Sam* was five years old when the first earthquake struck in September 2010; his younger sister was two. And over the next five years “there wasn’t a single day that the earthquakes didn’t impact their lives,” says their mum, Beth*.
Both children were enormously affected by the earthquakes. But it wasn’t just the shock of the earthquakes themselves that was traumatic; it was subsequent issues like the irreparable damage to their home, the living conditions they had to endure and its impact on their health, the destruction of their school, the loss of their community, and the difficulties their parents had working with organisations.
“We were full of adrenalin for months dealing with all these problems,” says Beth. “I didn’t have the energy to take care of normal things and be the best mum I could be. I became distant and angry and I was exhausted.” Beth’s husband was also under enormous strain, and they almost separated.
Going to his east Christchurch school each day became traumatic for Sam as everyone around him—the teachers and students—were similarly traumatised and school no longer felt safe. So by nine years of age Sam’s anxiety had become so great that he was crying and refusing to go to school, and expressing a wish to die. That’s when a teacher referred him to FamilyWorks for counselling with social worker Jacob Murray.
Sam had weekly counselling sessions with Jacob for ten weeks, and Beth began to notice changes straight away. Sam enjoyed spending time with Jacob, and for the first time he began to open up to talk about his feelings. “After the sessions, Sam seemed very calm and centred and very happy,” says Beth. “It was really nice to see.” Beth was able to ask Jacob questions for greater insight into how to support her child. “Jacob was brilliant with Sam,” says Beth. “And his sincerity and integrity and honest conversation helped us to understand many parenting situations.”
Eventually, Sam became more comfortable sharing his worries and fears with his parents. He also now goes to school without the old overwhelming anxiety. The FamilyWorks counselling Sam received with Jacob helped him meet his goals, helped improve his relationships with family/whanau, and helped him learn useful new skills and strategies.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
“Sometimes we make what seem like small changes but those changes can profoundly affect multiple areas of a client’s life”