conflict and the brain

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

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

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

Scotland’s Mental Health strategy


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

conflict Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy

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

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

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

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


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

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

conflict SCCR 2018 conference images

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

The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences


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

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

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

The Spark’s Tackling Violence programme


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

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

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

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

Conflict and the Emotional Homunculus


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

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

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

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

Tackling conflict through emotional resilience


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

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

The Spark – counselling and relationship support for all


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

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

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

youth mental health

Research published this month revealed 66% of staff in Scottish schools feel ill-equipped to help pupils with youth mental health problems. Commissioned by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the survey highlighted the need to properly train teachers and support workers.

youth mental health

Mental Health training for teachers


Working in partnership with schools and local authorities, here at The Spark we are actively addressing that skills gap.

Through our Scottish Mental Health First Aid for Young People (SMHFA-YP) and Relationship First Aid for Teachers (RFA) courses we are equipping teachers and support staff to spot the early signs of mental distress in children.

The Spark’s training provides staff in schools with a better understanding of youth mental health issues and how to signpost families to suitable, professional support.

Many schools are now investing their Scottish Government Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) in these programmes.

Teacher training is available right now


Rolling out the SMHFA-YP and RFA courses to all schools in Scotland could bridge the current skills gap. Both programmes are proven to deliver improved outcomes for pupils, school staff and families.

youth mental health

Importantly this training is readily available to schools and local authorities right now. Meaning it can be implemented almost immediately – a significant advantage over the time-consuming and costly process of commissioning new training.

First responders


Whilst suitable training for teachers and school support staff is vital, it is not enough to simply train education professionals in mental health first aid.

The role of teachers and school support staff in the drive for better youth mental health must be very specific. Within the context of a comprehensive, nationwide strategy they must be considered as first responders.

youth mental health

Youth mental health support pathways


Training – through programmes like our Relationship First Aid for Teachers – can and should be used to develop a community of first responders within our schools.

From there suitable pathways to refer pupils and their families to professional support need to be in place.

School based counselling


It is optimal for school staff to work alongside and not in place of professional mental health experts. Teachers are best placed to pinpoint changes in behaviour that might highlight underlying issues that could benefit from counselling and specialist support.

The provision of school based counsellors allows pupils to be referred for support within their own environment. With minimal administration pupils can receive help within a matter of days.

Clearly defined pathways allows to focus on teaching and local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to concentrate on the most complex referrals.

A comprehensive approach to youth mental health


The Spark has helped schools and local authorities make a genuine positive impact on the mental health of children and young people. Our commitment to this work will see us support over 5,000 school pupils this academic year. This will be achieved through school based counselling and education programmes.

youth mental health school pupils

Rolling out a comprehensive training programme for teachers and support staff in Scotland’s schools would be a worthwhile objective. To be effective however it must be matched with a similar commitment to placing professional youth counsellors in schools.

By training teachers and support staff as first responders, providing suitable referral pathways and embedding counsellors in schools Scotland can lead the way in improving youth mental health.

School based counselling, education programmes and support


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

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

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

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.

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Kelly Clarkson

Songs for Sound Minds #20 – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) Kelly Clarkson


At The Spark we work hard to help people improve their relationships and build connections with each other. Sometimes though, trying to mend a broken relationship is not healthy for either individual.

Moving on from a difficult relationship can be a liberating and life changing experience. That is the theme of this week’s featured track – ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’ by Kelly Clarkson.

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson



From American Idol to rocky relationships

Clarkson shot to fame as the inaugural winner of the American Idol reality television show in 2002. A roller-coaster career followed during which the Texan singer has had more than her fair share of difficult relationships.

An acrimonious split from her original American Idol dictated record label – RCA – brought an end to what Clarkson described as “an arranged marriage”.

This particular relationship lasted 14 years. During that time her music, appearance and even weight were policed by her management.

In her personal life, Clarkson’s fame made maintaining relationships difficult until her marriage in 2013.

A perfect representation of my life

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Kelly Clarkson

Clarkson considered the lyric ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ as “a perfect representation of my life”.

The inspiring theme is that just because the relationship is over that ‘doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone’. She has moved on and things are better than they were before.

The message of the song is that it is possible to be stronger in spite of experiencing pain and tragedy.  We can all think of examples of people who have overcome tragic circumstances.

Hope out of pain and tragedy

Think of Simon Weston, who survived 46% burns to his body during the Falklands War. Yet he has gone on to become a high profile political activist and champion of a number of charities.

In 2014, he was voted Britain’s most heroic figure.

Or take Katie Piper the victim of a sulphuric acid attack which resulted in 40 surgical operations and left her blind in one eye.

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Katie Piper

She has set up her own charitable foundation, regularly appears on radio and television and has authored several books including one with the title, ‘Things Get Better: If You Believe Then You Will Survive.’

The science behind ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) paraphrases the Friedrich Nietzsche quotation: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Nietzsche’s prophetic philosophy is supported in the world of science.

Victor Frankl was a German psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz during the Second World War.  He noticed that even in conditions as dehumanizing as the concentration camp there were people who behaved with decency and humanity.

Personal growth from tragedy

Scientific studies show that for some people who survive trauma there are reported positive changes and enhanced personal development which scientists call Post Traumatic Growth.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) promotes stories of survivors of heart attacks who give up their obsession with the rat race and discover new ways of living, improved relationships and a greater commitment to their family.

There can be a silver lining

Stephen Joseph, Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham suggests that it is helpful to reflect on the positive aspects of challenging events.

This could be better friendships, a new perspective on life, previously hidden strength of character or a greater understanding of life.

The implication is that there are benefits in trying to make sense of adverse life circumstances.

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)

Something terrible happened.  You survived and lived to tell the tale of stronger relationships, a stronger ability to cope or a stronger understanding of life’s ups and downs.

It didn’t kill you but it did make you stronger.


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

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.”

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 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