Starting secondary school - back to school image

Starting secondary school can be daunting for children and their parents. To help smooth the transition our team of Children and Young People Counsellors have put together their top tips on helping your child prepare for starting secondary school.

Ask: how are you feeling about starting secondary school?


Every child is different when it comes to starting secondary school. Some will be champing at the bit, others will be anxious about the transition. This is why it is important to ask them – gently and non-judgementally – how they are feeling.

Where there are anxieties comfort them that such feelings are completely natural. Work with them to come up with coping techniques to deal with their specific concerns.

Starting secondary school - image of child with backpack

Remind them that they are not alone in feeling anxious about starting secondary school. Reassure them that many of their peers will be feeling exactly the same way.

Sharing your own experiences can be helpful, especially if you can demonstrate how you overcame your secondary school anxieties. Alternatively, enlist the help of an older cousin or family friend that has successfully managed the transition to high school.

Ask yourself: are these my fears or their fears?


Having a child is a bit like a long journey towards redundancy. In those early years, you are indispensable but as time progresses your child grows in their independence and detachment from you. This is, of course, a wonderful journey but starting secondary school can be a difficult milestone for some parents.

Starting secondary school - anxiety

Take time to consider how your emotions might be influencing their preparations. Often disagreements about clothing and how they travel to school are really a parental reaction to realising their child is accelerating towards adulthood.

Be sure that you are focused on the real concerns and fears of your child.

Buddy up


Many kids will start secondary school with a group of friends from primary school. The close bonds of friendship will help reduce anxieties about getting to and from school or the fear of not knowing anyone.

If your child is going to a different secondary school from their friends, find out which children nearby are starting in their school. Most secondary schools have social media pages where parents can communicate or do it the old-fashioned way and speak to your neighbours.

Having someone else to walk into secondary school with on day 1 can make a huge difference.

Don’t organise them, help them organise


Starting secondary school brings with it changes in how your child will need to approach their education. They will have to become more responsible as they attend their timetable of classes, manage homework and (hopefully) remember to bring the correct books.

Starting secondary school - image of school back and school pencils

It can be tempting to do this for them. However, the transition to secondary school is about increasing their independence and self-reliance. Therefore help them to get organised by planning a night before routine or make up a checklist of what they need each day based on their timetable.

Then step back and let them back their bag and prepare their kit for the school day.

Practice their route before starting secondary school


Starting secondary school often means travelling further from home. Now public transport or walking with friends to school will be their preference or a necessity.

Help calm any new term jitters by travelling the route with them in advance. Show them the route via car or take the public transport they will need to use to get to school.

After they are familiar with the route, encourage them to take responsibility for having the right money or travel card for a final couple of practice runs.

Expect a messy first few weeks


For even the most confident child, starting secondary school is a lot to handle. Managing a timetable of classes, completing more and varied homework, getting to know new people are just a few examples of the challenges they face.

Thus it is important to cut them some slack in the early days and weeks. Be prepared for tired, hungry and potentially grumpy children coming home each day. Expect some “I forgot my gym kit” incidents too.

starting secondary school - image of messy child's bedroom

At home help smooth their transition by giving them some leeway on the usual household chores. Try as best you can to be patient if you get a lot of moody-teenager replies.

Parents also need to stay calm during this time. A seemingly unhappy child might be cause for concern. However be mindful of the fact it will take time for them to adjust to this new way of life.

Talk to them at the weekend about how they are settling in. Ask if they want to talk about anything or need a bit of help. Ultimately, be there for them.

Encourage them to join groups/clubs at secondary school


We all know how tricky it can be to make new friends. Striking up a conversation is challenging enough without the added pressure of trying to ‘fit in’.

Starting a conversation with a like-minded individual, however, can be much less challenging, and more successful.

For that reason suggest your child looks into any school clubs or groups that fit their own interests. It can be a great way to meet new people and is especially helpful if your child is not graduating to secondary school with a group of friends.


