the impact they are having on you and your partner. Being patient with yourself and each other is important as such emotions rarely normalise in a short period of time.

Recognise the sacrifices that need to be made

Relationships are built on compromise and recognising sacrifices that are willingly made. Therefore during periods of change, recognition becomes even more important.

change

It is all too easy to forget the sacrifice made by a partner in our quest for personal change.

Conversely it is common for the individual making sacrifices to keep their feelings hidden, instead of communicating their concerns and emotions. In either case resentment and bitterness can soon follow.

Embrace it as a couple

Perspective is important in coping with change as a couple, as is the understanding that your relationship is an entity in its own right.

We need to view any period of change as an evolution in our relationship and not something happening to one individual.

change

Couples that embrace this concept of relationship thrive compared to those that do not. Instead of allowing the fear of change to overwhelm, they explore what it could mean for them.

This comes from an acceptance that both perspectives are valid and require appropriate consideration. Similarly it requires both individuals to embrace aspects of the other’s interests.

There is nothing permanent. Accept change

We all change over time. Our perspectives on life, our priorities and how we want to live out our time on this planet will evolve.

It need not be a reason to fear the end of a relationship.

Instead it is an opportunity to deepen existing relationships and form even stronger bonds with each other.


Counselling and support for couples

Navigating periods of change in a relationship can be a challenging process. The support and guidance of a professional couples or marriage counsellor can offer a stability and impartiality that smooths the process.

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.

John Lennon Watching the Wheels

Songs for Sound Minds #21 – ‘Watching the Wheels’ John Lennon


It probably comes as no surprise that John Lennon features on our Songs for Sound Minds playlist.

But it’s not for the song you’d think it would be…

Watching the Wheels by John Lennon



John Lennon – bread baker

John Lennon had been at the top of the charts for over 10 years when he decided to step back from the day job and stop making music altogether.

During much of the 1960s he was a major part of The Beatles, one of the biggest pop acts in history. Then he was a solo artist penning thought provoking hits like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’.

At the time, Lennon made it clear that he was very content staying home. Looking after his young son, Sean, baking bread and doing other domestic chores.

His perspective was contrary to what society has long programmed us to believe: that the workplace is the only place we can be productive and find fulfillment.

I wish I’d spent more time at the office (said no one ever)

John Lennon Watching the Wheels

The pertinent question to ask in life – perhaps the exact one Lennon asked himself – is this: in our twilight years, how many of us will wish that we had spent more time at the office and less with family?

Lennon’s response was to resign from the hit factory and opt for the home life.

In 1975 he became the world’s most famous ‘househusband’ as it used to be called. This may not seem like a revolutionary step nowadays with our emphasis on shared parental leave and the fight against gender stereotypes.

In the 1970s it was however a dramatic statement and drew a lot of criticism from friends and fans.

As the first verse of John Lennon’s song ‘Watching the Wheels’ says:

‘People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing

Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin

When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange

Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game.’

The achievement ‘merry-go-round’

Social norms tend to encourage us to measure our success and achievements by how far up the corporate ladder we climb.

Often it can seem that our whole identity is defined by the job that we do, the money that we earn and the stuff we accumulate.

This 1980 hit encourages us to turn our backs on the ‘merry-go-round’ and let go of the urge to succeed at any cost.

The lyrics give us permission to sit ‘watching the wheels go round and round.’ Instead of trying to win the rat race, step out of the flow and take time to breathe.

Enjoying the simple things in life

Words like John Lennon’s can inspire us to realise that the simpler things in life can be very satisfying.

Perhaps you have a favourite quote that encourages you when the pace of modern life is getting on top of you.

Take this one from Albert Einstein as an example: “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.”

Or maybe there is a poem that takes your mind to a quieter, more peaceful place.  One example is this verse by W H Davies written over 100 years ago:

‘What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows’.

More to life than stress and stuff

It can seem like we have no option but to seek more responsibility, earn that next promotion and accumulate more ‘stuff’.

This can become a roller coaster of ever increasing stress and ever decreasing satisfaction.

Yet, however fast paced our day and however long our ‘to do list’ we can always make time to take a step back and choose a more relaxing option.


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

male infertility

Men are in general pretty bad at talking about their feelings. They are taught from their earliest years – both explicitly and implicitly – to hold emotions in.

Never cry, get on with it and barely whisper about what is upsetting you. When it comes to male infertility, the whisper typically fades to complete silence.

male infertility

For many men with diagnoses ranging from low sperm counts to poor sperm mobility, infertility can become a hidden source of mental health problems.

Male infertility and the impact on mental health


Fertility problems can leave men with intense feelings of anger, shame, resentment and confusion. But their default setting is to stay silent about how infertility makes them feel.

