A day in the life of a hospice child and family counsellor

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As a child and family counsellor at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in Sheffield I provide guidance and emotional support; a listening ear.

Currently, we are providing counselling services to around 60 of our children and families. This can be the children themselves or their siblings, parents and even best friends.

My first counselling session today is with a child we are supporting at Bluebell Wood, who is learning to cope with changes with their complex medical condition.

Our session covers how they deal with the diagnosis, emotionally and physically. It gives them a chance to share their concerns with somebody outside of their immediate sphere of support. I am there to empathise and reassure.

Bluebell Wood is filled with love and laughter and this child wants to come here and have fun, to do things they can’t in hospital, but our counselling time also allows them to address feelings they have suppressed previously; I create a safe environment for them to do this.   

After every bereavement in our hospice, it is my role to de-brief care team staff. Today, we reflect upon a recent bereavement – the child is staying in our end of life suite, a calming space where family members can stay close to their loved one when they have passed away to say their goodbyes, usually until the funeral.

Our de-brief gives us chance to share how we have supported that family and how we do so in the coming days. I am on hand for the families through the grieving process; starting that journey is important.

Staff always have access to counselling on an individual basis too from one of our six volunteer counsellors, who, like me, are members of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

At lunchtime I join everybody for lunch in our lounge/dining area, which is the hub of Bluebell Wood. Our chefs make home-made meals every day for children, families, staff and volunteers.

My afternoon starts with a visit to a family who have just been told that their child has a terminal illness. Our counselling support is completely person-centred, which means we do not give advice, instead we explore their thoughts and feelings. The sessions are open ended, so families can access us when they need.

This family are at the beginning of their journey and our session today introduces counselling; I explain that counselling can’t offer a cure but helps people to build in coping mechanisms to be able to talk about whatever they wish.

Unfortunately I can’t wave a magic wand, for the majority of our families there isn’t a happy ending, but I am there to provide empathy, to be non-judgemental and be genuine in confidential, comfortable surroundings.

I have huge admiration for our families; they are incredibly strong through the toughest of times and have taught me so much.

When I return to the hospice, I catch up on some admin. This includes calling the local teenage cancer unit to organise a session on how we can work together and catching up on teaching preparation – I lecture on counselling weekly at a college.

In addition, I prepare for our monthly group workshops for bereaved families; a six month programme which has been embraced by families. While this approach isn’t for everyone, some find comfort in being able to relate to others.

For the rest of my day, I run a session for registrars about how they can better support families when delivering a terminal diagnosis. We debate who gives such news to children – families or medical staff. We also talk about the hardship of child deaths through bereavement models.

Many people ask me how I do my job. But I feel privileged and honoured to help families on their journey. I go home and have a good cry at times – I’m only human – but I always remain strong for families. Working safely and ethically is essential in my role and so I see my supervisor fortnightly.

I love my work because I know it is important to be there for those darker times in people’s lives. As a hospice team we are there to make precious memories.

The families are my inspiration, they are incredible.

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