For more advice on parenting and managing the tricky teenage years, The Spark website is packed with a wide range of free resources.

If you or your child is struggling at the prospect of starting secondary school, counselling can be a helpful way of pinpointing the issues and learning how to deal with them.

Talk – in confidence – to one of our team about counselling on freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Follow The Spark on Twitter or Facebook for tips, resources and advice.

fomo fear of missing out

FOMO – fear of missing out – is a concept that could have been created for the social media age. Essentially, it captures that internal sense that other people are having a better time right now than you are. Partnered with its sibling FoBO – fear of a better option – their impact on our lives today is startling.

FOMO made me do it…


FoBO and FOMO drive us to check Instagram, Twitter and every other social media app every few minutes. Collectively they create a burning desire to buy the gadgets, clothes and trinkets we never knew we needed. In our spare time, they push us to read the book, listen to the album or binge on the boxset that everyone else is talking about. FoBO could be the official sponsor of every online dating website in existence.

fomo Social media and the fear of missing out

The principle of ‘fear of missing out’ was first considered in 1996 by Dr Dan Herman, a marketing strategist and later popularised by Patrick J. McGinnis in a 2004 article for the Harvard Business School. FOMO’s ‘birth’ within the field of marketing is no coincidence. It is a widely used tool to sell us stuff we may or may not need. From the countdown timer on that furniture sale to the celebrity endorsement, it’s all designed to trigger your fear of missing out.

There is a tragic irony associated with the fear of missing out of course: when we become slaves to FOMO, we miss out on living the lives we have been given.

This is what we are really missing out on


In the rush to see what everyone else is doing or to stay “connected” to their experience via social media, we end up doing very little ourselves. While we may or may not be missing out on some fabulous experience, one thing is certain: we are missing out on what we could be doing right now.

fomo fear of missing out

When you stop and think about it, this collective phenomenon has crept into every facet of our lives: fear of missing out on other jobs or professions, fear of missing out on social engagements, fear of missing out on the latest gadget/car/trend.

Combined with – dare I say it – more genuine concerns like paying the rent or caring for elderly relatives that is a lot of fear to carry with us every day.

No Wi-Fi and my FOMO is off the charts


Recently I went on holiday with friends, camping in an area that had limited mobile reception and zero Wi-Fi. We are talking one or two bars of good, old-fashioned 1G signal. End result: no data, no streaming, no Instagram.

At first, my FOMO was bristling: what was going on? what was happening in the world? who was doing what? It was almost unbearable.

But after a few days passed, it lessened. Soon I found myself more focused on what was right in front of me: beautiful landscapes, meaningful conversations with friends, crystal clear (but cold) Scottish waters. By the end of the week what I feared missing out on had completely changed.

fomo missing out on the beauty of the world

Now I was more concerned about missing the full splendour of the sunset late in the evening: eager to enjoy every minute of the (unexpectedly) fine weather and the opportunity to properly catch up with friends.

Escapism into the lives of the famous or the fictional is fun and healthy at times. There are periods in our own lives – the daily humdrum – that are not that exciting or interesting. The chance to escape via social media, for example, can offer a valuable release. But the scales have tipped heavily in the wrong direction – towards consuming every image and video of someone else’s life.

A final thought on FOMO


In the UK we spend on average two hours per day glued to our smartphone or tablet. A proportion of that will, of course, be productive. Yet even if 50% of it isn’t, that’s seven hours per week we could be using to live our own lives.

Seven hours to invest in your relationship with your partner or your kids. Seven hours to enjoy your favourite pastime. Seven hours to read the books you really want to read. Seven hours to craft your own Instagram story.

Isn’t it time you focused on enjoying your own life?

Counselling and relationship support services


Find out more information on The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples, married couples and families.

Alternatively contact us directly via our enquiry form or on freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could benefit you.

Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook.

how to be happy find your flow - child blowing bubbles

Picture the scene.  A teenager opens their exam results: an A in Art, two Cs in English and French and an F in Maths. The response from their parent is likely to focus on either the good bits or the not so good bits.

