Safeguarding children online

Safeguarding children online, or “safeguarding children in a digital world”, or is it “Keeping children safe in Education by knowing what is happening online with, for and against children”?

Well it’s all of the above and it’s what I teach in my course of the same name, of which there is one this month. It’s in just over 10 days so be quick to sign up.

Register your interest using this form

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If you are working with children in any capacity, such as a Teacher, Counsellor, Social Worker, Nurse or Childminding, this is the course for you to help you understand, recognise and action any concerns that you may have about the children or young people in your care.

But how do you even do that when online is a space that you may not understand in its entirety and you may not even think is relevant to your role? I mean if you work with 3-year-olds, surely this isn’t for you? Sadly the answer to that is, you’d be incorrect and you really need this information about all ages of children. The older and more proficient with the use of tech and the more you need to know.

Safeguarding is a topic that is extremely important in your role and having this as a foundation to real world issues is likely a course you have completed on several occasions if you have been in practice for a while. But the online world has been around for such a long time that this again sadly has not been communicated as to why you need to know about protecting children from online issues, or indeed how to recognise when they are issues you must report and safeguard around.

For example: Did you know that in the real world, safeguarding issues are often accompanied by the online world with abusers and perpetrators using the online space to facilitate or indeed increase their ability to abuse and commit crimes against children? Children also use this space for abuse, sexual activity and constant communication with each other and knowing what is really going on is the learning you will gain from the training day.

Knowing what you can and need to listen for, what issues are safeguarding, and which are legal, normative, or otherwise, will be the learning outcomes for the day, alongside learning the language of the internet, or as much as you can in one day!

If you know how to protect children from abuse, neglect and contextual issues then this is the overlap you have missing from your practice. You will take your practice to the next level, and of course learn about the ever expanding universe children spend a large amount of their time in, on and through.

Sign up now and attend via zoom if you are worried about Covid, live outside of the Wakefield district, or just want to attend online. However in contrast to the topic, the real world experience allows for in depth conversations and discussions outside of the learning times.

Nostell Priory Gardens, Wakefield, 21 January 2022, 9:30am – 4:30pm

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I still want to die, thanks for the help!

Press one for uprising, two for having a voice and three to hear us joke about statutory services?

I for one am glad that young people can become autonomous, have agency, and begin to have a voice. It’s why I do my job after all, as often the unbearable truth of being a child is having little power over your life, the choices the grownups make, and of course the voice that is often silenced when it comes to mental health, opinions or indeed speak out about the horrors they face.

Yet we now live in a world where the space to be seen, validated, and witnessed to some of these horrors moves from a two-person relationship in a relationship, family, or therapeutic setting, to one of thousands if not millions on social media platforms. “Hear my story, see my pain and do something about it,” is the underlying request. Whether this be a professional creating a video about their understanding of an approach to a particular issue, and having ‘the cure’ (see my Nike advice blog on Medium for more on this), or the platform for young people to be heard about issues that they deserve to be listened to about.

Yes, I support that young people should have a voice about issues that they face, yes I support those voices should be heard in appropriate, safe and contained spaces to prevent the fallout I am about to describe and yes I support the legislation we are now moving towards regarding online spaces and harm prevention and reduction. One persons pain can be too much to bear for an untrained ear, a child who hears or sees the pain of others and certainly for the empaths of the world.

Recently I wrote a blog about #everyonesinvited website (on my medium page), before it became a thing that journalists pushed. I predicted with friends and colleagues that there would be an investigation into the issues raised, and so they should for the safety of children being sexually abused, and the assaults taking place also. Yet, the investigations did not include the site itself or why it was created and the impact of publishing harrowing accounts (at times) of child sexual abuse and sexual assaults on young people. However, the aspects of my blog which I will echo here (that were missed), are the intentions behind these sites, the content and the unintended consequences of that content on these sites.

