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What do you do, Willis?

Willis is the lead counsellor in our parent counselling and bereavement service
Colourful question marks drawn by a child

""January 2024

What is your current role?

I’m lead counsellor for a small team that support the parents and carers of children and young people living with life-threatening, life-limiting or palliative health care needs. We also provide bereavement support.

I work alongside colleagues across Evelina London Children's Hospital to make sure children and families access timely support in ways that best suit their needs.

Tell us about a typical day

I usually arrive at work by 8am to go through emails and messages before the day speeds up. I work with nursing, medical and psychology colleagues to make sure the needs of the parents and carers they're looking after are met as far as possible. Sometimes this involves supporting my colleagues to care for parents' and carers' mental health without working directly with the parents and carers myself.

I also have counselling sessions with parents and carers. I offer appointments for couples or individuals and they can be online, by telephone, or face-to-face in the therapy space in St Thomas’ Hospital. Each session lasts approximately 50 minutes.

I also visit wards around Evelina London throughout the day to meet with parents and carers.

I'm part of what we call a multi-disciplinary team. This means colleagues with specific specialist knowledge and skills work together to care for children and their families. My role in these groups is to offer a counselling perspective in relation to planning care, developing services, reviewing policies and generally reflecting on how our hospital environment and services can remain patient-centred.

What do you love about it?

I love the unpredictability of a day. I never know what might come my way, from the emails or telephone calls I get, to something a parent shares in a counselling session.

Above all, I love to see parents and carers increase their ability to manage some of life's most difficult challenges and to find the strength, which they have always had but had lost sight of for a while, to make significant changes.

The difficult side of my work is accepting the fact that some things cannot be changed.

What are you passionate about?

I'm passionate about justice and making sure people have access to emotional support in their time of need.

Counselling offers a space for parents and carers to get support to off-load, develop their understanding and make decisions with someone who is not involved in their day-to-day life.

What is your proudest moment?

During the pandemic, when I was based in the Middle East, I created a bereavement workbook for children using emoji characters from my mobile phone. I then asked friends to help with translations, and the book was translated into Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Portuguese, Dutch and Romanian. I shared it with as many child bereavement services as I could. I felt as though I had done my part to support children and their parents navigate grief during such a difficult time.

How do you support the mental health of parents and carers?

Parent and carer mental health is a key aspect of my work, as they're often the main source of support for their child. So, keeping them emotionally well benefits children too.

I introduce a wide range of approaches to the people I support. One of the main approaches I use when counselling the parents and carers of chronically ill children is 'mindfulness'. Mindfulness is about taking opportunities to slow down. Slowing down can simply mean becoming more aware of what we're doing in the moment, like when we're making a cup of tea. I support people to begin to build islands of mindfulness during their day so they may be able to increase their capacity to face their world with a different type of inner strength.

Why is it so important to support the mental health of parents and carers?

I think of parents and carers as the protective shell around their children. Like an egg, the shell protects the delicate yolk from the elements around it, but also needs to be handled with care. I do my best to support parents and carers to protect the children at the centre of their world.

Colourful question marks drawn by a childThank you to the children and young people who have so brilliantly illustrated our blog pages.

What do you do?

We love highlighting our staff and their amazing career journeys.

Read other pieces in this series:

  • What do you do, Pauline? Find out why Pauline is proud to work in Evelina London community services.
  • What do you do, Matthew? Read about Matthew's passion for supporting people's professional development and the clinical education and training that is available at Evelina London.
  • What do you do, Jennifer? Jennifer shares what she learned working with interns on the Pathway to Employment supported internship programme, and why programmes like this are so important.

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