For example, their response might be:

‘An F in Maths. What went wrong?  I know you struggle with numbers but that’s why I paid for Maths tutors to help you.’

Or alternatively: ‘An A in Art. That’s fantastic! I wonder if we can help you use all that creativity and imagination to improve in your other subjects…’

How to be happy: don’t focus on your weaknesses


Being honest, which option would have been your default response?

Most of us would probably have focused on the not so good bits. Humans are problem-solvers by nature and society has conditioned us to focus on the areas that need work. Anyone that has experienced an appraisal at work will know how obsessed we have become with weaknesses.

If you were more likely to focus on the success in Art, then you are in agreement with one of the newer branches of psychology: the field of positive psychology.

Positive psychology


Positive psychology suggests that you can improve yourself, become more satisfied with your life and increase your happiness by working on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

When Professor Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association in 1998 he noted that much of the focus of psychology had been on mental ill health and diseases of the mind.  In fact, professionals in the field relied on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a comprehensive and regularly reviewed ‘bible’ for the diagnosis of mental illnesses, personality defects and behavioural difficulties.

Seligman’s view was that too little time had been spent looking at the positive side of human nature; its potential, talents and possibilities.  With colleagues, he resolved to fill this gap and in 2004 they published the seminal book, ‘Character Strengths and Virtues.’

You can find your own Character Strengths and Virtues by completing the questionnaires at authentichappiness.org).

How to be happy: develop your character


Commonly, we tend to think of character as something that is fixed and unchanging. For example, ‘he’s a shady character,’ or ‘she is always honest and straightforward’.  Positive psychologists view character in a different way.

Their perspective is that character and character virtues are something that can be worked on and improved.  Well-being can be promoted by working on 4 or 5 key strengths at any one time according to this nascent branch of psychology.

The following video by filmmaker, Tiffany Schlain, gives a little more detail on the science of character.

“The Science of Character” – new 8 min film from Let it Ripple on Vimeo.

How do we develop our character strengths and virtues?


Character is like a muscle; the more you use it the abler you become. Therefore by focusing on and enhancing your positive character traits, it is possible to further develop them.

Here are some examples taken from our own guide, ‘Relationship Tips for New Parents’ to illustrate positive character traits and ways to build upon them:

  • Take time to introduce children to their new sibling or step-sibling. (Fairness)
  • In the early days when you are both tired, take turns to look after your new baby. Give each other a break to sleep, shower, etc. (Kindness)
  • Be patient with each other and listen to each other’s perspective. (Perspective)
  • Talk about what you need to buy and what can be borrowed from friends and family. Talk about your finances and how you can realistically manage your budget. (Prudence)
  • There can be a change in the balance of your relationship if one person is staying at home to look after the baby. Be sensitive, talk about how this feels, and find ways to share responsibilities. (Teamwork)

 

How to be happy: find your flow


Jonathan Haidt, author of ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ gives his explanation of the link between exercising our strengths and happiness.  He suggests that using our strengths encourages us to immerse ourselves in the moment, in what we are doing right there and then. Eventually losing self-consciousness and achieving a feel-good factor that psychologists call ‘flow.’

Being in the ‘flow’ – whether that be in your work, in your hobbies or time with friends – can create feelings of happiness and joy that we struggle to find in our normal, everyday life. Ultimately by doing more of the things we are good at and enjoy doing, the more we will develop our positive character virtures and therefore experience feelings of happiness and joy more frequently.

Check out this excellent talk by leading positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on ‘flow’ and how to be happy.

 


The How to be Happy series

Catch up with part 1 of our How to be Happy series and find out how post-traumatic growth can be the key to a healthier, happier life.

Believe it or not, there are two words in every language that should be considered the most dangerous in the world. With just over 700,000 words in the English dictionary, there are plenty of potential suspects.

