“It’s just a bit o’ banter, innit?” – Why “That’s so GAY!” still needs to be challenged

Jonathan Charlesworth is the Executive Director of the charity Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH), UK, and author of That’s So Gay! - Challenging Homophobic Bullying. He has over thirty years’ teaching and training experience and regularly delivers training and consultancy on homophobic bullying, harassment and crime to schools, colleges, universities, and the police service. In this post he explains why homophobic name-calling is still a problem, and one we must work together to challenge.

“Got your little clarinet, have you? You’re so flippin’ gay, you are!” I heard this one sneered at a pupil in a corridor not so long ago. This is a fairly straightforward one with which to deal. Our ‘perpetrator’ had targeted her insult directly at another pupil and called him gay. Presumably those dishing out homophobic name-calling, perceive it to be okay for a girl to be seen carrying a clarinet but not a boy, so one must assume effeminacy equates to ‘being a girl’ with the two seen as interchangeable? There is always interesting work to be done here around sexism and gender with all our pupils and youth group attendees.

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That’s So Gay! – Challenging Homophobic Bullying, by Jonathan Charlesworth

It’s certainly easy here for a member of staff to recognise that one pupil has denigrated another and this requires an intervention or sanction. What’s harder to challenge for staff in schools or informal youth settings is the ‘victim-less crime’ of something being called ‘gay’ like homework, or a pop band (who aren’t – or can’t all be), or something intangible like the cold as in “Oh, God, this weather is so gay!”

How often have you spoken to your son or daughter about ‘calling things gay’ and they retort with, “But it’s just banter!” Or you’ve spoken to a young person if you’re a teacher or someone who works in children’s services and they fob it off as being just a ‘joke’ whilst someone who is the target of homophobic bullying and who is really worrying you misguidedly dismisses their abuse simply as ‘a bit of a drama’.

Many schools will be indicating consistently that homophobic bullying is wrong and pupils will recognise that it is unacceptable to treat someone differently because they are gay or are thought to be. Where schools often struggle is with the use of homophobic language and phrases such as ‘That’s so gay’. In these cases pupils will often not see that their actions have a direct consequence for anyone. As a result it will often be perceived as ‘harmless banter’.

Any of us who work with young people will recognise that homophobic language is frequently used without its perpetrator’s thinking and is often overlooked or even ignored because it can be difficult to know how to respond without awareness-raising or appropriate training.

I recently explained to a Deputy Headteacher in a secondary school that we were soon to see the publication of my book to help schools challenge homophobic name-calling and bullying: That’s So Gay!. “Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “But they don’t mean anything by that, do they? They say it all the time and it more often than not has nothing to do with sexuality!” I did my best to explain diplomatically why it is important to take homophobic name-calling as seriously as racist or disablist, but by this point she was smiling at me with that look of someone who is thinking about something else and has ‘checked out’. It may come as no surprise to learn that the pupil whom I’d come to support and discuss left the school a few weeks later because of homophobia and cites being much happier in their new school.

This is just one localised example of how homophobic name-calling is regularly brushed off as ‘harmless banter’ and not thought to be particularly hurtful. Its use, and homophobia in schools in general, does need to be challenged because ignoring it absolutely allows homophobic bullying to gain a foothold, continue, then escalate.

To be borne in mind however is that a lot of pupils will be reluctant to admit that they are upset by the homophobic abuse whilst the desire not to be seen as weak or a victim can make pupils equally reluctant to report any form of bullying.

If you’re being bullied because you’re, for instance, black, Asian or Jewish in all likelihood your parents will have had several conversations in front of and with you about faith-based or racist bullying and harassment. There’s comfort at home provided by understanding, compassion and shared experience. With disability often comes the sense that it’s ‘not their fault’ and despite the ‘retard’ and ‘spaz’ insults, which have so charmingly resurfaced in recent years, pretty much every pupil acknowledges disabilist name-calling and bullying as a taboo.

Sexual orientation meanwhile is too often considered by both young people and adults alike to be a ‘choice’ rendering the gay person a legitimate ‘victim’ of their bigotry and disapproval. Gay or lesbian young people invariably also don’t have the luxury of someone at home who shares their sexuality and who can empathise with feelings of awkwardness or ‘get’ what their ostracism ‘feels like’. If you’re being bullied because you’re heterosexual but your ‘Mums’ are lesbians this can present its own set of problems.

