Sol’s counselling role helps kids settle in
A golden labrador is helping Cambridge children conquer ‘the black dog’ of depression and anxiety.
Three-year-old dog Sol — named after the sun — is owned by counsellor-in-training Sarah Court.
Sarah is interning at Cambridge Lifeskills, an agency that offers free counselling to children.
Sarah often takes her easygoing pooch along to her counselling sessions.
“Sometimes a child can be nervous entering their first counselling session, but then they see this big friendly yellow dog and they start to relax.”
Sol is wonderful with children, Sarah says.
“He is very observant and aware of people’s emotions. I often find he’ll try to comfort a child if they are upset.
“The child can give Sol a big hug. He’s just a big softy and so gentle.”
Around 60 Cambridge children, aged 5 to 15, have weekly counselling from Cambridge Lifeskills counsellors.
The agency has nine counsellors who see children at 13 schools in the Cambridge area.
Cambridge — just like every other town — has plenty of issues, says the agency’s manager, Sandy Wesford.
“Domestic violence, neglect, anxiety, friendship troubles — it’s all happening in Cambridge.”
And children don’t always have the skills to deal with those issues.
“If we can work with children when they are young and early in the situation, we can help them learn the skills they need to deal with life,” Sandy says.
Anyone can refer a child to the agency — a teacher, parent or even children can refer themselves via the Lifeskills website.
Cambridge Lifeskills is at full capacity. The agency’s board aims to have no children on the waiting list.
And with the population of Waipa¯ growing, the agency is only getting busier.
The most common issue children are dealing with at the moment is anxiety, Sandy says.
A child might also need counselling following their parents separating, bullying, or the death of a family member.
Counselling a child is a specialised process, Sandy says.
“Parents and caregivers are valued and very much part of the process.
“We use a lot of worksheets and toys and teach kids about understanding and managing their emotions. At times this includes breathing and mindfulness.”
But at the end of the day it’s all about listening to the child and at times advocating for them, Sandy says.
“If you sit down and really listen, they will start to talk.”
Sandy says mental health is just as important as other, more visible forms of health.
“If your child needs glasses, you take them to the optometrist. If they are sick you take them to the doctor. It’s the same with mental health — your child might need help from professionals if they are struggling with their emotions.”
Cambridge Lifeskills launched in 1992 with the purpose to improve the mental health of Cambridge youth.
It has since helped thousands of children.
When it first launched it was like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, Sandy says.
“We’ve steadily worked our way up the cliff — but that’s taken 25 years.
“And we believe we’re finally at the top of the cliff now.”
COUNSELLOR Sarah Court with 3-year-old labrador Sol.