In the era of Trump and global warming you would be forgiven for thinking they might be ‘launch missiles’ or ‘climate change’. The reality is, however, that the two words in question are far simpler and seemingly insignificant.

Simple words with great power


Despite their simplicity, they possess profound power. They have the ability to inspire, to challenge and to catalyse positive change.

They are the essence of Martin Luther King Jnr’s earth-shaking ‘I have a dream’ speech. Every piece of great (and not so great) fictional writing, song-writing and movie-making started with them. They were the driving force behind the likes of Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill and Maya Angelou.

what if we were positive in life

However, as every superhero/comic book fan knows well, the power to do great things comes with a risk of them being used for something darker. That is the problem with these two words. And in case you have not worked it out yet, the two words are ‘what if’.

The darker side of ‘what if’


Imagine for a moment a ‘what if’ thought in the mind of a ‘born worrier’ or someone dealing with anxiety. For them, it will often turn towards something depressing.

‘What if’ accelerates the mind through multiple scenarios, decisions and outcomes; a single thought leading, almost endlessly, to successive bleak results. In their mind, a single thought can hurtle them hours, days, months and even years into an increasingly bleak future.

Consider this example of what happens in the mind of someone that struggles with anxious thoughts. Imagine for a moment that you are struggling with your workload in your job and have missed a deadline:

What if the boss thinks I’m rubbish at my job? What if they decide I can’t hack it? There were rumours recently about cutbacks – what if they use this to get rid of me? We can’t afford our mortgage payments if I lose my job. What if I can’t get a new job? What do I do when our savings are gone? What if my partner can’t handle it all? What if they leave me?

The unpleasant side of ‘what if’


This thought process can happen within a matter of minutes or even a few seconds and with it comes all the attendant emotions of what it would be like to be in each of those situations.

what if

A thought creates a feeling – good or bad – and that feeling is experienced even if it is a thought about something yet to happen. Though the body does not physically pass through these imagined scenarios in real time, both body and mind experience a sort of compressed reality. In this example, the emotions of several weeks/months are experienced in a matter of a few minutes.

Why ‘what if’ can be so exhausting


For mind and body that is an absolutely exhausting experience. We are not built to live through several hours – let alone days or weeks – of emotions in a matter of minutes. This is why anxiety has the potential to drain and, if left unchecked, debilitate an individual.

If you are experiencing anxiety and constant worry that is negatively impacting upon your health and wellbeing, it is important that you speak to your doctor. In the interim, there are some things you can do to reduce the impact of ‘what if’.

Focus on facts


The power of ‘what if’ comes partly from assuming thoughts to be true. This is often based on very little in the way of actual evidence. One way of reducing its impact is to focus your mind – and therefore your thoughts – on facts.

Using the example from earlier, the facts of the situation might be as follows:

  • Prior to this moment, you have been a model employee
  • Your boss has never raised any issues at appraisals in the past
  • There is nothing concrete to indicate job losses are going to happen
  • Right now you have a job, an income and savings in the bank.

Reviewing these truths compared to the assumptions of ‘what if’, the situation looks far more positive.  It can be helpful to write these truths down so you can refer back to them if/when ‘what if’ thoughts re-emerge.

Stay grounded in the present


Grounding, staying in the present and mindfulness are different ways to describe a simple concept: basically considering and thinking only of the things of the moment. Instead of beating yourself up over the past or worrying about the ‘what if’s of the future, focus on what is happening right now.

By staying focused on the present, another part of the power of ‘what if’ can be reduced. Returning to our earlier example, we cannot undo the missed deadline. Similarly, we cannot predict what tomorrow will bring or what our boss might decide.

We can, however, focus on today which might mean learning what we can about why we missed the deadline. Taking that and applying it to our work today, in order to do the best job you can.

what if

Mindfulness classes, meditation and guided meditation – audio tracks by the likes of Jon Kabat-Zinn – can be helpful in building your ability to stay grounded in the present.

