Supporting Adolescent Mental Health in a Rewarding Career

I am employed under the School Completion Programme for the past nine years in Clondalkin in both primary and secondary schools. I work therapeutically with children and adolescents. The range of issues that children and adolescents present with vary from bereavement, parent’s separation, sexuality, bullying, low self-esteem, anger, social anxiety, behavioural issues, fostering and adoption  and many more.

I work with children and adolescents using expressive and creative therapies ranging from using art to stones, to play therapy and sand trays. Expressive therapies and creative art therapies are defined by psychology as “action therapies” because they are action oriented methods through which children and adolescents can explore issues and communicate thoughts and feelings, without feeling under pressure. Creative activities in therapy offer many benefits where verbal techniques fail to help an adolescent heal. Imagination and fantasy are the first adaptive coping strategies children have available to them, especially during pre-school years. By using imagination children and adolescents can formulate a more appealing narrative for what has happened to them or divert themselves from it momentarily. It also takes the pressure off them in the moment to engage with me on another level.


“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” – Plato


Recent development in neuroscience lays the groundwork for understanding why non-verbal , expressive therapies can be more effective than verbal therapies or “ talking” therapy.
Waterhouse (2013) envisages a future where neuroscientists and psychotherapists work together  “to ensure new approaches to detecting risk, validating diagnoses and developing novel interventions that may be based on altering plasticity or returning circuitry rather than neurotransmitter pharmacology” (Pg.197).

My work with adolescents can be long or short term depending on the needs of the adolescent and their parents, each family is different.  In the school setting there is usually no pressure to finish up with an adolescent which takes a lot of pressure off both sides, whereas in private practice other factors like time and cost may come into play.

Strengthening the child or adolescent’s mental health is the ultimate goal for our work together so it is necessary that I meet with parents to explore how they work as a unit. Meeting with the parents gives me important information about the child-parent relationship, as well as the history of their family to date. The focus is on supporting adolescents and their parents through many developmental changes that occur and also other issues like cultural differences and value systems that may need to be explored. It is important that I get to know their strengths and vulnerabilities to encourage them on their journey.

At the end of the school year I may need to refer an adolescent on to an outside agency to ensure that they receive support during the summer months. This can be a difficult time for some students as they may not have their usual supports around them like a friend or a teacher who helps them during term time

The long term goal for our work together is to equip the adolescent and their parents with psychological resources so that they can function long after the therapy has ended.


I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that as professionals we gain specialist training before working with Children and Adolescents. There is so much more we need to be aware of when working with these age groups in comparisons to working with adults. We need to have extensive training in areas of lifespan development, attachment issues, adoption, fostering and the many spectrums children are being diagnosed with today.  
I love working with this age group and I learn so much from them, which helps me to grow as a person. It is a very rewarding career indeed.

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity” - Kay Redfield Janison

Deirdre Reilly, MIACP (July 2015)

PCI College Lecturer

Deirdre is a lecturer on the Postgraduate Certificate in Child and Adolescent Counselling & Psychotherapy Course at PCI College in Clondalkin.  Deirdre is a graduate of the B.Sc. (Hons) in Counselling & Psychotherapy Course in PCI College. She is member of the I.A.C.P., and is also a qualified Clinical Supervisor with the I.A.C.P..



Waterhouse, L. (2013).  Rethinking Autism: Variation and Complexity.  London: Academic Press.

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