Counsellors needed as NSW students return

Counsellors needed as NSW students return

Coronavirus
Carly Freel concedes it's sometimes been stressful trying to motivate her children.

Carly Freel concedes it's sometimes been stressful trying to motivate her children.

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From Monday students in New South Wales will begin returning to classrooms, and one parent is calling for additional help for students.

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From Monday students in NSW will begin returning to classrooms and Sydney mother-of-two Carly Freel is one parent who "couldn't be happier".

Her boys, aged seven and nine, have been learning from home since late June as the Delta coronavirus strain delivered the state's worst outbreak of the pandemic.

She says there's been an acceptance among parents that home learning is what had to be done but it's been "really stressful" trying to motivate her children.

"To have certainty in your ability to parent through this is challenging ... there were times I worried my eldest had lost all interest in learning. I had to stop myself and think not to go down a dark tunnel," Mrs Freel said.

One way she's found support is through the use of an on-demand counselling app designed to help parents engage children in at-times-hard-to-have conversations around emotional wellbeing.

Parental EQ CEO Vijay Solanki says his platform provides a useful stop-gap to open lines of communication in an informal environment as wait times for professional help have blown out and with some psychologists unable to take new clients.

"We've taken the practices a psychologist might use and simplified it for parents," he said.

Visiting a psychologist or counsellor can be as stressful for parents as their children and Mr Solanki thinks while many might feel they need to take action, factors like the stigma around seeing therapists, inconvenience and cost can make it difficult.

He says Parental EQ and other services like it can provide "a safe way to explore therapy before you take the leap" but acknowledges that for "serious issues that require clinical intervention, that's what you need to do".

Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPi) executive director Tegan Carrison agrees digital mental health services can play an important role in emotional wellbeing but are not the full solution.

"From a psychological perspective, being in the same room, you can pick up physical cues that can otherwise be missed," she said.

"There's a beautiful therapeutic relationship that can be better established in face-to-face communication."

That's why the AAPi is calling for more school psychologists and counsellors.

"We would love to see one school psychologist or counsellor for every 500 students," Ms Carrison said, adding the current ratio was around 750 to 1.

For parents like Mrs Freel, for whom routine has "gone out the window" during the lockdown, AAPi board director and psychologist Sahra O'Doherty stresses the importance of re-establishing routines.

Getting kids in and out of bed at the usual times, as well as things like packing their lunchboxes or getting them back into school uniforms can help ease the transition back to the classroom.

She adds that children will take emotional cues from their parents, meaning it's important for them to be patient and calm.

And if students are struggling with returning to a classroom, parents should "comfort them and provide them with empathy and support but also encouragement".

"Remind them they can do this and we are there alongside our children," Mrs O'Doherty said.

Australian Associated Press

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