Control what you can control


What gives anxiety its ‘punch’ so to speak are the associated feelings of helplessness and lack of control. When our focus is drawn to that – instead of what we can actually control – the feelings of worry intensify.

By focusing on what you can control, you take back control. Again using our earlier example, the individual can control what they learn from the situation. They can focus on the present, staying grounded in the facts of the present. Similarly, they can choose to be proactive and speak to their boss, rather than waiting for something that may never happen.

Start living for today instead of worrying about tomorrow


We spend a lot of time these days worrying about tomorrow, and when tomorrow comes, we are already worrying about the next day. Put simply, yesterday cannot be revisited or changed. Tomorrow does not exist beyond plans and intentions, therefore it is a waste of time, energy and creativity to try and second-guess it.

As Martin Luther King Jnr and Mother Theresa demonstrated, that time and energy could be much better spent looking at life positively and inspiring others.


Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook or find out more about The Spark Counselling.

gift how to be happy

This is how to be happy according to Stacey Kramer.

“Imagine if you will a gift. I’d like you to picture it in your mind. It’s not too big, about the size of a golf ball. So, envision what it looks like, all wrapped up.

gift how to be happy

Before I show you what’s inside I will tell you that it’s going to do incredible things for you. It will bring all of your family together. You will feel loved and appreciated like never before and reconnect with friends and acquaintances that you haven’t heard from for years. Your life will have new meaning.”

So begins a TED Talk delivered by Stacey in February 2010.

I want to know how to be happy


What were your thoughts when reading those words? I will confidently wager they went something like this: ‘Where can I get this gift? How much do I have to pay for it? How soon can I get it?’

how to be happy

Later on in the talk, Stacey admits, ‘It was a rare gem. A brain tumour…’ This revelation will stop you in your tracks and, no doubt, the talk is structured deliberately to achieve this. Specifically, it is designed to force you to take time to reflect on your initial impressions of this ‘gift’.

Re-reading Stacey’s seemingly glowing description of what is a horrendous diagnosis, you may doubt the words you read earlier. How can such a difficulty result in so many positive outcomes? How can something that tragic help me learn how to be happy?

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger


Remarkably, in his book ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ Jonathan Haidt reports that modern psychologists consider some level of adversity and suffering necessary for a psychologically healthy and fulfilling life.

We are not naïve or heartless enough to suggest that all traumatic experiences are good for you. Unfortunately, there are illnesses that the sufferer does not survive. There are tragedies that dramatically change people’s lives for the worse. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is very real and blights lives. In The Spark’s work with children, we are very aware that Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs like neglect and abuse can result in health, relationship and social problems in later life.

Most of us will, consciously or otherwise, seek to avoid difficulties and strive to live a problem-free life. But Jonathan Haidt, who is Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University, suggests otherwise.

In short, if you want to know how to be happy, prepare to experience the lows as well as the highs.

How to be happy and the ‘Adversity Hypothesis’


The ‘Adversity Hypothesis’ is a philosophical version of the themes we explored in our Songs For Sound Minds feature on ‘(Stronger) What Doesn’t Kill You’ by Kelly Clarkson. The principle is that it is possible to grow from your suffering.

Haidt’s book illustrates 3 specific benefits, contrasting ‘post-traumatic growth’ with post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Meeting challenging situations uses abilities that you may not have been aware of and gives you confidence in dealing with future difficulties. If we never face challenges or setbacks, how will we get through really difficult periods like the serious illness Stacey endured?
  • Adversity helps you identify who you can rely on in hard times and builds your relationship with them. This is one of the things Stacey Kramer discovered when she had her brain tumour.
  • Surviving trauma can make us take stock and change our perspective on life. Indeed, many of our counselling clients who come through very difficult periods develop a new attitude to life. An attitude focused, for example, on savouring time with family and friends, and less on being chained to their desk at work.

Helping you learn how to be happy


In practice, we sometimes need support to unlock these benefits from emotionally challenging times. Discovering and using those abilities we never knew we had can be difficult on our own.

