Teaching and Mental Health: Ensuring Emotional Availability to Learn

In this blog, Mel Stephenson, Counselling Service and Clinical Lead, and Head of Wellbeing, at Woodbridge High School shares her insights and experiences of supporting children and young people with mental health.


Those who can do, those who can’t teach, and those who try mind-bending ways to interpret that falsehood, eventually move on from teaching to become Counsellors or Psychotherapists… 

My experience is that this duality in my career, having spent well over a decade in teaching and as many years in therapeutic roles, has helped me view school-based therapy through not only a mental health lens, but also that of educationalists and school leaders. It helps close a potential gap that can form between the realms of academic pressures vs wellbeing, and amplifies the importance of the emotional availability to learn 

Several schools or trusts have engaged my consultative services to consider the most effective ways that these pivotal elements of school life can optimally coexist. Ultimately, emotional security or stability can often breed inquisitive, curious learners. Equally stresses, anxieties, fluctuations in mood or adversities, can be vastly preoccupying and have the potential to melt away the capacity to cope with the rigidity and high demands of a mainstream school environment.  

The pursuit of more creative or flexible educational options is what took me into the sphere of alternative provision, some 13 years ago. Since then, I have worked in, co-founded and run various non-mainstream education models, meeting the needs of young people who might be outliers when it comes to one-size-fits-all schooling. This included delivering education in houses wearing slippers, roles in PRU's and inner-London boroughs offering tuition. I worked as part of an online school several years before the pandemic would unfold, where I would meet with tutees in a common virtual world as avatars. Recent years brought me back full circle to a large, comprehensive, conventional setting- where those most struggling can be obscured by the sheer volume of peers and the prevailing culture of conformism.  

It is my belief that emotional wellbeing for students is the plinth on which schools should rest. It’s only with the bandwidth to think and the cognitive capacity to be present, that young people can truly absorb the learning material offered to them, regardless of how inventively, imaginatively or effectively differentiated it’s presented. 

It’s that very notion of accessibility and inclusion that brings me to this year's SEND Conference, keen for a vibrant panel discussion around ‘Addressing Mental Health Concerns of Children & Young People with SEND’ (2.30pm), because in the same way that comprehensive schools provide one-size-fits-most education, mental health support also needs to explore beyond its sometimes traditionalist constraints to ensure it is SEND-inclusive.  

While boundaries are commonly what enable safe, exploratory, therapeutic work in counselling and psychotherapy, catering appropriately to SEND can require versatility beyond what many purist methods or modalities offer. In my experience, play and working in the metaphor, can be valuable vehicles that might transcend potential barriers to mental health support; similarly, the use of creative materials can provide a language of expression less inhibitive than the spoken word.

For more blogs, information about Mel's consultancy work or upcoming trainings, visit www.mstherapeutic.com, @mstherapeutic_ on Facebook/Instagram, or email mstherapeutic@outlook.com. 


Click here to learn more about the SEND Conference 2022 where you can connect with Mel alongside many other leaders and practitioners across the sector, or click below to secure your attendance now.

Register Today