lifestyle

"She kept my secrets. And that's why I spoke to her."

Rosie

I had seen a lot stuff by the time I was fourteen. Two alcoholic parents meant I had lived in more rehab centres than I could remember. I’d been in foster care, lived with relatives I barely knew and been separated from my sisters. Before my 14th birthday, I had been to seventeen schools and lived in countless houses.

At an age when many other kids are stressing mainly about braces and homework, I had seen my dad passed out in his own vomit, cried as I poured my mum’s wine down the sink and woken up to an empty house way too many times.

And through it all, I went to school.

The day after my mum left us alone, I went to school.

The day after my dad died, I went to school.

The day after I found out I would never be living with my sisters again, I went to school.

I went to school, because it was one of the only places I felt in control. Through everything, school was a constant for me. A safe place. I loved the routine and the order. I loved that no matter how many different schools you went to, there was always recess and lunch and assembly and sport. I loved the adults who weren’t drunk and didn’t give me a sick feeling in my stomach.

School saved me, and the hero at the helm of that rescue mission was always the school counsellor. It didn’t matter whether I was talking about my dad’s suicide or how mean Melissa had been to me in Food Tech. They were the adults who made me feel like adults could be trusted. And that was something I desperately needed in life.

Which is why news today about the privacy of school counselling sessions is making me a little nervous. SMH.com is reporting that a new national privacy manual for independent schools says that a principal may access a student’s counselling files whenever they see fit, to ensure safety and wellbeing of all students in their care.

Jenny Allum, headmaster at NSW independent school SCEGGS Darlinghurst, told SMH that she has an understanding with her school’s counsellor that she could see any student files requested when necessary, and that “psychologists have to understand that they are an employee of the school and their files belong to the school.”

So basically, any principal at any independent school can read a detailed account of what any student has said to any school counsellor at any time.

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Let me tell you something – if I had read that article when I was in high school, that would have been the end of my relationship with school counsellors. That would have been the end of my safe place and the end of one of the few trusting relationships I had with adults.

If can’t trust their counsellors, kids will just stop going.

I understand there are certain things a counsellor has to disclose – if a child is a danger to themselves or others, or if a child’s wellbeing is in jeopardy. I knew that better than most when I was a kid; there were a few times that information I had told my counsellors about my home life lead to DOCS being contacted.

But a counsellor is a trained professional – they don’t need to give the headmaster access to all a kid’s files to know that their life is in danger. If something is wrong they know who to notify. Bringing the headmaster into the equation just means that most kids won’t go in the first place.

I understood that my counsellors had certain responsibilities, but I still went to see them. I went because it wasn’t just the big things I needed to talk to them about. It was everything. They were the only adults in my life that I felt like I could talk to about personal and embarrassing stuff. About scary stuff and secret stuff and stuff that I didn’t want anybody to know but that I was desperate to talk about regardless.

And all kids need that relationship available to them, not just the ones with alcoholic parents. Growing up is freaking hard, and every kid needs someone to confide their most secret thoughts in. There’s no doubt in my mind that sitting in a counsellor’s office has saved countless lives. I know it saved mine.

But if I thought there was even the hint of a possibility that what I said to these people wasn’t going to be in the strictest of confidence, I would have stopped going altogether.

And I needed to go. I so, so badly needed to go.


What’s your opinion of school principals having access to school’s counselling files?  And did you go to a school counsellor when you were at school? How important was that relationship to you?