Similarly, the process of taking stock can come naturally to some people but for others, it might require a guide. Therapeutic counsellors can be those guides.

Counselling is fundamentally about helping individuals and couples determine how to deal with situations, emotions and past experiences. It is about how to take time to consider what has happened and how we might wish to live our lives differently in the future. In essence, it is about personal growth from times of trouble.

Sadly we will all face hard times in our lives, of that we have no choice. But we can choose to take the path of post-traumatic growth as Jonathan Haidt suggests, and counselling can help us find and walk that path.

Counselling and relationship support services


Find out more information on The Spark and our counselling services for individual, couples, married couples and families.

Alternatively contact us directly via our enquiry form or on freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could benefit you.

Nina Simone I Got Life

Songs for Sound Minds #26 – ‘I Got Life’ by Nina Simone


‘I ain’t got no home, ain’t got no shoes
Ain’t got no money, ain’t got no class
Ain’t got no skirts, ain’t got no sweater
Ain’t got no perfume, ain’t got no bed’

Why is it that we often focus on the negative side of things? Glass half empty, not half full. Counting our tribulations, not our blessings. Sometimes we seem stuck in a rut imagining all the things that might go wrong and all the things that we believe are ‘wrong’ with our life.

This melancholy outlook on life is exhibited perfectly in the opening lines of this Nina Simone classic. Focused on the negatives and downsides of life, she sounds like a women concentrating on the things to be upset, scared or worried about.

I got life… for now, says the caveman


One explanation for this behaviour offered by psychologists and sociologists is that it is a primitive instinct.

The caveman that was vigilant to danger was more likely to survive than his ever-optimistic friend. While the former considered rustling in the bushes a reason to be on guard, the latter headed towards them in wide-eyed anticipation. In that situation, expecting the worst – a sabre-tooth tiger perhaps – was a necessary element of survival.

Thankfully these days we only need to avoid overly-pushy double-glazing salespeople or high-street ‘chuggers’. But the mind-set remains for many of us.

In maintaining such an outlook on life, we risk falling into a life of constant pessimism and, potentially, isolation and depression. There is a reason Eeyore – from AA Milne’s much-loved Winnie the Pooh stories – was always alone.

Forget the bad things, I got life


Simone’s song takes a sudden positive turn however and we realise that it is not about darkness after all but rather it is about the opposite:

‘I got my arms, got my hands

Got my fingers, got my legs

Got my feet, got my toes

Got my liver, got my blood’

The song is encouraging us to acknowledge the simple things in life, to appreciate what we already have and to stop worrying about what we don’t have or might never have.

Nina Simone I Got Life

Nina Simone was a prominent activist in the US civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. She experienced first-hand the segregation and discrimination of the time. Despite her natural musicality and training as a classical pianist, she failed to gain entry to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia due to the colour of her skin.

Simone’s personal experiences and that of African-Americans throughout history give added meaning to another of the song’s verses:

‘Ain’t got no mother, ain’t got no culture

Ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schooling

Ain’t got no love, ain’t got no name

Ain’t got no ticket, ain’t got no token

Ain’t got no God’

But in spite of all of this, she still proclaims the virtues of maintaining that positive attitude to what life throws at you.

Celebrate life today


‘I Got Life’ is a real celebration.  There are always reasons to choose the positive side of life, no matter how bad things seem or how difficult the way ahead looks.

Nina Simone’s exuberant response to adversity brings to mind the words of poet Maya Angelou, another civil rights activist:

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.’


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

confidential sign

We have reached the final part of our 4-part series looking at the most common counselling myths.

The Spark is busting the myths and misconceptions that can end up stopping people from considering counselling as a way to overcome the challenges and difficulties of life. By highlighting the truth about counselling we hope to offer a clearer picture of the ways counselling can help navigate the challenges of life.

Read on for part 4 of the series or catch up on part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Counselling myths no. 9: A counsellor will judge me or look down on me


There are many different types of counselling. There are also different types of counsellor, with unique approaches to therapy. But one thing unites them all: the desire to help others.

