While on student placement at SKATTLE I have had the amazing experience of co-facilitating several therapeutic school groups.
These groups are run in schools with children that have experienced life changing events and often involve the most vulnerable members of the school community. The groups are facilitated over 6 weeks, 2 half days or 1 day and are run from a post-structuralist perspective that endeavours to understand the lived experience of kids by not allocating labels or diagnoses.
Quite often the kids involved in a group are directed to participate without a full understanding of what is involved. This can have them being reticent to engage.
However, as the program utilises the SKATTLE SKILSS map and introduces a metaphor that externalises the problem in a fun and age appropriate way, the kids develop understanding of each other’s experiences as their stories are told.
As a facilitator of a group with diverse experiences it is amazing to see the connections these kids develop as they recognise things that are similar and different in their stories.
Sometimes it is the similar experience and feelings; and sometimes it is a different experience that has them thinking and doing things in similar ways.
Overwhelmingly though there is similarity in what is important to them. Things like being heard, liking who they are and doing well at school or in life.
Using games that further create connection by building team spirit is essential to the effectiveness of these groups. On some occasions as I have facilitated a group I have imposed my own ideas of the games we should play.
This has worked sometimes but the most effective games are the ideas the kids come up with themselves. They really are experts when it comes to what they like to do.
Kids are also experts in what they know about themselves and what they are good at. Through using a tree as metaphor, the kids can clearly articulate the roots (that is things that are important to them); the trunk (the skills and capacities they already are using despite tricky times being around); the branches or their images of the future and the fruit, the people and things they have available to support them.
Through use of a storm cloud metaphor as representing tricky times, kids develop understanding that it is not the trees fault that these storms visit people’s lives.
Rather, they see a visual representation of a strong tree that can weather tricky times. Finally, the sun comes out which represents the steps kids will take towards their picture of the future.
We always finish with a closing ceremony, presenting each kid with a certificate that has their skills written on it so they can refer to them when tricky times come around.
It is validating to see the care with which they put these certificates in their school bags and the way they leave the room with new friends, connections and understanding how they can stay strong when storm clouds of tricky times come to visit.
Written by Caroline Temperton-Solomon