Although young people who hold on to stereotypes may not wish to withhold equal rights from gay people they may well have their sense of who gay men and women ‘are’ skewed by television depictions and not see it as a priority or empathise with the issue.

The belief that being gay is inferior to being heterosexual leads to subtle behaviours such as jokes and vocabulary that can be very damaging to gay young people. One of the most obvious examples is the pejorative use of the word ‘gay’ among young people to describe something as worthless, wrong, dull, stupid or inferior.

Way too often pupils in school believe that reporting their bullying looks like taking it too seriously which will simply attract more abuse. We also know that too often, pupils are  not confident in the mechanisms schools put in place to respond to bullying. Similarly too many feel that their teachers will not take the problem seriously. They can also be unsure how to report if homophobic bullying is not specifically cited as unacceptable within school policies and practice.

Pupils regularly tell me and my colleagues at Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH – www.each.education) about a lack of clear and consistent sanctions in school when responding to bullying. Many fear that by reporting bullying they themselves will be excluded from activities in order to avoid being targeted by their perpetrator(s). EACH regularly hears stories of targeted pupils being asked to change separately for sports lessons, physical education, or leave lessons early in order to avoid running into their tormentors.

When so much legislative progress has been made for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, pupils might question whether co-opting the word ‘gay’ as an insult really matters. Language changes all the time and many young people will argue that calling their homework gay has nothing to do with their opinions on same-sex relationships. In fact young people who themselves identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual will use ‘That’s so gay’ in this context. For these pupils the word can have several meanings which they think has no connection to their attitudes towards themselves and other gay people. Education about historical oppression and the tremendous battle fought for equality evidently needs to be for all. There is also a chance pro-behaviour is at play here. This is when someone who is conscious of feeling ‘outside’ of society’s ‘mainstream’ deploys self-deprecating humour to divert attention away from their, for example, disability, ethnicity or sexuality. It sometimes works but to those who can see what is happening it is more often embarrassing.

If a pupil or a young person in your care uses homophobic language we should all point out the effect their language is having on other people: remembering that phrases such as ‘That’s so gay’ are not harmless banter but part of wider homophobia whether the pupil appreciates this or not. This is not just an Ofsted requirement but a moral responsibility we share collectively as part of our Duty of Care.

This article has been adapted from Jonathan Charlesworth’s That’s So Gay! – Challenging Homophobic Bullying.

Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH) is the multi-award winning registered charity providing training, resources and support to affirm representations of gay and transgender people, challenge homophobia and reduce discrimination experienced because of sexual orientation or gender identity. (www.each.education)
• EACH’s National Homophobic Bullying Actionline: 0808 1000 143

Supporting young people suffering with self-harm and eating disorders – three key lessons

Pooky Knightsmith is a specialist in student mental health and emotional well-being, and author of Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools. Through her company In Our Hands Ltd, Pooky works with schools, parents and organisations to promote awareness of and provide training on topics related to mental health. She is also the Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Advisor for the PSHE Association in the UK and a trustee for Beat, the eating disorder charity. She has personal experiences of the issues she teaches and writes about, having personally overcome eating disorders and self-harm herself.
Here she shares her top tips for supporting young people suffering with self-harm and eating disorders, gathered through years of research and training.

“How on earth have you ended up doing what you do?” A colleague questioned me today “Teaching people about self-harm and eating disorders is not exactly the kind of job you dream about when you’re 14 is it?”Knightsmith

And he was right.  I didn’t dream about doing my current job when I was 14.  In fact, I didn’t dream about anything in my future when I was 14.  All I really wanted was to be dead, but I lacked the motivation to make my ‘dream’ a reality.  I was living a half-life, walking around each day in the shadows of anorexia and self-harm.  So in answer to my colleague, I suppose that I started down the path I’m currently traversing in order to try and stop other children feeling the way I felt.

Fortunately, things have moved on somewhat from my own school days.  We have a far better understanding of self-harm and eating disorders – unfortunately that’s at least in part due to a huge increase in prevalence in both conditions which has forced us to learn, fast, and taught us some difficult lessons along the way.

