John's (10) parents had always felt he was a worrier. He was generally happy and confident, but when faced with a challenge he often focused on what could go wrong. He was preparing for the NI transfer test process and had expressed some worry about it, and what would happen if he didn’t do well. His parents had felt it was manageable until he began restricting his food intake and started talking about being unhappy with his body. They contacted an eating disorder specialist but also wanted him to have someone to talk to about his feelings as they felt it might be stemming from anxiety relating to the transfer test process.
Our ATC Consultant had an initial chat with John’s parents to talk about the situation and arranged, with his consent, to meet with John in person. They also talked about the things that John enjoyed, his interests and hobbies. Finding out about his love of art and being creative, gave our consultant the opportunity to prepare some art activities for John to do with him during their session. Once they had a chance to have fun together and develop a trusting relationship, John felt comfortable to talk about his thoughts and feelings. This then allowed our consultant to delve into finding out what was really going on and how they could help John navigate his challenges. An online meeting with his parents allowed our consultant to pass on the information John had agreed to, and to recommend some ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) based strategies they could use to support him. This included ‘name your brain’ which gave John a safe way to notice and talk about his feelings and emotions, the ability to distance himself from them and see that they were only one part of who he is. We also discussed sleep strategies to help John fall to sleep at night, and get back to sleep if he awoke.
Armed with his new coping skills John completed the transfer process and has now moved to his new school. He has what his parents describe as ‘typical pre-teen hang ups’ about his appearance but no longer talks about or engages in any disordered eating behaviours. When asked recently if he remembered feeling unhappy, or worrying about his eating he said “yeah, but that’s way back there, and now I’m right here” That’s exactly the sort of flexible thinking we wish for all our children and young people.
NOTE: ACT to Connect consultants will always advise parents to seek appropriate medical/expert help when required. We also engage in our own peer mentorship and professional development activities to ensure we are always working within our scope of practice.