I’ll let you into a secret.
I thought long and hard before deciding to leave teaching. But I couldn’t just walk away. It was like coming out of a bad marriage, I wanted it to work for the sake of the children. Like many (but sadly not enough) educational professionals I love kids. Teenagers are great company; they push you, confront you, catch you off guard, ask awkward questions and won’t settle for anything less than authenticity. I like that. So the internal conflict about how I felt working in an institutional setting that didn’t promote wellbeing in the manner I believed it should be gave space to a break-up that had to happen. I walked out of teaching, but had a deep knowing that my next stage in my career, retraining as a homeopath, would be hugely influenced by young people and what I had learnt in twelve years as both a teacher, advisory teacher and outreach educational professional. I also knew that whilst studying homeopathy, the experience I would gain working on an adoption and fostering panel as an educational consultant would be invaluable to my homeopathy journey.
School systems don’t suit everyone.
Ten years later I’m now ready to really shout about the importance of creating a safe space for children and young people to talk about their health and wellbeing. It seems to me that much of my practise and client-based work with children and families in busy London practices is built upon the culmination of a lot of knowledge I have gained along the way from seeing things from both sides of the coin. School systems don’t suit everyone. Fact. A one-size fits all approach to health and wellbeing doesn’t suit everyone. Fact. Children and young people are hugely affected by physical changes that are so immense and overwhelming. Fact. Many children have experiences that are deeply traumatic and they need to acknowledge this before they can even begin to think about working towards targets and GCSEs. Fact. Many children are unable to verbalise trauma so it manifests as physical ailments and symptoms. Fact. Young people are under immense pressure, more so than us Generation X’ers were. Fact.
A doubling of young people taking anti-depressants in 10 years
About 50% of my case work has been children and young people. I’ve treated lots of young people for lots of different symptoms but a common denominator always materialises; unhappiness. Problems at school such as bullying, feeling inadequate, under-pressure and not smart enough. Sadness about parental issues (separation, divorce, new step-parents) and bereavement are really common, as are self-esteem issues like bad skin (eczema, acne, psoriasis), allergies that affect confidence or mental health issues like anxiety, panic attacks or depression. Recently I watched a programme that shocked me; between 2005 and 2015 the number of children on anti-depressants had doubled. I qualified as a teacher in 1998 and had left by 2010, so my career had been deeply entrenched within this period, and do you know what, I could feel it happening whilst I was there. I’d even spent time working as an English Teacher in an adolescent Psychiatric Unit and was on the frontline with young people who had all tried to commit suicide. Something within society wasn’t and isn’t right. I can tell you what happens; a parent takes their child to the GP who puts them on anti-depressants. On BBC’s The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, in 2019, suddenly Dr Chris was saying what homeopaths have been saying for years – Anti-depressants can have nasty and tragic side-effects and nowhere more so than in the teenage demographic. The worst nightmare can become a reality for many parents of teens; your child is depressed and you deal with it in what appears the most ‘responsible’ way by going to your GP and the medication they are prescribing lists suicide as a side effect. Nothing less than shocking.
We need to learn to take things slowly and allow us to heal in our own time rather than quick-fixes
Now let me make one thing very clear. I’m not anti anti-depressants. Pharmaceuticals have a use, time and a place for us all. But I am against this one size fits all approach in a time-limited consultation in which a hurried and maybe harangued GP knows very little about the young person. I say this as a mum of two teenagers as well as a professional. Homeopaths don’t have all the answers either that is for sure. But what a homeopathic consultation can do is really begin to address both the emotional and physical elements involved in depression and give young people the one thing I know from a 20 year career that they value more precious than anything and that is time. Feeling heard. Having the space to say exactly what is bothering them. Or alternatively, not saying it, but knowing that with the right combination of remedies and a deepening relationship that evolves from a therapeutic approach we will get to what the heart of the unhappiness is together. That may take time and time is a resource teenagers have plenty of. We are so used to this instant gratification of problem-solving/problem-fixing paradigm that re-educating ourselves to a slowly, slowly approach is a challenge. But homeopathy asks of us that we do allow our bodies to mend themselves in the time frame that our bodies work at. Uniquely. And that is why I love the beauty of homeopathy in an age group that fascinates me, because being a teenager is all about accepting uniqueness and individuality. Embracing it, owning it and feeling comfortable about talking about our own experience of this cataclysmic, yet often painful, time. The beauty of selecting homeopathic remedies for teens (as indeed for any age group) is that it is bespoke, personalised medicine, so you have to listen to them, as the therapist you are fulfilling their deepest need: to be heard.
Here are some examples of questions that I might ask in a homeopathic consultation:
What has led you to feel this way?
How are you doing at school?
How are you getting on with family, friends?
What do you do outside of school?
What life experiences or medical experiences could be playing or have played a role in shaping these feelings?
Are these feelings hormonal; menstrually related perhaps?
Do you suffer with anxiety as well?
Is your appetite affected?
Not rushed through as young people want to tell me in their way.
Can nature play a part in teenage healing?
In his programme Dr Chris mentioned Wilderness Therapy as a healing experience. The young person who experienced this really enjoyed it and began to feel better from spending time in nature. Homeopathy is a nature-based form of medicine and my own approach to low mood has always been to spend time outdoors. Turn off the mobile phone and go for a walk. Appreciate the simple things like the weather, the wind in the trees, walking through a puddle. I know from having teenagers myself that a walk outside can add a new perspective to things, plus it gives you as a parent that all important chat-without-eye-contact which teenagers seem to really need. (Car conversations go down well too I find!).
Integrating coaching into my practise has really helped my young clients and I have found that the solution-based approach really supports the listening work I do with homeopathy. I will be writing a blog on this shortly. I have also found that parents have been hugely reassured by seeing a homeopath who has experience of working in an educational setting and who ‘gets’ that schools aren’t always the easiest of environments for everyone. What I believe is that ultimately the model of teenage health and wellbeing needs to change. If schools want to become places for health by coercing children and young people to make health-based decisions at school then we have to offer services within the institution or have a directory of professionals that can deal with wellbeing on a more holistic and integrated platform.