THE SPARK BLOG

As 2020 gets into full swing a review by The Spark Counselling shows 2019 was another difficult year for individuals, couples and families in Scotland. Across all counselling services offered by the organisation, there has been a 26% year-on-year increase in demand as mental health and relationship issues continue to challenge many.

The Spark will mark its fifty-sixth anniversary this year and the need for our relationship support and counselling services in Scotland has never been greater”, said Chief Executive Stella Gibson.

Counselling services have “never been more vital”


“Whether it is counselling couples through relationship issues, helping families learn to communicate better or supporting children and young people with anxiety, the work of The Spark has never been more vital” she explained.

“The growing awareness of the importance of good mental health is undoubtedly contributing to such high demand” she concluded.

Much like 2018, communication issues and mental health challenges were the most common problems clients sought help with last year with nearly a quarter of all counselling enquiries in 2019 related to mental health.

mental health counselling

Good and bad news for couples


For couples, there was both good and bad news in 2019. The year saw a marked increase in couples seeking counselling as a way to reconcile after a split. However, fewer couples considering separation turned to The Spark for support to avoid a complete breakdown in their relationship.

“Counselling can be an effective way to work through issues which are detrimental to a couple’s relationship instead of simply accepting separation as inevitable”, explains Gibson.

“In some cases, it is healthier for all concerned that a relationship does end. When the couple are parents counselling can help improve their relationship and communication after separating. But many couples still believe separation is the only option.”

Mental health now the main reason for seeking counselling


Throughout 2019 the pressures of political uncertainty, austerity, Brexit and the challenges of raising a family clearly took their toll on relationships.

mental health counselling - an unhappy couple embrace

For the first time, mental health issues replaced communication problems as the number one reason for counselling. Part of the shift is due to ongoing efforts to de-stigmatise mental health and raise awareness of its importance.

Commenting on the shift, Stella Gibson said: “Many more individuals and couples feel comfortable and safe to come forward looking for counselling and support for problems like anxiety, stress and depression. However, many are still suffering in silence or unaware of the help that is available.”

5 most common reasons for seeking counselling from The Spark (2019):


  1. Mental health issues
  2. Communication issues with partner/spouse
  3. Growing apart from partner/spouse
  4. Family issues
  5. Unfaithfulness

Source: The Spark Counselling, 2019.

The Spark expands to meet demand for counselling in Scotland


Significant increases in demand across the board last year prompted The Spark to expand its service provision and train more counsellors.

“Our aim is to ensure every person in Scotland has access to counselling and relationship support. The last 12 months show that the need for our services only continues to grow and we have stepped up to meet that”, explains Gibson.

“We currently have 30 people undertaking The Spark’s Diploma in Relational Counselling, with some training to become counsellors and others upskilling as multidisciplinary counsellors. This comes on top of opening two new centres in Aberdeen and Inverness, as well as moving to larger premises in Edinburgh.”

Demand for school-based counselling continues to grow


2019 was another busy year for The Spark’s children and young people counselling services. Across both school-based counselling and individual sessions, the organisation delivered just under 5,000 counselling sessions.

Discussing the services provided by The Spark, Chief Executive Stella Gibson said: “There is no doubt that there is unprecedented demand in Scotland for counselling services for children and young people.”

“Thanks to the Scottish Government’s commitment to providing counselling in schools, that demand will only continue to grow in 2020”

On the subject of the issues counsellors are dealing with in school, Gibson said: “The presenting issues are varied and reflect the complex and often uncertain lives led by many of our children and young people. Much of this is evident in the level of support some children require for issues like emotional regulation and anxiety.”

More than half of all referrals to counselling in 2019 were for emotional regulation issues and over a quarter related to anxiety.

5 most common referral issues for children and young people counselling (2019):


  1. Emotional regulation (52%)
  2. Peer group difficulties (35%)
  3. Interpersonal skills (33%)
  4. Anxiety (26%)
  5. Low self-esteem (21%)

Source: The Spark Counselling, 2019.

“However, as last year demonstrated when third sector organisations like The Spark, the Scottish Government, education services and individual schools work in partnership, real progress can be made to improve the lives of children, their families, classmates and teachers.”

Looking to the year ahead, Stella Gibson is adamant The Spark will continue to meet the challenge: “As long as couples, individuals and families need help, we will be there to support them.”


Follow the links to find out more about The Spark counselling services for couples, individuals, families, schools and children and young people.

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