I feel we’re currently at the tipping point, with schools and agencies ready, willing and increasingly able to offer support to the young people who need it most.  But what are the key lessons that we should bear in mind when offering support to young people in our care?  If I had to boil down many years of research on the topic into three key learning points (and anyone who’s attended one of my training sessions will know how keen I am on having three take home points!) it would be these:

We need to enable young people to feel in control of their own recovery

A desire to take control of one aspect of their lives is a key reason young people cite for the development of self-harming and eating disordered behaviours.  Bearing this in mind, we need to ensure that in our keenness to support young people’s recovery, that we don’t take this process straight out of their control.  Contributing to their sense of lack of control is likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate their harmful behaviours.  We can help young people to feel in control of their own recovery by employing truly person-centred practice where the young person is the key initiator in recovery goals and all information and meetings are designed to be accessible to the young person concerned.

We are stronger when we work as a team

When school staff, sufferers, parents and any external agencies involved come together and work as a team to support the recovery process with unified goals; progress is both more rapid and longer lasting.  This type of team working can be difficult to implement but it reaps dividends in terms of positive impact for the young person trying to overcome their self-harming or eating disordered behaviours.

Recovery doesn’t stop when someone looks healed

Finally, we need to ensure that support doesn’t drop off the moment someone looks physically better.  When a healthy weight has been restored or cuts or burns have healed then it’s normal for support to drop away.  Tight health budgets often mean that therapeutic or psychiatric support may dwindle at this point and parents, friends and school staff can often begin to step away feeling that the worst is over.  For the young person concerned though, this can be the most difficult phase of all as they are probably still working to overcome the underlying difficulties that drove them to their unhealthy behaviours, but they no longer have these behaviours to turn to as a means of coping.  Whilst underlying issues are being resolved and new, healthy coping mechanisms are still being embedded, young people are very vulnerable to relapse.  To minimise the likelihood of relapse, we need to ensure we extend our support, care and guidance into the weeks and months following physical recovery.

Things are looking up.  More than ever I find myself welcomed with open arms when I go to teach colleagues about how best to support the young people in their care who are facing self-harm and eating disorders.  A few short years ago there would have been no market for the book I’ve spent so long researching and writing and there would be no place for my training sessions; so taboo and under-recognised were these topics.  We’re opening our eyes to the problem and our approaches are evolving fast.  I’m hopeful that soon I’ll be able to reflect that a lot less young people are feeling like I did when I was 14.

I certainly hope so.

You can download one of Pooky’s PDF handouts, which gives alternatives to self-harm suggested by former self-harmers themselves, here

Find out more about Pooky’s book Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools, read reviews or order your copy here

Call for Comic and Graphic novel submissions

Jessica Kingsley Publishers and Singing Dragon (an imprint of JKP) have recently started developing an exciting new line of comics and graphics novels and we are now open for submissions.

At JKP we are committed to publishing books that make a difference. Our range of subjects includes autism, dementia, social work, art therapies, mental health, counselling, palliative care and practical theology. Have a look on www.jkp.com for our full range of titles.

Singing Dragon publishes authoritative books on all aspects of Chinese medicine, yoga therapy, aromatherapy, massage, Qigong and complementary and alternative health more generally, as well as Oriental martial arts. Find out more on www.singingdragon.com

If you have an idea that you think would work well as a graphic book, or are an artist interested in working with us, here is what we are looking for:

Graphic novel or comic – Long form

We are looking for book proposals that are between 100 and 200 pages, black and white or colour, and explore the topics listed above or another subject that would fit into the JKP/Singing Dragon list. Specifically we are hoping to develop more personal autobiographical stories.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the plot/outline of the book, as well as short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Character sketches of the main characters with descriptions.
  3. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 5 to 10 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  4. Solo writers will need to submit 10 to 20 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

Comic – Short form

We have some shorter comic projects underway and are looking to expand the range of topics covered. These books can run from 20 to 40 pages, black and white or colour, with dimensions of 170x230mm. We are mainly looking for comics that provide ideas and information for both professionals and general readers.

For example, the first in this series, published by Singing Dragon, is a book exploring the latest developments in chronic pain research.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the narrative style and subject matter to be explored in the book. Also include short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 3 to 5 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  3. Solo writers will need to submit 5 to 10 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

When submitting please provide low-res images and send them, along with everything else, to Mike Medaglia at mike.medaglia@jkp.com

If you have any other ideas that don’t directly relate to the subjects described above but you feel might still fit into the JKP or Singing Dragon list, please feel free to get in touch with ideas and enquiries on the email above.