Individuals that become counsellors do not do so in order to look down on clients or to judge them. They do it to be able to provide assistance to those struggling with life or dealing with painful experiences.

In many cases, but not all, individuals decide to become counsellors because of experiences in their own lives. Influential psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the phrase ‘wounded healer’ to explain this. Jung determined that a ‘healer’ (in this case a counsellor) is often compelled to do so because of their own difficult experiences in life.

Carl Jung
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung

Counselling myths no. 10: People will know I’m seeing a counsellor


Privacy is the cornerstone of counselling. Anything and everything you discuss with a counsellor is private and confidential.

A counsellor will never disclose information about you or your therapy sessions without your express permission.

There are some exceptions to this rule when there is a suspected risk to your own life or that of another person, which a counsellor will explain to you at your first appointment.

More detail on this is covered in The Spark’s privacy policy.


The truth about counselling

Heard a myth about counselling we haven’t covered? Send it to us on Twitter or Facebook and we will bust that one too!

Find out more about individual, couple, marriage or family counselling with The Spark or complete an informal enquiry form.

marriage counselling broken heart satchel paige

Chances are you will have heard or read the idiom “love like you’ve never been hurt before”. Similarly, the chances are you have no idea where it came from or who said it first.

This particular piece of simple but deeply profound advice did not come from any of the usual suspects like Confucius, Aristotle or Maya Angelou. It came from one Leroy Robert ‘Satchel’ Paige.

I’ve never heard of Satchel Paige…


Paige is considered by many as the best pitcher in the history of American baseball. Not only that, Paige holds a record unlikely to ever be beaten – the oldest player ever to have pitched in major league baseball history, which he did at the age of 59.

His advice is a nice sentiment. In practice, of course, it is too hard to actually follow through, right?

How can we live and love like the hurt and pain inflicted upon us in the past never existed? In the case of Satchel Paige, he did despite a life that was scarred by racism, segregation, abuse and poverty.

The life and hard times of Satchel Paige


Satchel Paige
Paige was African-American and grew up in the time of the USA’s Jim Crow segregation laws. One of 12 kids in a poor Alabama family, Paige started work aged 8 carrying luggage at the local train station (where he gained the nickname ‘Satchel’). Petty crime followed and 5 years in reform school. During that time he developed an incredible ability to throw a baseball with extreme speed and accuracy.

Because of the colour of his skin, Paige was only able to play in Negro leagues. These were formed by black players barred from playing in the major leagues. Unable to make enough money playing, Paige worked second and third jobs and toured the country in ‘showcase’ teams – a sort of Harlem Globetrotters for baseball.

Eventually, Paige’s showmanship and skill drew white fans to the games and in 1949, at the age of 41, Paige stepped up to the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians.

More hurt than we could imagine


Paige’s time in baseball – like all African-American players – was plagued by racist abuse, in some cases from fans of his own team. Rival teams would deliberately line up their best batters to try and embarrass him on the big stage. Throughout his subsequent 18 year career in the major leagues, Paige experienced hurt and pain most of us will, thankfully, never have to experience.

All of this makes his attitude to life all the more powerful and highlights the importance of forgiveness.

Overcoming hurt and finding reconciliation


In life, it is often the people we care about the most – spouses, our kids, close friends – that end up hurting us the most. Invariably the pain of whatever they have said or done overwhelms our ability to channel the love we still feel for them into an attempt at forgiveness and reconciliation.

marriage counselling broken heart satchel paige

Many individuals, couples and families come to The Spark for counselling because of the difficulties of repairing relationships and finding reconciliation.  Often, to use another popular idiom, they tell us they have been fighting for so long, it is impossible to remember what started it. The hurt is left to fester and builds, creating more unhappiness in our own lives and diminishing the chances of rebuilding those broken relationships.