Let me elaborate why as a therapist I’m concerned, because the best intentions are often not what results. Listening to trauma, witnessing trauma and being with my clients when they are in my clinic requires that I be trained and have supervision to manage my caseloads, a lot of supervision, to ensure that I am safe, able to hear and help my clients. It is a professional requirement and means my supervisor follows this professional requirement too.

There is no supervision, no line management and no therapy for watching, listening to, and taking on the trauma of someone on a social media platform or website when they tell their story of trauma.

And right now, over the last few months young people have been telling their reported stories of how they have been let down, ignored, dismissed, discharged, laughed at, sent away from, ridiculed, opposed, marched to other services about their suicidal feelings and mental health issues.

The video makers both pretend to be the staff that are carrying out the above, or they speak to their experiences of meeting staff in mental health services. I have been receiving some of these videos from friends and family because they thought they were funny, were curious to know if this really happened in these situations? And, of coursed people alerting me to the new ‘trend’ (see my previous blogs for more info on these trends- ‘the human algorithm’). Young people are speaking out about, attacking and taking the mickey out of CAMHS and it has the potential to harm other young people as an unintended consequence.

Imagine if Amy sees one of these videos on #TikTok, sees that Zoe’s experience was ‘awful’ and did not meet Zoe’s’ needs. Then there is a chance that Amy will not speak to someone or contact someone (like me or other professionals) and not get the help that she needs. Timmy might listen to the story where David talks about his self-harming and he feels that he might not get the help for his issue because David did not, and so doesn’t reach out. And in the background Milly is crying because they are finding the content horrific to listen to because it’s eliciting their trauma. Milly tells me in session that they cannot bear to be on social media because the world is so bad, and yet they need to be there for Thomas, Brooke, and Connor because CAMHS aren’t. They are fed up, don’t know which way to turn, what to say but also do not want to hear it.

Who are these children and young people seeking help from? Can these young people trust a service that is overworked and is not able to meet every need for every person with a mental health issue? What about the stories they hear, and how does this impact them? Who is witnessing our children seeing, hearing, and speaking out about these issues? Where are the adults? Why hasn’t the statutory services response to this crisis in the way Ofsted and the NSPCC have to the sexual abuse and assault websites?

How many children and young people are seeing these videos and what does this do to their trust in the grown ups to be able to help them? Will they even reach out and will we blame their retreat and withdrawal on the iPhone? Yes, there will be services stretched beyond their means and I struggle to have space for clients which means I have to put people on waiting lists, which hurts and I am beyond sad about this. So, what do we do?

Young people have a right to speak out, they deserve adults to listen, and we deserve to be able to help, change the rules, services and way we now need to move with the digital space. So please grownups, hurry up. Our children need us.

Names used in the blog are not real clients in my practice to protect identities and adhere to data protection and privacy laws.

Online Harm or Harm Online

Originally published 3 April, 2019

Online Harm or Harm online can be difficult to define accurately in a quantitative frame

Harm online can be seen to be behaviours that are carried out with varying ‘modus operandi’s’ such as intentional versus unintentional, delayed versus immediate and direct and indirect. They can be multi-modal​, multi-platform and multi-interval. The harm may be carried out by other children, adults or machine learning ‘bots’

Harm can also include secondary events such as engaging with posts that result in an impact on a third party

The areas of online harm spans phones, smartphones, gaming consoles, social media accounts, email and any other medium of contact.

Online Harms can result in Cybertrauma.

What is Cybertrauma?
Any trauma that is a result of self- or, other-directed interaction with, mediated through, or from any electronic internet/cyberspace ready device or machine learning algorithm, that results in impact now or the future.
This event/interaction can be multi-modal, multi-platform and multi-interval, delayed or immediate, legal or not, singular or plural, and may include images, sound, and text and may or may not be vitriolic in nature.
Events may include covert and overt typology and may be virtual and corporeal and/or at the same time.

(Knibbs, 2016-2021) 

When trigger warnings are not enough, nor are they a valid reason to potentially traumatise an audience

Originally published 3 April, 2019

Gaming is inherently and mostly safe, as is the world we live in.