The Feelings Tree – helping children talk about emotions

The holidays are often filled with an assortment of powerful emotions, for both children and adults. This can be related to loss or upheaval in our lives, to anniversaries of significant loss, or simply because the holiday period allows time for reflection which can bring up difficult feelings for us all. So we wanted to share a free activity from the lovely Seeds of Hope Bereavement and Loss Activity Book, which aims to help children deal Jay_Seeds-of-Hope-B_978-1-84905-546-8_colourjpg-printwith loss and/or change through nature, and will be especially helpful to those finding it difficult to cope with bereavement.

The Feelings Tree is a great activity to help you get started talking to children about difficult emotions, as well as all emotions more generally. The birds in the tree can be used as starting points to bring up difficult feelings you may want to talk about, or the child you’re doing the activity with may use the opportunity to talk about emotions they don’t feel comfortable addressing head-on. However you use The Feelings Tree you’re sure to have some fun!

Download The Feelings Tree here

Read an interview with the author, Caroline Jay, on what inspired her to write the book and how contact with nature can help us deal with loss, here.

You can also find out more about the book, read reviews or order your copy here.

‘Contact with Nature can be immensely healing.’

Caroline Jay founded and runs the Seeds of Hope Children’s Garden, a national charity which aims to promote the use of nature in helping children manage loss. For twelve years she ran a SAND (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) group, supporting families after the death of a baby. We spoke to Caroline about using life cycles to teach children about change, how nature can help us come to terms with loss, and how her own experiences inspired her to write her new book, Seeds of Hope Bereavement and Loss Activity Book.

What inspired you to write the book?Jay_Seeds-of-Hope-B_978-1-84905-546-8_colourjpg-print

A love of Nature and of being outside in the sun and air has been my inspiration for the Seeds of Hope Activity Book – that and the realisation that so much in Nature echoes the changes that happen in life.  None of us can live life without change.  All change implies loss and new beginnings  – and this is a pattern ever present in Nature.

In your book, you use life cycles in Nature as a means of explaining death.  Why did you choose that particular method?

Mainly because life cycles are fun!  How amazing to see frogspawn turn into tadpoles that then turn into frogs!  Or a grub become a caterpillar that disappears into a chrysalis out of which bursts a butterfly!  Also because looking at the lifecycles that happen all the time in Nature can help us understand that change and loss are part of a natural order.  “Death is a part of life is a part of death is a part of life is …” and so on as the circle turns.  A seed becomes a plant that becomes a flower that becomes a fruit that contains the seed from which a new plant will grow.  A baby becomes a child who becomes an adult who becomes an old person who will eventually die as new babies are born.  The 4 stages of the life cycle in Nature reflect the 4 stages of a human life.  The pattern continues: there are 4 seasons in the year, 4 weeks in the month, 4 quarters in the year.

Have you found yourself applying the methods you describe in the book in your own personal life?  Have they been helpful?

When my first child, Laura was stillborn, I found myself completely out of balance.  My hospital notes said I was a mother but I had no child.  The world around me seemed suddenly full of babies and heavily pregnant women.  The pain of grief was palpable.  I took long walks in the woods.  I found contact with Nature and the outside world to be immensely healing and grounding at a time when my world had been turned upside down.  Grief for most people can be a very dark place.  Planting seeds or plants and watching them grow in the Spring after the darkness of Winter can be uplifting and provide some hope of brighter times to come.

Does the grieving process for children and adults differ greatly?

The huge range of emotions we may feel when grieving – sadness, anger, shock, disbelief, fear, guilt, numbness to name a few – are generally speaking the same for children and adults.  One difference is that children are usually only able to stay with their feelings for short periods of time – a bit like jumping in and out of a puddle, they may be very sad one minute and want to go out and play the next.  Adults will generally have easier and clearer access to the information surrounding a death or a loss whereas children will generally be dependent on the adults around them to tell them the facts.  It is a natural instinct to want to protect children from painful life experiences but, in the case of a death, this can lead to confusion.  Children fare better when they are given honest information.

What has your experience with SAND and the Seeds of Hope Children’s Garden taught you about how people deal with loss?

Everybody responds to loss and bereavement in different ways.  There is no right and wrong way to travel the road and there are no shortcuts.  Very generally speaking men and women tend to grieve differently in that women are inclined to want to talk about their feelings for longer while men are more inclined to want to take action to restore the status quo.  Partners, whether male or female, often grieve in different ways and at different speeds.  In the case of a child’s death, the loss is equal and therefore no one person is better able to support the other.  Some seek out a support group while others prefer to grieve privately.

