An inspirational teenager who says counselling at a Derbyshire hospice allowed him to have a ‘positive outlook on life’ following the death of his older brother, has been made an ambassador for the charity.
Seventeen-year-old Harvey’s world was torn apart in June 2015 when, aged just 10, his older brother Ed died.
Following Ed’s death, Harvey became angry and isolated, getting into scrapes at school and having panic attacks.
His family found the support they needed through Risley-based Treetops Hospice, which provides counselling and emotional support to children, young people and adults who are dealing with bereavement or a life-limiting condition.
Harvey finished five years of bereavement counselling in 2020 and has continued to support Treetops since. He has now been made an ambassador for the charity and is keen to share his experience with other young people to help them understand more about counselling.
“I’ll never be able to fully give back what Treetops Hospice and the people here have done for me, so being made an ambassador is a massive honour,” he said.
“If I can reach out to just one person and they think ‘I’ll give counselling a go’ then that’s enough for me. That one person then becomes two people and that’s how it snowballs.
“I’ve not had a childhood since Ed’s death. I’ve had a life, but not a childhood. That was taken away from me.
“I was 10 when we lost Ed and so I was at an age where I understood that he was gone and not coming back but, at the same time, I wasn’t old enough and mature enough to get it. I kept thinking that they’d got the wrong person, that he was going to come through the door and have tea with us at any moment.
“Immediately after you lose the person, you’re no longer an innocent child. You have to grow up very quickly because everyone around you who is close to you, changes too.
“As I got older and hormones kicked in, I got angry. That was one of the ways in which it hit me. Sometimes it was the little things; you don’t want to go to a certain place or do a certain thing because it reminds you of a moment in time.
“People treat you differently and try to protect you, but what you really need is for life to continue as normally as it can.”
Looking back, Harvey says those early days following Ed’s death were a roller-coaster of emotions.
He said: “I used anger as I was afraid of crying and letting out my emotions. I thought ‘if I’m angry then I won’t be upset’, so any time I felt myself getting emotional, I’d go and find something to be angry at.
Harvey and his family were supported by Treetops Hospice and the youngster began counselling.
“I’d never really heard of counselling, and I was worried,” he said, “but I remember going into the room, sitting down and being asked normal questions; things such as ‘how are you’, ‘what’s gone on’, and ‘how are you dealing with Ed’s death so far’.
“The room was brightly coloured and there were paintings on the walls and toys in the room. It wasn’t the bleak place I had imagined it to be.
“We’d make things like a sand jar; for every different bit of coloured sand, I would write down a memory of Ed in the same colour pen and attach it to the jar. I still have the sand jar at home. It didn’t have to be all good memories; it might be a bad memory and it’s important to remember that.”
Harvey felt he no longer needed counselling after a few months but then returned to Treetops Hospice as a teenager.
“At around the age of 13, everything started to take its toll,” he said. “I used to always love school. I was academically quite bright, but I fell out of love with it. I hated certain lessons, hated the idea of having to be in a classroom.
“At home, it was little things like arguing with my family… anything I could find to get annoyed with, I did.”
“One of the things my counsellor told me early on was that I also had to help myself. If you’re not going to help yourself at home and put those coping mechanisms into practice, then the therapy isn’t going to work.
“You have to try lots of different strategies to see what works for you.
“I still use those coping mechanisms even now. You leave counselling and it’s not like you’re magically healed. It’s not like you will never feel sad or angry again – that’s not how it works. Life isn’t like that. You have good days, and you have bad days. Being able to use those mechanisms yourself is a valuable lesson that you get to take away with you.”
Harvey says that Treetops was – and still is – a ‘safe’ space where there is no judgement and offers advice to others:
“It’s so hard at the start. Be honest. Don’t worry – no-one will judge you. The best time to go is when you don’t want to go,” he said.
“I’ve always felt safe at Treetops Hospice. I’ve also felt vulnerable – I was talking about things and letting go and I didn’t want that. But looking back on it, I also had happy times. There wasn’t one session where I didn’t at least smile or laugh once.”
Treetops bereavement counselling for children and young people is available to all users of Treetops Hospice services and people registered with a GP practice in Derby city or Southern Derbyshire.
The bereavement may have occurred at any time in the past and many referrals are in relation to an unexpected or traumatic bereavement, like Harvey’s.
Trained counsellors help people explore their grief using varying techniques and the service is available for as long as the child or young person needs it in relation to dealing with their loss.
Harvey said: “It’s hard to admit that you’re struggling but I’ve said things to my counsellor that I would never say to my mum or dad. I am really close to both of my parents but there is still stuff that I wouldn’t talk to them about; I don’t want to worry them.