Be more like Satchel Paige


Our advice is simple: be more like Satchel Paige. Pick up the phone to that friend that you fell out with. Send a card to that family member who hurt you. Or if these feel like big steps you are not ready to take just yet, consider speaking to a counsellor about the hurt you have experienced.

We might not all be able to enjoy a life and career as long as Satchel Paige’s was, but we can certainly try and replicate his outlook on life.

exam myths fail

Exams are on the horizon for young people up and down the country. So we decided it was time to bust a few exam myths which can create unnecessary stress and anxiety before exams.

Exam myths busted #1: poor exam results will ruin your life


Exams are a part of your development and growth as an individual. They are a way to assess whether you have retained what your lovely teachers have been trying to teach you.

They are important but they are unlikely to ruin your life. Here are a few reasons why.

By the end of your education, the idea is that you walk out as a well-rounded individual, not just an exam passing machine. Therefore skills you develop from part-time jobs, school/uni clubs or voluntary work are just as vital as exam results.

What comes after these exams?

Secondly, consider the fact that exams tend to be followed by, well, more exams.

Of course, that means going through the emotional wringer more than once but it also means poor results can be overcome.

Next time you might need to take a few more classes or do some additional study but it is possible to recover from poor exam results.

Exam myths busted #2: your parents will be ashamed by your poor results


This is one of the exam myths that cause many young people to carry a crippling level of expectation upon their shoulders.

What we might interpret as pressure to avoid the shame of poor results, is often well-intentioned encouragement from our parents.

They just sometimes do it really badly.

We believe in you

Your parents want you to realise your potential because – and sit down for this one – they believe in you more than you probably believe in yourself.

Though it might not seem like it at times, your parents love you no matter what. And the possibility that you might not get straight A’s in all your exams is nothing compared to what you’ve already put them through.

They loved you then and will still love you now

They loved you when all you would do is poop, cry and throw up. They loved you when you rolled around in the muddy grass all day and then sat on their new cream sofa. Or that time you threw the mother of all tantrums in Asda.

I could go on but you get the picture. When it comes to something as tough as high school or university exams, does it seem likely that they will disown you if results don’t go your way?

Rest easy and know that your parents want you to do well for yourself, not because they want to boast about you on Facebook.

Exam myths busted #3: failing exams makes you a failure in life


Exams are important but their ability to ‘make or break’ your life is another one of the most damaging exam myths.

It is easy to lose sight of one simple truth: your life is yours to live. Therefore what are you looking for in your life?

What will success look like for you based on your perspective and not the opinions of your parents, friends or society?

Getting into the toughest university courses and becoming a brain surgeon might be what you want to achieve. Or it might not.

How do you define ‘success’?

From that truth, a logical conclusion follows: what constitutes ‘success’ is defined by literally thousands of decisions and experiences over the course of your life.

Exams are a part of that process but not the be all and end all. For example, if you don’t get the grades needed for your chosen university course, you might wrongly assume that is it. Game over.

exam myths fail

There are plenty of alternative options: start a related course and transfer across later; retake classes at college to bag the results you wanted; find a company that takes on school leavers as apprentices/trainees. The list goes on.

Ultimately what you want to do in your life is up to you. Exams will form part of that journey but they certainly will not mark the end of it.

Don’t let exam myths stop you in your tracks.


Coping with exam stress

To help students and parents navigate the difficult time before, during and after exams, The Spark has produced a series of articles.

These cover our tips on how to approach exams and ways to manage and reduce the stress and anxiety you might be feeling.

Exam stress: tips for parents and students

Exam stress tips for students

Do exam results define your future?

Tips for parents during exam time

Exam results: a young persons’ guide

Parents’ guide to exam results day

The Spark is one of Scotland’s leading providers of counselling services. We provide youth and family counselling, alongside our couples and individual counselling.

If you need support with issues in life – exams, relationships or just the challenges of growing up – we are here to help.

Find out more about counselling or talk to a member of our team on freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours.

Alternatively, complete an online enquiry.

You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more tips and advice.

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.