How do you hope your book will make a difference?

The activities in the book serve to provide structure for and clarify the grief process for a child allowing them to see the natural process of the cycle of life in Nature.  The images encourage exploration and observation of creatures, plants, and seasons.  The way in which a child’s journey through grief is handled will fundamentally determine how they manage all future losses in adulthood.  I hope the Seeds of Hope Activity Book will empower children to explore their feelings in ways they can understand – by drawing, playing, exploring and having fun.

You can find our more about Caroline’s book, read reviews or order your copy here.

Request a copy of our latest brochure of books on Dementia.

Our latest catalogue of books on Dementia and Working with Older People is now available. With full information on our new and bestselling dementia titles, our dementia catalogue is a tremendous resource not only for those working with 2014-October---Dementia-Catalogue---COVERpeople affected by dementia, but also for family members, friends and carers. Including practical books for professionals, manuals on how to incorporate creative approaches into dementia care, as well as guides on coping with dementia for friends, family and individuals who are themselves affected.

To receive a free copy of the catalogue, please sign up for our mailing list and we’ll get one out to you right away. You may also request multiple copies to share with friends, family, colleagues and clients–simply note how many copies you would like (up to 20) in the ‘any additional comments’ box on the sign-up form.

We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to get more information about our outstanding new and upcoming titles such as How We Think About Dementia and Developing Excellent Care for People Living with Dementia in Care Homes. The catalogue also features information on bestselling titles such as Leadership for Person-Centered Dementia Care  and Comforting Touch in Dementia and End of Life Care, as well moving personal accounts of the experience of dementia such as Dancing with Dementia  from Christine Bryden.

Click this link to see a listing of new and recent titles from Jessica Kingsley Publishers’ Dementia list.

To request a copy of the JKP complete catalogue of books on dementia, please click here to fill out our sign-up sheet. Please be sure to click any additional areas of interest as well. You should receive a copy of the catalogue within two – three weeks.

 

 

On the value of writing with traumatised young people – with Marion Baraitser

Baraitser_Reading-and-Exp_978-1-84905-384-6_colourjpg-printMarion Baraitser demonstrates the power of writing with traumatised children and young people. Marion’s book ‘Reading and Expressive Writing with Traumatised Children, Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Unpack My Heart With Words’ is available now from the JKP website.

On the value of writing with traumatised young people:
When disturbed young people have read aloud together a strong text, talked about it with a practiced facilitator in a roomful of trusted community members, discussing characters and subjects that concern their own lives, and then written about it, it can transform their idea of themselves and of their future lives. They are better able to externalize self-hood so they can exist in the world, feeling that their internal being has connected to the outside world through books, in some profound way, a form of ‘being-in-development’, a process of growing and changing the many selves they can uncover by this process. The facilitator brings energy, optimism, warmth and responsiveness, even inspiration, or at least motivation or affirmation, to each session.
Here is Amina on the value of writing in helping her to heal:
Writing is helping me to put down memories, different perspectives, to try to find the line… Talking doesn’t do this. When I write I am having a relationship with my journal. Writing is like having a conversation with yourself. I tend to be more honest… pick up on things that lie deeper. I love myself, in writing… I am lucky to be here… I am lucky to be alive… You must keep going and finding yourself, at the same time staying true to yourself… even though you cannot forget where you started from.

Boy

How reading great books together can change lives:
The Nigerian writer Ben Okri, who holds childhood memories of civil war in Nigeria, of his schooling in Lagos 400 miles from his family and of how, on reaching England, he lived rough, by his wits, homeless and miserable. He went to London because of Dickens and Shakespeare, but he also loved African writers like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. ‘Literature doesn’t have a country. Shakespeare is an African writer… Dickens’ characters are Nigerians.’ (Okri, 1992) As the young people read aloud in the company of a facilitator and a like-minded group, they become the writer, they are taken out of themselves, and if the writer is worth his salt, that encompasses a whole new set of dimensions that can change the way they regard life and their place in it.

Marion’s book ‘Reading and Expressive Writing with Traumatised Children, Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Unpack My Heart With Words’ is available now from the JKP website.

 

 

 

Why Neuroscience for Counsellors?

