Rebecca Kirkbride is a therapist and writer specialising in working with children and young people. Her books include Counselling Young People: A Practitioner Manual*, Counselling Children and Young People in Private Practice: A Practical Guide* and the upcoming Key Theories and Skills in Counselling Children and Young People: An Integrative Approach*.
We’re thrilled Rebecca is returning to present another CPD day for us, this time via Zoom on working integratively with those aged 11-18 years – ‘Root down to reach up’: An Integrative Approach to Therapeutic Work with Children & Young People (Saturday 12th June with catch-up).
In this interview with Rebecca Kirkbride we explore her counselling career, working with children and young people and the impact of the last year on this client group.
Interview with Rebecca Kirkbride
1. How did you start out in counselling & psychotherapy?
It’s hard to identify a specific starting point. I became interested in Freud when I took psychology GCSE at sixth form college – I found the idea of ‘the presenting past’ fascinating. When I finished my undergraduate degree in English and Drama I started looking for post-graduate psychology courses but it was a few years later, when I went through a crisis as a single-parent in the early 2000’s, that I decided to train at Sussex Uni. By this time I knew from previous roles working with homeless people that I wanted to work relationally with vulnerable adults, and the pragmatist in me was looking for a career that would hopefully pay enough that I could work part-time and support my daughter.
2. You specialise in working with children and young people – what drew you to working with this client group?
I think the underlying reason was a growing awareness as I went through my own therapy as an adult that I would have been helped enormously as a teenager by some sort of therapeutic intervention. Like many of us there is a wounded healer in me looking to provide something for others that I wish I had had access to.
The pragmatic answer is that I had qualified at a time when there was rapid growth in the provision of school counselling in Brighton and Hove and I had a school-age child. I had completed a placement in a youth advice service while training and this gave me confidence and skills in working with adolescents as well as bringing me into contact with the YMCA who were leading the way in providing school counselling services locally. This is also where I met Shelley [Owner & Director of Brighton Therapy Partnership], who was coordinating the youth advice centre counselling service at the time. The beginning of a long-standing collaborative friendship!
3. What do you enjoy about working with adolescents and young people? And what is particularly challenging about it?
I pretty much enjoy all aspects of the work with adolescents and young people. I find it energising to work with people at this stage of their life; identifying developmental blocks impeding them from moving into adulthood with confidence and in good health.
The challenges have often been around working with the family. I think as a CYP therapist, especially in private practice, you are containing a lot of parental anxiety alongside the clinical work with the client. This can be challenging but has been the stimulus for a lot of my thinking and writing about practice and getting alongside parents in supporting a vulnerable young person on their journey can be enormously rewarding.
4. People may assume that working with children and adolescents is solely focused on play and creative approaches, or – that they can work in the same way with teenagers as they do with adult clients. What would you say to those assumptions?
It’s all about the relationship. My interventions are all centred on the need to establish a therapeutic relationship as the core of the therapeutic process. The approach taken needs to be rooted in the developmental and individual needs of the client and then focused on supporting the therapeutic process for that individual. I think this is why it’s so useful for practitioners working with this group to have access to a range of approaches. These can then be adapted and used to meet the therapeutic needs of each individual client and their unique presentation.
5. The name of your CPD day on working integratively with those aged 11-18 years is “Root down to reach up”. This is a powerful image – can you talk us through what this means for you?
I work a lot with images in understanding aspects of practice and this one came to me when I was writing my most recent book. There was something about how the book was developing in its early stages that reminded me of yoga class. My teacher would always encourage us to see ‘tree pose’ as a dynamic process rather than a static point to be reached. She would instruct us to maintain constant connection with our roots through legs and feet in order to reach up with our bodies and arms, and this physical process made an impression on me!
The book is structured to represent what I see as the dynamic process of therapy with young people; our roots in understanding the developmental processes of growing up, the trunk as the core of the therapeutic relationship and then the branches and leaves representing interventions and clinical considerations. The idea is that these are connected to the roots and the trunk – this is how we remain dynamic in the process as practitioners.