Our nervous system responses have and are increasingly tapped into by the skewed narrative that is available through social media and new media outlets. Research from leading academics/scientists and researchers such as Steven Pinker has highlighted that as a society we have become less violent as a species and that the rates of homicide have decreased. However, this doesn’t sell news stories, ​does it? This narrative doesn’t keep your nervous system in high-stress​ response state, commonly known as fight/flight. It’s unlikely that you will believe in trust and safety if your newsfeed tells you otherwise. Gaming and the ‘negative issues’ that exist are often collected within this narrative. I write about these and know they do exist, however they exist in a small minority of cases and some of them are myths, ​not facts. Current myths that are being argued by academics relating to gaming are focused on the hyperbolic claims that you will or have likely read online or in a newspaper. These are gaming does not (mostly) create addiction or disorders. violent video games do not produce violent gamers in the real world. The benefits of gaming outweigh the very few negative issues that we researchers are interested in and exploring to date. I have a number of podcasts on this subject matter so please go there to learn more.

You see I am a trauma specialist and I work with children, adolescents and adults. I work in a practice whereby I know the impact of being a witness to another person’s trauma through and through and its why I teach on the subject of vicarious (cyber)trauma and self-care in the profession of being with and around trauma. Traumatic means many different things and what is traumatic to one person is not always traumatic to another; You can’t or don’t get to decide that for another person, even if you are a professional. You are not the receiver of the image, video or text. Writing trigger warning actually creates a propensity for some to press play and watch or read/view. If there’s a slim chance that you will traumatise someone why do it? (see my previous blog on Cybertrauma by professionals for the why people actually do this). Educating on the dangers to look out for online know we need to educate parents, professionals and other adults on the dangers we need to look out for in terms of young people and their online activities and perhaps we can also educate young people on these issues.

However, we must remember that even if your chronological age is 20, 30, 70 or 15 you may not emotionally be capable of processing images, videos and sound without having a traumatic response to that media. You may also have a background in which you have your own trauma and viewing material that is uncomfortable or traumatic may jiggle, unsettle or trigger your own nervous system stress response in a traumatic way. You can be traumatised by hearing about a traumatic event. If this can happen to an adult with a fully formed and mature brain imagine the impact on a developing brain of an adolescent.

Today a video went live that contains many Cybertrauma issues. Whilst it comes from a place of best intent by the producers of the video it contains victim-blaming language (such as the phrase “if only he had believed us” this is a trauma trigger for victims), it contains images of a grieving parent (mirror neuron responses, empathy and trauma triggers and is meant to create sadness and outrage in you- it’s a manipulation of your nervous system) and it contains a very scary message aimed at children and young people, yet the film has a suggested viewing rating of 15. This message, which is about trusting online friends, suggests that YOU (the child) are responsible for knowing who your online friends really are and every aspect about them and their abilities and patterns of potential grooming behaviours. Yet this grooming set of behaviours is not explained in the video, which leaves a deficit of knowledge about what to look out for, yet insinuates that you need to know this. How confusing for adolescents! Do you really know, or should that be could you ever really know who everyone is you talk to online Do you really know, or should that be could you ever really know who everyone is you talk to online​ when this number could be into the thousands or millions as the number of online gamers is actually huge… The concept of online friends is still in the infancy of research questions about this phenomenon and one that adults quite often believe means the same thing as it did before the internet existed. How does a young person know what to ‘lookout for’ when this is omitted from the educative video? How can they be responsible for something that isn’t within their control? Hence the word victim, which means something happened to you, that was out of your control. This video WILL be and HAS been shown to young people and no doubt will hit the million mark on views on YouTube very quickly. This of course will increase traffic to the makers of the film, who have previously created a number of films like this with all of the above issues. This will potentially win awards, be talked about as a great resource for education and yet the issues above miss the very important message as it is disguised as one that young people will be ‘fed’ as their responsibility.