This unwillingness to talk about problems is not however only down to childhood conditioning. Men struggle to open up about the gut wrenching emotions of infertility for many reasons.

unhappy men

A system set up for female infertility


From a practical perspective it is difficult for men because society is geared towards dealing with female infertility.  Consequently the support structures for men are very limited.

It is not uncommon to hear of a man being given a blunt diagnosis, handed a pamphlet about sperm donation and sent back in to the world to ‘get on with it’.

Apart from being a completely unsympathetic way to deal with earth-shaking news, it is probably the worst way to deal with a group so disinclined to deal with their emotions in the first place.

Don’t question his virility


Another significant barrier is the importance and symbolism of male virility.

The ability to procreate can be considered the essence of what it means to be male. Like childbirth for women it is something that remains no matter how gender roles and societal norms shift over time.

To have that questioned or even rendered void is a fundamental challenge to his sense of self. Only sufferers can truly understand the impact.

Here’s some more bad news…


The problem of male infertility is not going away and in fact, it is getting worse.

Couples in western society are delaying procreation until well in to their 30s and early 40s, bringing with it a host of age-related challenges.

male infertility

Worse still, recent studies have shown that male fertility rates have dropped by over 50% since the 1970s.

With little support and advice out there it can feel almost impossible for wives and partners to know how to help. Thankfully there are some straightforward steps you can take to support your loved one.

Encourage him to talk about infertility. And then keep encouraging him.


And then encourage him some more.

There are hundreds of chat boards, forums and support groups aimed at women. On them they are sharing experiences, encouraging and helping each other deal with fertility challenges.

By contrast there is very little for men. Therefore wives, partners, friends and family need to research, prompt, cajole and support men as they begin to access help to share their own emotions.

Search online for male infertility support groups and online forums. Speak to your fertility clinic or consultant about support groups for men in your area and search for them online as well.

Speak to a counsellor


Opening up about infertility to a partner, friends or family can be daunting for many men. In the first instance, talking to a partner can bring up intense feelings of failure for not ‘coming up with the goods’ or ‘not being a man’.

With mates it can be impossible to even admit there is a problem in testosterone-fueled environments like the pub or Saturday morning five-a-side football. Family can simply feel too close and brings with it similar anxieties about expectations and opinions.

An objective, independent counsellor – particularly with experience in the area of male infertility – can provide the gentle guidance needed to help men come to terms with their diagnoses.

Counselling provides ‘head space’ and an environment free from the heavy burden of expectations and opinion.

Do not place blame


The medical profession treats infertility as two separate issues: female fertility and male fertility.

As a result either the man or women comes under the magnifying glass as ‘the problem’. Cue the apportioning of blame.

Many couples that have successfully navigated infertility often talk about ‘our problem’. Irrespective of whether a physical issue resides with the male or female, getting pregnant is ultimately a team effort.

It is vital that partners are as supportive as possible and do not place ‘blame’. No matter whether it is – in medical terms at least – a male or female problem.

Avoid pressure


A poor fertility report can often create a frenzied sense of urgency to do anything to improve chances of conception. But be mindful of the magnitude of the diagnosis. Time and space is needed for anyone – male or female – to process such devastating news.

Pressure to start trying herbal remedies, consuming supplements and changing habits could negatively impact your chances of conceiving.

Stress is a significant contributor to male fertility problems across the board. So you could end up undoing all the benefits of having a supplement consuming, veg-eating, non-pants-wearing partner.


Are you dealing with male infertility issues?

 

Our counsellors have extensive experience helping couples and individuals deal with infertility and the strain it places on relationships.

From our local centres around Scotland we provide support to couples and families coming to terms with infertility or fertility issues.

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

You can also search for your nearest counselling centre.

One of the common problems presented by school pupils to our counsellors is the tricky issue of social media.

Children and young people are the section of our society that first embraced social media platforms.

The highs and lows of social media

They have been the first to experience the highs and lows of social media.

Sadly they are also, in many respects, the least well-equipped to deal with the emotional and mental challenges presented by various social media platforms like Twitter and Snapchat.

We recently caught up with Lucy Gordon, one of our senior Children and Young People counsellors to pick her brain on social media.

Lucy Gordon talks social media platforms

The advent of social media has made us more connected than ever but at what cost to young people?

Lucy: “Social media has become an amazing way for people of all ages to broaden their horizons.

It can open up new possibilities, create new relationships and provide a forum for self-expression. These are all positives that are valuable to children and young people as they grow and develop.

There are however some downsides. In particular from the way children and young people are now bombarded by perfect selfies, images of friends laughing and joking together.

They are constantly scrutinising other people’s lives and lifestyles and making comparisons to their own.

The reality is that a lot of these images are not a true reflection of people’s lives. It is hard for anyone not to be deceived by these photos.

For young people it is especially so and that is one of the ways social media platforms can be bad for their mental and emotional health.”

What is your experience of the negative effects on children and young people of using social media platforms?

