Primary School Therapist
With children’s mental health being at the forefront of media attention these days, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my experience supporting primary school children with complementary therapies.
Almost ten years ago I applied for and secured a role working within a primary school in Surrey as a massage therapist, yes that’s right a massage therapist! At the time it was also part of my role to factor in 5 appointments per week for staff member so teachers, teaching assistants as well as school secretaries and even the caretaker could benefit from some chill out time after a long and demanding day. This was done in an attempt to create a better environment, primarily for children, but also for staff with the idea that if the staff were less stressed this would be passed on to the children. It also meant that the caretaker had no reason to have time off with back pain, he would just book an appointment for either a massage or a Neuroskeletal Realignment Therapy (NSRT) treatment and could be back to work that afternoon. However, despite the common sense of this when the school had a new leadership team it was decided that staff should not benefit in this way using taxpayers money.
To give you a little history as to how my role came about, this was not a result of a privileged school, this was a school where many children were being ‘permanently excluded’. As a result, any issues these children may have had were never dealt with, instead the child just carried their problems with them onto another school. This compounded the problem and would often result in a worsening of behaviour as these children were subjected to very complex life situations. It is well known that exclusion causes children to become angry, using attack as their only means of defense; often resulting in them becoming lost in a system and feeling particularly unwanted, adding to an overall lack of self-worth.
The primary school I worked at initially set up a system under direction of a university study, looking at ways to resolve problems that primary school children may have within the school setting. One of the strategies they used was to create an environment within the school that did not feel or look like school. There was a soft area for children to hide away in if they felt they needed to. The room was filled with functional toys and aides that could allow the children to explore their feelings in a safe environment. This was facilitated by a most amazing colleague who was skilled at asking the types of questions that would allow the child to gradually become aware of their own feelings without being overwhelmed. She worked skillfully with a variety of techniques to build self-worth and self-esteem that was not inherent to many of the children who became part of this process. She would also work with parents to address any issues they might have in a supportive manner. As part of this intervention these children would also see me twice a week.
At a first visit I would give them a shortened adapted reflexology treatment and they would make what we called a ‘smelly tissue’. The smell was chosen by the children from aromatherapy essential oils, these oils had cards atta