Hyper-Rational Thinking Patterns

As young people think differently and have hyper-rational thinking patterns this message will be lost to normative maturational processes. To use a phrase you may have heard before: ‘it is likely to go in one ear and out the other’, but the trauma, oh that will be processed and may create further issues. I can tell you from the adolescents in my practice that this occurs and we as the adults show them it in the name of…scaring them into responsibility? How odd.

Sharing the trend adds to the algorithm

When you share that image/video of the trend, you add to the existing algorithm of the ‘trend’ and if it is an intention of perpetrators of a crime to advertise their product, i.e. to entice children to find out about their videos or games then the best people to do this for them already exist in a fear-driven world and they are the adults. Children do not have this advertising power, you do and so do schools, child-related clubs, professionals who support children and other fear-driven​ parents. You literally advertise for them for free. Each and every time.

I wonder how many under 15’s will see this as it’s​ on YouTube? How many shares will take place over social media platforms in the very same fear-driven​ act that made ‘Momo’ so famous? I wonder how many children (adults and people with anxiety) will have nightmares​ become afraid of everyone they now speak to online? (what about the real world, where grooming exists too?). I wonder if this really was the best way to communicate this message?

Perhaps we need a rethink… actually,​ I’m suggesting that this is actually what needs to happen, pronto.

Shock/Horror, Shame, Fear and Victim-blaming are not the way to educate. We can do better.

The ‘Human algorithm’ that schools and parents feed through fear concerning social media ‘trends’

Originally published 27 February, 2019

How perpetrators of crime are relying on you to advertise their products for free; and you do. How you may be adding to the online harm issues for children and young people without being Free advertising used to be a dream for large companies who wanted to sell their products to as many people as possible in the shortest timeframe possible. Finding a slot between popular TV programs would mean that you got the biggest bang for your buck. If the advert was good people would talk about it to their family and friends. Now all you need is a video or image and some people with internet access and hey presto the digital highway of cyberspace/internet can send this to more people than you could count. Unlike a TV ad, this image or video can repeat many times on many platforms in cyberspace and so the exponential impact becomes a very cheap option. But what if you wanted to recruit children to buy your product? Surely you would need something that could be accessed by children, talked about by children and also would become a hot topic for adults to talk about, therefore keeping the fire burning in the engine of mass impact. Forget children’s TV, the area that would get you the most traction is likely to utilise somewhere children

I suspect the two most ‘popular’ areas that children currently frequent are schools and the internet, namely apps that are deemed suitable for children such as YouTube kids? Whilst this is slightly tongue in cheek as these are very likely the two most popular areas aside from Family homes there is a significant factor here; If a child has YouTube kids app then there is an adult in the house who owns that device and is likely to use social media.

Creating a moral panic of fear driven posts

Here is the formula for a perpetrator of the crime to use this ‘algorithm’ (not the computer type but one of human behaviour), to create a pandemic of fear and curiosity in children and is resulting in a moral panic of fear-driven posts that advertise a perpetrators ‘idea’ or ‘product’ for absolutely nothing!

The latest ‘challenge’, ‘game’ or ‘threat’ on social media

Recently I have been inundated with a plethora of messages from family, friends and social media contacts regarding a ‘challenge’ or ‘scary video’ or ‘suicide threat’ dependent upon which social media platform you read the story on. This ‘game’ (which I’m not naming on purpose because I’m not adding to the internet algorithm where possible), it has an image of a face that reminds me of the wife in Beetlejuice, has enlarged eyes and an elongated face. I’m not here to discuss the validity of this new ‘game’ as I don’t entirely trust any of the reports I have read anywhere and I saw this shared in Australia a few months ago, with the same impact. It’s now here in the UK and will no doubt be replaced by another soon enough. Nor am I discussing within this blog the issue of children who have been privy to seeing this image/game whilst unsupervised as I think parents get a bad enough rap as it is regarding their digital parenting skills. To be fair this is likely to be so few actual instances of children engaging in this behaviour in comparison to the postings currently on social media.