Lucy: “What is presented through social media is curated by each individual. Images on Instagram or Snapchat are often taken multiple times. Just to try and get the right angle, the right lighting.

Young people – as many adults do – crop, tweak, add filters and manipulate the images to present an impression of how they want to be perceived. The difficulty comes when young people consume those images of friends and celebrities.

Separating the reality from the artificial reality created on social media is tough.

Too often young people believe the doctored reality and look very unfavourably upon themselves as a result.

Typically this is in terms of their appearance, popularity or perceived success or failure in life.”

Is the challenge of social media just related to the carefully managed images young people consume?

Lucy: “It is a big part of it but not the only one. Social media has become a source of validation for young people. Naturally we all seek the approval of friends and peers and social media has become an extension of that.

We post images and wait in anticipation to see how many ‘likes’ we get to validate our being. When they do not come it can create all sorts of additional anxieties, fears and concerns for young people.”

Instagram like icon

So are we giving social media platforms a big thumbs down?

Lucy: “Absolutely not! Like I mentioned before, social media has the potential to do great, positive things for children and young people.

As a society we need to educate and support children and young people so they fully understand the risks and potential implications of how they behave online and on social media platforms.

The doctored reality often presented on social media has the potential to exacerbate feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety. This can feed into a cycle of unrealistic social, physical and lifestyle expectations.

It can create a real negative impact upon their sense of self-worth, confidence and wellbeing.

That’s the risk we need to guard against through education and support, like our work providing counselling and education programmes in Scottish schools.”

Are the challenges of social media specific to certain platforms?

Lucy: “A recent survey of almost 1,500 14-24 year olds looked at the impact of the four most popular social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The research for the Royal Society for Public Health found that all four contribute negatively to young people’s sense of self, body image, levels of anxiety, sleep and fear of missing out.

Each platform does have its own challenges but across the board these main issues are present on all of the main platforms commonly used by children and young people.”

How can the work of The Spark in schools help with the challenges of social media?

Lucy: “Our education programmes can help to teach children and young people about the risks and potential implications of using social media, and online media in general.

It’s important to help them fully understand the risks but also make them confident enough to make sense of social media.

Where our counsellors are based in schools they provide a safe and supportive environment for children and young people.

If they feel overwhelmed or anxious about social media, they can find support there.”

George Harrison Any Road

Songs for Sound Minds #19 – ‘Any Road’ by George Harrison


‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

This may seem a statement of the blooming obvious if ever there was one.  However, how many of us have wasted time on fruitless activities rather than identifying our priorities for the future?

Being unclear about our goals can leave us feeling frustrated, stressed and exhausted.

How much happier would we feel if we could summon the energy to clarify where we would like to be?

George Harrison Any Road

‘Any Road’ by George Harrison

‘Any Road’ released in 2003, was the last single by George Harrison.  As ‘the quiet Beatle’ he was one of the ‘Fab Four’ who had so much influence on pop culture and contemporary life since their first hit back in 1962.

So what is George saying in this song that could help us understand our own mental health?

The element of chance

The song recognises that there is a natural element of chance in our lives but that embracing such an approach in every way has implications.

‘We pay the price with a spin of a wheel, with the roll of a dice.’ 

The suggestion is that a more conscious approach to decision making might result in fewer regrets.  By leaving things to chance we are risking our own happiness.

Overcoming our own doubts and insecurities

It may be at times that if we want to achieve something we need to overcome our own doubts and lack of confidence.

As Harrison sings, ‘we’ve got to fight with the thoughts in the head, with the dark and the light’ – those fears, insecurities and anxieties that we all struggle with in varying degrees.

Storm clouds

It is not enough to be clear about where we are going. We also need to realise that we may need to overcome the obstacles those fears and anxieties create.

Bringing East and West together

Much of George Harrison’s solo output attempted to integrate Eastern religion into Western life and this song is no exception.

His most famous solo song, ‘My Sweet Lord’ mixes the Judeo-Christian ‘Hallelujah’ with the Hindu ‘Hare Krishna.’

Harrison introduced his fellow band members, John, Paul and Ringo, to Transcendental Meditation in 1967 and, also, he had a life-long interest in the Hare Krishna movement.

In the song, ‘Any Road’ he presents themes common to Eastern faiths and beliefs.

‘There was no beginning, there is no end, it wasn’t born and never dies, there are no edges, there is no sides.’ 

Regardless of this philosophising, George concludes the song by reiterating his pragmatic refrain ‘but if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

George Harrison and Alice in Wonderland

The song has been compared with Alice in Wonderland and in particular the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asks Alice.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” replies the Cheshire Cat.

Having a sense of direction

It may seem, at times that life is as surreal as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  We can ruminate on the whys and wherefores of life.

‘You may not know where you came from, may not know who you are,’ but there’s a lot to be gained from having a good sense of direction.

Otherwise, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’



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.