Rachal Zara Wilson is a counsellor, social worker and author of the new Neuroscience for CounsellorsWe caught up with her for a quick chat about the book and why she wanted to write about such a complex topic. 

1.  Who do you think would benefit from reading this book?

Definitely counsellors, but also any other therapists as well.  The book is designed so that it has sections where the neuroscience is explained, and separate sections for counsellors and other therapists with suggestions on how to use this knowledge for the benefit of their clients in the session room.

Families of people who are experiencing mental health dysfunction may also be interested in the knowledge contained in this book, and also in the implications for how they can support their loved ones.

2.  Why did you write this book? Wilson_Neuroscience-fo_978-1-84905-488-1_colourjpg-print

I’ve always been interested in neuroscience; the brain is so fascinating and amazing, and capable of so much more than we’ve always been led to believe.  And of course, as a counsellor working with people, how the brain works has always been top of my mind.  The final motivator was having a child who was experiencing problems with their mental health, and I guess I just hoped to find something that would help him and others in a similar situation during the course of my research.

3.  So what’s so exciting about what you learned?

Probably the most exciting thing would be the brain’s capacity to change itself, known as brain plasticity.  The brain isn’t static, it’s more like a dynamic organ that is constantly changing for better or worse.  And what we do plays a huge part in how it changes.  How much stress we’re under, what we eat, the quality of our sleep, whether we exercise and how much, our living environments, and the presence or absence of early trauma in our lives are some of the things that contribute to the way our brain functions, and to its capacity for change, or plasticity.  I guess the most exciting thing is that we have control over this plasticity to a large degree, and we can therefore improve the quality of our brain function, our health and our lives.

4. Why don’t we know this stuff already?

Because neuroscience is a field in its infancy.  There’s a lot of learning coming through, but much of it’s wrapped up in scientific jargon, making it inaccessible to those of us who are not scientists.  And because there’s lots of different levels of looking at the brain, (both micro and macro,) different neuroscience specialties do not always integrate their specialist knowledge.  I think the benefit of this book is that it integrates the neuroscience into an overall big picture, while also drawing on this resource to come up with practical ways for integrating it into therapy.  It hasn’t been done before because it’s new, because it’s complex, and because integrating neuroscience with counselling and other therapies requires a knowledge of both fields.  I believe that in the future, all practitioners providing talking therapies are going to need to understand what neuroscience offers our professions, or risk becoming irrelevant.

5.  Why put it in a book?

This knowledge is meant to be shared.  All counsellors and therapeutic practitioners want best outcomes for their clients, and the more knowledge we have that can help people make positive change in their lives, the better.

6.  Is it complicated?

The neuroscience is complex, but the book is designed so that people who just want to know what it means for their practice can just read those sections, while those who want to understand how it all works can read up on the explanations for how all the scientific evidence fits together.  The book is written in the plainest English possible, and there is a glossary and diagrams at the back to help you fit it all together.

You can find out more about the book, read reviews and order your copy here.

Browse our latest collection of new and bestselling titles in counselling and psychotherapy

Here are our new and bestselling titles in counselling and psychotherapy. For more information on any of the books inside, simply click the title or cover image to view the full book page.

Starving our Anxiety Gremlins

Kate Collins-Donnelly; therapist, consultant, and author of Starving the Anxiety Gremlin, talks about the rise of anxiety in children. In this article, Kate discusses what can be done to help young people struggling with anxieties and shares a letter from one of the young people she has worked with on her experiences of overcoming problems caused by anxiety.

Collins-Donnell_Starving-the-An_978-1-84905-341-9_colourjpg-web

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the UK and worldwide. The UK ONS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey published in 2004[1] estimated that 290,000 children and young people nationally had an anxiety disorder, which equated to 2.2% of 5 to 10 year olds and 4.4% of 11-16 year olds. Leading anxiety charity, Anxiety UK, estimate that one in six 16-24 year olds have suffered from an anxiety disorder and five pupils in an average school class will have experienced anxiety[2]. And results form an NSPCC survey published in 2004[3] revealed that 34% of the young people studied felt that they were always worrying about something, with 11% feeling extremely worried.

We still don’t know the true prevalence rates amongst national and global populations as, like many other mental health disorders, anxiety disorders remain under-reported and under-diagnosed. However, what is clear is that anxiety is a common cause of distress for children and young people today.