The human nature algorithm

Here’s where the human nature algorithm adds to this issue and why I’m writing this blog;

When you share the images/videos of the games/pranks/dares/challenges you may create a level of vicarious trauma where images are seen by people who may not have been prepared to see this in their social media feeds. You are responsible for what you share, and I am aware this is often done without considering the impact if you are sharing for a reason that you think is important. When you take a moment to stop and think about what this share may result in then this is called ‘mentalising’, or ‘theory of mind’ or ‘empathy’ (it’s a factor of Emotional Intelligence). It takes time to stop, reflect and consider what you are doing and why and when you are in an emotional place this skill is lessened. Panic and fear are powerful emotions for disrupting empathy.

Children are curious

The images or video stills tend to be quite large and have a well-designed novelty factor (as intended by the designer of the product) and these can be seen by children looking over your shoulder, on a device belonging to someone else, their social media feed and on occasions on newsletters from schools. Children are curious to know what you are talking about or looking at (Think of when you try to have a conversation with a friend in the playground or kitchen?). Children are curious and where they feel they may not get a satisfactory answer from you or another adult they will ask another child or in today’s world, they may well google it. If your children, ask being transparent and age-appropriate in your responses helps alleviate this. You do not have to scare your children with the full article details (which may not be true anyway), however, to help them develop their critical thinking skills about the validity of the post and to discuss how they would let you know about issues like this, you need to be in communication with them from the outset.

Sharing the trend adds to the algorithm

When you share that image/video of the trend, you add to the existing algorithm of the ‘trend’ and if it is an intention of perpetrators of a crime to advertise their product, i.e. to entice children to find out about their videos or games then the best people to do this for them already exist in a fear-driven world and they are the adults. Children do not have this advertising power, you do and so do schools,child-related​d clubs, professionals who support children and other fear-driven​ parents. You literally advertise for them for free. Each and every time.

So what can or ought we do?

I’m not saying don’t share this information to raise awareness. I’m saying check facts, check the leading internet organisations websites and check reputable sources that discuss e-safety/online safety issues… with actual facts.

Why children look at scary things on the internet; Why vicarious Cybertrauma/trauma is a thing!

I have a previous blog that covers why children look at scary things on the internet, why vicarious Cybertrauma/trauma is a thing and I podcast about issues like this and covered similar topics in 2017 and 2018 with Alan Mackenzie who is a fabulous internet safety adviser, where we looked at young people trends and YouTube.  This really isn’t a new thing, however, the way the recent issue has been shared has left me silently in awe of the ‘maker’ of this trend as it went viral in the UK within a few days and still continues to be shared, without them lifting a finger to a keyboard or paying an advertiser. Each time the story gets added to and increases in platforms used/shared and a narrative that drives fear.

A new phenomenon of “pass on” whispers..

Our fear feeds the monster and I am already hearing about it in therapy from children who heard adults talking about it in the playground and I have seen so many hyperbolic additions to this new Chinese whisper phenomenon. (Some from companies who claim to inform parents about e-safety issues).

Fear is the greatest driver for human algorithmic behaviour

Become aware of it and you can work out a way to inform rather than scare. Shock tactics do not work, nor have they ever been a great way to educate. They come from a deep-rooted place of fear and feelings of incompetency. So like crossing the road, STOP, LOOK carefully and LISTEN for your own fear monster. Fact check and consider how you can share this information to educate not scare. If you find you’re thinking this way. Stop again and breathe and check-in with yourself what your fear is, because like the challenges the bogey man just got under your skin. You probably know why and I’m not here to shame anyone.

Relevant links:


CyberSynapse Podcast / Vlog – Influential behaviour on primary school children – ‘Challenges/Dares or Peer pressure?’ – 16th December 2018 – 17th December 2017

Presenters, Media and Conferences – Cybertrauma by Experts; The Shock Factor!

Originally published 26 November, 2018

Is it naiveté, ego, traumology or unconsciously malicious?

I have a very positive view of human beings and believe we are all trying to do our best in whatever our dharma, focus, cause, profession and agenda is. Really. We are not intentionally trying to harm others in our communication and teachings. At least I hope not.

