Grace*, a seven year old girl, has recently started seeing a Fegans’ counsellor at school. She witnessed horrific domestic violence and had been involved in a court case that resulted in the perpetrator going to prison. For some time, Grace had not been able to talk about her emotions or thoughts, but her behaviour at school spoke volumes. She would not engage or interact much at all in class and her mother struggled to get her to school most mornings.

At home, Grace was quiet and withdrawn and rarely wanted cuddles. Her mother had given up trying to discuss past events with her for fear of bringing everything back up and making things worse. The school thought it would be a good idea for Grace to have counselling to help her settle and perhaps get her to open up a little about her feelings.

Our counsellor met Grace at school and they played and chatted about some of the drawings she had been doing. Grace was chatty and seemed relaxed. During the next meeting, Grace seemed to benefit from the counsellor’s relaxed, calm approach to letting her decide what she wanted to do in the session. She was quite bossy and set in her ways but was allowed to maintain this autonomy and control throughout the session.

In a subsequent session, Grace was asked if she would help fill in one of the assessment forms all about how she had been thinking and feeling over the last few weeks.

“The questions on the form might just have been too much for a seven year old to deal with, but she seemed to relish the opportunity to answer the questions. She then said how she had been asked to do something similar in the past by the police, and I calmly asked her what she had thought about that. She said she did not mind as it had meant that the bad person had gone to prison. I then said that she must have been very brave to have done what she had, and she seemed to like how I had recognised this. She then talked more about how bad the person had been, and I replied how what they had done was not a nice thing to do and how much better it is to be kind and gentle to each other. She agreed with me and said she did not like it when her mummy had got hurt. I felt something seismic had just occurred in the session, but both of us then just calmly carried on and played with something else and didn’t mention the incident again. When the session finished Grace cheerily said goodbye and went back to her classroom.“

When Grace went home from school that day, she had sobbed and sobbed like her mother had never seen her do before. She explained to her mother how she had spoken to me about the incident and her mother was concerned that Grace was not ok about it. Grace had said she liked coming to see me and wanted to continue to do so, which meant that her mother felt that Grace’s reaction was a positive release of emotions that Grace had been keeping in for a long time. She was grateful to the school and to Fegans for all the help they had given Grace.

*clients’ names have been changed to protect their identities