“My counsellor was amazing with me at such a difficult age. She talked to me in a way that she could dive into my brain and made me feel so comfortable.
“You’d be so focused on doing a task like making a sand jar, that stuff would come out…that’s why it’s so great; you have someone there who doesn’t judge you. You can get it all out there and they’ll never tell you off. They’ll advise and help you, but never judge you.
“The impact of counselling is that I don’t hate life anymore. It’s quite scary to think where I would be right now if I hadn’t have had counselling.
“Those positive things that have happened in my life may not have happened. I would probably have done some bad things that I’d have gone on to regret.
“If I hadn’t had counselling, relationships with my family would have been rough and I wouldn’t enjoy life the way I do now. I wake up every morning and even if I feel sad, I find things to do that I know pick me up.”
Harvey says that he realised he no longer needed support when his close friend, Billy, died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
“A few years after I lost my brother, I lost one of my best friends,” he said.
“Billy’s death taught me so much in a way. He was battling cancer for years, but always had a smile on his face. He told me that this stuff gets thrown at you in life, but the world keeps on turning and you have to get on with things.
“It taught me so many things. I stopped counselling pretty much a year later. We went from a session every week, to a session every couple of weeks.
“You start making baby steps and I got to a point where it wasn’t a whole session of talking about sad and angry emotions. There was a lot more positivity when I came into the sessions and also when I left. I knew then that I didn’t need counselling. But you’re never thrown out of counselling; you’re told that you can pick up the phone at any time.”
After finishing his counselling sessions, Harvey was invited to join Treetops non-talking group therapy for young people known as the Mollitiam Project. The 8 week programme includes sessions on drumming therapy, equine therapy, and yoga therapy as well as teaching young people how to understand their grief and manage their emotions.
Harvey said: “The Mollitiam Project was an amazing experience; in the first session, you go in and there’s one massive elephant in the room.
“You know everyone has been through some trauma and struggled, but you make friendships. Everyone gets involved in different therapy techniques and, by halfway through that first session, you’re all good pals, supporting each other.
“You realise that you’re not the only one. There are other people who are going through the same stuff that you are going through.
“Trying different therapies was great. I would never have tried something like equine therapy or yoga normally, but it was amazing. The main thing is that you’re trying something different and laughing, sharing your emotions.”
Harvey is encouraging anyone who feels that they need help to contact Treetops Hospice. He also thanked supporters of the charity, which costs £4.3m to run every year.
“I can openly talk about receiving counselling; I’m not at all embarrassed or ashamed,” he said.
“For anyone considering it, I’d tell them to give it a go and have an open mind; don’t be scared.
“For me personally, I wouldn’t have had a happy life if it wasn’t for Treetops. I’m thankful for being here, doing amazing things; Treetops have allowed me to have a positive outlook on life.”
For further information on Treetops counselling services visit www.treetops.org.uk, call 0115 949 6944 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This year, Treetops Hospice is celebrating 40 years of caring for people and their families in the local community. During this time, the hospice has supported thousands of patients with end-of-life nursing care and bereavement counselling.
Photo caption: L-R: Jules Kirk, Head of Children’s Services, Harvey and Julie Heath, Chief Executive
About Treetops Hospice
Treetops Hospice, the leading end-of-life care charity in Derby, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, provides nursing care and emotional support for adults with life-limiting conditions, and their families.
The charity provides support from diagnosis onwards for patients with conditions such as cancer, motor neurone disease and heart and respiratory conditions.
This year, we are very proud to be celebrating 40 years of caring for people and their families in our local community. During this time, we have supported thousands of patients with end-of-life nursing care and bereavement counselling.
We have achieved this amazing milestone thanks to our dedicated volunteers who help across the whole hospice and in our charity shops, our hard-working staff team, and our supporters, past and present.
Last year, our team of Hospice at Home nurses provided over 20,000 hours of care to terminally-ill patients, working day and night to give much-needed support.
Our team of bereavement counsellors provided over 4,500 counselling sessions – more than 900 of them to children and young people. Wellbeing team members provide valuable information and support to those who need it.
Treetops is doing all it can to continue to support those in most need and welcomes donations to ensure the future of the hospice and its services: www.treetopshospice.org.uk/donate
A counselling session for a bereaved child costs £34.50. An overnight Hospice at Home nursing shift for a patient at the end of life costs £108.
Treetops Hospice, Derby Road, Risley, Derbyshire, DE72 3SS
0115 949 1264 | http://www.treetopshospice.org.uk
Registered Charity Number 519540