Just like for adults, anxiety can come in different shapes and sizes for children and young people too – with some children and young people getting anxious about a variety of things and others only experiencing anxiety in response to very specific situations. Common worries for children and young people include school work, exams, friendships, family circumstances, health, death, bullying, body image, and much more. And children and young people can experience anything from normal occasional worries, fears and nerves to long-lasting and severe anxiety disorders that include generalised anxiety disorder, simple and complex phobias, panic disorder, separation anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and health anxiety.

Not only is anxiety common and varied, it also has the potential to be debilitating, especially when experienced on a frequent basis. This is partly because anxiety can bring such a wide range of cognitive, physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms with it, including concentration problems, obsessive thoughts, headaches, racing heartbeat, panic attacks, loss of confidence, avoidance of situations and procrastination to name a few. And it is important to remember that these symptoms can vary from young person to young person. It is also because anxiety can have impacts on all aspects of a young person’s life, including their studies, work, relationships, physical health, mental health and emotional wellbeing, future prospects, motivation and much more.

But thankfully, by learning a range of cognitive behavioural strategies and techniques, children and young people can learn to manage their anxiety and bring it under control. And that is why I wrote Starving the Anxiety Gremlin to highlight to children and young people that by learning how to think and act differently they could starve their Anxiety Gremlins for good! You see, if we all starve our Anxiety Gremlins of their favourite food – our anxiety – they’ll shrink and shrivel away!

And here is a letter from one young person that I worked with to show starving our Anxiety Gremlins really is possible! Well done Chloe! You are an inspiration!

Dear Reader,

When I was six I developed a worry.  At my birthday party I was quite badly sick and from then on I was terrified of vomiting. My worry caused panic attacks, which made me shake and cry; and gave me a runny tummy and nausea, which made me even more anxious. I thought that there was no escape from my worry. I wasn’t even sure what life would be like without it. I found it difficult to be left alone at school. I didn’t like to leave the house because I was scared of being sick or needing the toilet and not knowing where it was.  My worry was taking over my life. I didn’t know how to make it stop and my family didn’t know how to help me.

We went to see the doctor and then some people who are trained to help children with worries.   At first trying to get over my fear of sickness felt like an impossible task but slowly I found ways of fighting my worry. I learned to breathe slowly when I felt panicky and to turn my scary thoughts into sensible ones. Keeping a worry diary and telling my family and friends when I was having a particularly bad day helped too. Unfortunately none of this works over night, but if you follow the steps in Starving the Anxiety Gremlin you will learn to manage your worries. With help, I began to have less panic attacks and suddenly life didn’t feel like this huge burden. One day, it will feel like that for you too.

When I was little I didn’t know of anyone else who was going through similar things so I felt very alone. I thought I was weird. But I wasn’t weird and I definitely wasn’t alone. Lots of people have a worry; just like me, just like you. I know it may feel like there is no way out but one day things will seem a lot easier and life will seem fun again. Never forget that you are strong enough to cope with your worry and that you have the most fantastic brain to help you overcome it.

I am now 17. I still worry sometimes because everyone does but I don’t worry a lot about being sick anymore and I’ve stopped having panic attacks. If you are feeling worried and scared it is really important that you tell people how you are feeling so they can help you. I promise it gets better. Remember that you are not alone in how you feel, you aren’t weird and that most of all you are incredibly brave!

Love from your fellow worrier,

Chloe xxx 

You can give Kate’s CBT techniques a try for yourself by downloading free evaluation sheets from her workbooks Starving the Anxiety GremlinStarving the Stress Gremlin and Starving the Anger Gremlin. Download the free evaluation sheets here.
You might also want to try these free activities on building a positive body image, taken from Kate’s book Banish Your Body Image Thief, and encouraging healthy self esteem, taken from Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief.
Starving the Anxiety Gremlin has been shortlisted for the School Library Association Information Book Award 2014. Voting commences on June 18th 2014. If you’d like to find out more about the awards or request a pack for your school, visit the website here.


[1] Green, H., McGinnity, A., Meltzer, H., Ford, T. and Goodman, R. (2005) Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain 2004. London: Office

[2] Anxiety UK, Children and Young People With Anxiety: A Guide for Parents and Carers, available at: www.anxietyuk.org.uk

[3] NSPCC (2004) Someone to Turn To? Who Can Children and Young People Trust

When They are Worried and Need to Talk? London: NSPCC.