Health: Secondary school children helped by the Priory

11th September 2009 at 01:00
Priory staff in tie-up with Essex comprehensive to target anger, eating disorders and addiction

Original paper headline: From celebrity excess to teenage angst

It is the private hospital that has become a tabloid byword for celebrity excess, having helped legions of partied-out stars overcome everything from drug addiction to eating disorders.

Now the Priory is turning its attention to helping school children at an Essex secondary recover from, and avoid, the same problems.

Notley High is collaborating with Priory staff to develop a programme of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) aimed at tackling anger, body image, low self esteem, anxiety, stress, eating disorders and drug addiction.

Gillian Marshall, deputy head at the Braintree school, believes the initiative will lead to healthier pupils and further improve behaviour that Ofsted has already described as outstanding.

"All schools have behaviour issues that we all tackle in very similar ways," she said. "We tend to just look at the symptoms and pick up the pieces and not deal with the cause of the problem."

She argues that as adolescents her pupils are in the perfect position to be helped to avoid damaging behaviour in the first place.

"The brain has a period of time when it is what we call relatively plastic, when it is a lot easier to access these issues than in later life," Mrs Marshall said.

CBT could be used to help re-programme the brain to stop it going down certain pathways so that pupils could respond more positively to difficult situations.

Experts from the Priory - actually a national chain of hospitals - have been working with staff, pupils and parents from the school to develop the therapy.

Groups of pupils will start to receive it in voluntary after-school sessions this term aimed at particular problems including anger, body image and addiction.

Not just a private hospital for celebrities

Paul Pritchard, director of the Priory hospital in Chelmsford, said: "People recognise the Priory as a brand related to stars with addictions, but that is a much smaller part of work in comparison to our child and adolescent mental health services.

"We think this will make a significant difference to pupils' lives. Hopefully getting to them when they are young will give them some coping skills for the future which may mean they avoid these issues in adulthood."

Mrs Marshall believes that all pupils could be helped by CBT, which could "give them a positive idea of success" and help build up the emotional resilience they need to succeed in life.

She introduced a programme of counselling last year that she says reduced the number of self-harming incidents in the school from 38 to two a year.

Ironically, she thinks it is the kind of celebrities that go to the Priory for treatment that create many of her pupils' problems.

"I think what they suffer from is a celebrity culture in the sense that they look up to these people as role models and feel a pressure to be like them," Mrs Marshall said.

"Some pupils don't even like coming into school without make-up on and it is the same with weight issues."

Five other Essex schools have already expressed interest in the scheme.

A case for treatment

  • CBT is a treatment that challenges the way people think and act with the aim of tackling emotional and physical problems including everything from post traumatic stress disorder to phobias, eating disorders and depression.
  • The theory is that past experiences may have led people to develop unhelpful beliefs and negative thoughts about themselves, others and certain situations.
  • CBT is aimed at helping people to see those beliefs and thoughts are not relevant to new situations so that they can think in a more balanced way and change their behaviour.

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