6. You’ve now written three books (Key Theories and Skills in Counselling Children and Young People: An Integrative Approach, Counselling Young People: A Practitioner Manual and Counselling Children and Young People in Private Practice: A Practical Guide). Are there any books by other authors that have particularly inspired your own therapy work?
Oh, what a question! There are so many. I’ve been an avid reader since very early childhood and have always navigated life through reading. When I was working as a therapist in the early days I always had my nose in a book – looking to those who had engaged with this challenging path before me and who had been generous enough to write about their discoveries!
I’ve spoken before about the impact that Anna Freud’s writing had on me, particularly when I began writing myself. I read Winnicott constantly as he is such a containing presence and support in the work. I love Peter Blake’s writing about Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy from a contemporary Kleinian point of view. More recently I’ve been devouring writing from authors exploring issues of race and diversity in therapeutic practice. Dr Dwight Turner and Eugene Ellis have both written recent publications I am learning a huge amount from. I could go on forever on this one!
7. How has the move to online therapy affected your work with children and young people?
I have a relatively small practice these days as I am working almost full-time as a trainer at Roehampton. What I found with my young adult clients was that for them working online while living at home was particularly challenging. They weren’t able to find a space that felt confidential or separate enough from their parents to feel comfortable in the space. Working online with young people has worked well in some respects but I also work with clients who don’t want to see their image on the screen or who don’t have access to the technology needed for this to work well. I can see moving forward that there may be advantages to providing online therapy for this group, but my sense is that it’s more complex than moving other things like work meetings or teaching online.
8. How do you think we can support our young people as we still navigate the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions, but also the movement out of them?
I think the best way we can support young people is by modelling something ourselves about navigating challenge and being congruent about how hard things have been while also offering a sense of hope. There is a significant possibility of our experiences during this time facilitating improvements in how we live and understand both our own needs and those of others. I think there needs to a general acceptance that we have all suffered during the lockdowns and pandemic and that some of the mental health issues experienced are sane responses to trauma and unmet needs.
9. If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be and why?
If I wasn’t a therapist I have no idea what I would be. Therapy training happened for me at a time when I was struggling enormously with knowing who I was and what my life was all about. My practice and identity as a therapist is at the core of who I am as a person. Like many of us, it’s a lot more than a job for me. If not a therapist I think I would definitely be a writer of some sort – this was a childhood ambition. I am enormously grateful that my career has aligned in this way with that desire to write and engage with other practitioners in a meaningful way.
7. Where can people hear more from you? (eg, your own Blog, Website, Twitter, Email?)
The majority of my time is taken up with teaching and running the training at UoR. That’s where you’ll hear most from me! I also have a website and I’m always happy to hear from and connect with fellow practitioners on LinkedIn. I’m currently working on my PhD by Published Work and I’ll be looking for participants soon for a study of professional identities among CYP practitioners. Anyone interested can find me on LinkedIn and message me there.
A huge thank you to Rebecca for taking part in this interview. You can learn more from Rebecca at her upcoming CPD day ‘Root down to reach up’: An Integrative Approach to Therapeutic Work with Children & Young People (Saturday 12th June with catch-up). Here she is introducing the day.
* Book links in this post are affiliate links meaning we get a very small cut of sales. At no extra cost to you, this supports us at BTP in being able to continue helping therapists and clients.
Friday 1st March 2024. ONLINE via Zoom and CATCH-UP for 28 days. Event Times: 10.00am – 4.00pm GMT (London)/ 11.00am – 5.00pm CET (Paris)/ 5.00am – 11.00am EST (New York).…
Friday 22nd March 2024. ONLINE via Zoom and CATCH-UP for 28 days. Event Times: 10.00am – 4.00pm GMT (London)/ 11.00am – 5.00pm CET (Paris)/ 5.00am – 11.00am EST (New York).…
Friday 19th April 2024. ONLINE via Zoom and CATCH-UP for 28 days. Event Times: 10.00am – 4.00pm GMT (London)/ 11.00am – 5.00pm CET (Paris)/ 5.00am – 11.00am EST (New York).…
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