My name is Siobhán O’Connor. I am a Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychotherapist and Play Therapist. At the beginning of my career, I studied and graduated with a BA(Hons) in Person Centred Counselling from the Metanioa Institute in London. Initially I worked in this field as an adult counsellor, however I quickly realised that I was very drawn to working with younger client groups.
Since completing my degree, I have spent several years continuing to study and upskill to ensure that I have sufficient and specialised training to enable me to work competently with children and adolescents. Along with obtaining post-graduate qualifications in Play Therapy and Child Psychotherapy, I most recently completed a QQI Level 9 Master of Arts in Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy & Play Therapy. A significant component of the Master’s syllabus included training relating specifically to responding therapeutically to child sexual abuse. Alongside this, I have extensive and varied continued professional development which affords me a well-rounded skill set in my work – some of the many areas of interest to me include; neurodevelopment, family systems and working with suicidal clients.
Over the past decade, through my work in both private practice and within many schools across the county, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain valuable experience working with many diverse young people and family populations whose emotional and social functioning levels cover a wide spectrum. At times over the years, I have found myself frustrated by the inadequate provision of specialised one-to-one therapeutic services available to young people across the south-east of Ireland. I often struggled to find alternative (and affordable) referral pathways for young people when I did not have the capacity to take new child/adolescent referrals myself. I was very enthused when I learned that Wexford Rape Crisis had plans to provide a dedicated and much-needed service to young people in the county. In April 2018 I joined the Wexford Rape Crisis team of psychotherapists to assist in the set-up and provision of that service.
There can be a misconception that the same service provision of typical adult psychotherapy talk therapy (provided by adult trained psychotherapists) is an adequate suitable therapeutic intervention for child and adolescent client groups. We have an ethical and professional responsibility to be cognizant of the fact that child client groups do differ from those of adult client groups and as such it is best practice that the provision of child psychotherapeutic services reflects this. For example, younger clients often do not have the words to verbally articulate and process their experiences and feelings in the same way that an adult client might do in a typical ‘talk therapy’. Creative mediums and Play Therapy provide additional/alternate dimensions in the therapy process for younger clients in their healing journey. It can be said that for child clients engaged in Play Therapy ‘toys are their words and play is their language’ – children literally play-out and process their life events with toys and creative mediums in the therapy room. Another important aspect of psychotherapeutic work with young people is ensuring that the young person’s carers and parents are adequately supported as secondary clients in the therapeutic process. When a young person has experienced sexual, domestic or gender-based violence, it often impacts on their wider family system. Parents, carers and siblings can find themselves struggling to manage their own feelings and emotions about what has occurred, and struggle with knowing how to support or respond to the young person.
As an organisation, Wexford Rape Crisis does not only work with young people directly impacted by sexual, domestic or gender-based violence, but we also offer a psychotherapeutic service to the young person’s supporters and other family members. We know from research that when we can support a whole family system rather than just a young person by themselves then the opportunity for healing and recovery for the whole family unit is greatly increased.
At present, my role within the organisation is specific to providing a specialised psychotherapeutic service to the adolescent client group (young people from the age of 12 upwards) who have in any way been impacted by sexual, domestic or gender-based violence. Following traumatic experiences, if young people can have access to the correct supports and psychotherapy in a timely fashion, not only does it help that young person during the recovery and healing process it also provides an opportunity in a safe environment for them to work through these negative life experiences in such a way that they do not become defining events in that young person’s life thus allowing them to move forward and return to the path of normal development and reach their full potentials in life.
There are a variety of reasons and traumatic events that can occur in a young person’s life that may bring them into WRC’s psychotherapy service. Young people who have experienced (or have in any way been impacted by) sexual, domestic or gender-based violence can be referred to our adolescent psychotherapy service. Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a type of child abuse in which a young person is used for sexual stimulation, some forms of which include engaging in sexual activities, indecent exposure and child grooming. CSA can occur in a variety of settings. However, in this age of fast-paced technological advancement, we are witnessing young people no longer just being impacted by CSA in their lived worlds but increasingly in their online engagement too. The increased usage and reliance on social media platforms in the lives of young people can leave them more susceptible to online grooming as well as online engagement in sexual activity and exposure. Adolescent psychotherapy can support a young person who may have a lack of awareness regarding their own personal boundaries (both in their lived world and online world) and confidence in knowing it is ok to say ‘no’.
I feel very privileged to be part of such a vibrant organisation which is growing and evolving, but even more importantly than that I feel very proud to be part of a team and service whose values are underpinned and mirrored by my own as a therapist. Therapeutically supporting service users in a non-judgemental manner, offering unconditional positive regard and respecting client autonomy are all innate aspects of my Person-Centred counsellor training – and so too are these values fundamental and at the core of Wexford Rape Crisis.