But, without knowledge of what harm is and how it happens some professionals are falling under the spell of ‘shock tactics’ in order to get the message across. As a recipient of some of this type of training, I can say that it has never worked with me and I suspect that this is actually the true case for most human beings who are subjected to this kind of teaching.

This year I have attended a number of conferences and teaching days and watched a debate about sexual exploitation films shown to children that also fall under this remit. At one particular conference, a friend and college of mine from the world of e-safety summed up this particular mistake that is regularly made by professionals in one word; “oops”. Indeed, it is. We had both been sat watching the presentation when the professional showed an image that was extremely graphic as part of their ‘teaching’. Hint there was no warning given that this image would be displayed, nor for how long either. It made one audience member ‘gip’ (nearly vomit).

This colleague of mine is a very good friend and has learned about cybertrauma and the impact it has and after a discussion between ourselves about this incident I said I would write a blog to explain this for other people as I believe it is an area that needs addressing, again, mainly because this is my research area and because I have the knowledge to share so that you can question this practice in others. This is not an attack on people who have genuinely and unintentionally made this mistake, nor those who will continue to do as they may not be challenged. This is about challenging those who learn about this effect and continue to engage in this behaviour for the latter three reasons named above. I am aware there are a number of factors as to why people engage in this behaviour and it’s probably only a forgivable mistake when its naiveté rather than the other three of the four reasons named above. However, if not challenged professionals may continue to engage in this behaviour and cause distress to their peers, colleagues and children.

Allow me to explain the what and the why of this mistake and the reasons behind it. Firstly, I have attended a number of days whereby the speaker is teaching, discussing or talking about a particular topic that they are passionate about and very often highly immersed in. During this talk, there is a PowerPoint or video on display to support the teaching. Lo and behold the mistake is made mid-flow, during the process without due care and attention and the not knowing about how this will affect people.

A video or image or conversation is shown/talked about in detail that is shocking, traumatic and graphic. Without a warning of what is to come. I have watched those people around me react to this kind of image/video or sound with varying degrees of trauma, disgust, revolt, horror, frozen, fear, surprise and other formats of stress reactions. And these people are adults…. imagine what it is like for a child to watch a video that has graphic, violent or re-enactments of a trauma/distressing scene. They react much more than adults often in ways that are delayed; due to the age and stage of their brain development and the brain state they are in when viewing these images/films. I won’t complicate matters here with a heap of neuroscience, safe to say children and young people (up to approx. 25 years of age) are not mature enough to ‘handle’ these kinds of images/films. (Hence my support of the #NomoreCSE films campaign as children are more susceptible to this kind of trauma- see my previous blog on this)

To sum up my friend’s reaction to one of those occasions at a conference … ‘oops’ doesn’t cut it. This is not acceptable behaviour from professionals to decide that they can show a video or an image or talk in detail without first checking in with themselves that this image, video or topic could/might be distressing with the audience. And, if it has the potential to be any one of these then not showing it is the only ethical and moral choice. If the presenter was to ask, even then they may get people responding with its okay as they do not know what the image or video will evoke in them and they may want to please the presenter and not be seen as a spoilsport/weak/wuss etc. The speaker does not get to decide whether something is “OK” to show/talk about. Unless they have already decided that it is okay in their mind. Which up until now, without challenge, professionals are doing exactly this. Some even after challenge.

When I am speaking, I teach about this concept and why the above is not ok (you’ll have to book me if you want to know more) – but in succinct form here- it’s about choice/consent. As a speaker, you are making a choice for people about their stress tolerance and limits of their trauma histories and we know from statistics that in your audience you will have approximately 40-60% (potentially higher %) of people who have a form of trauma in their history and the other percentage of people are also entitled to a choice about what they view/hear. In short as a professional; do not use material that is highly emotive, shocking, traumatic, graphic or sexual without checking in with your audience before showing it or talking about it and even then, consider this a censor check about putting your ego above the due care and attention of the human beings in front of you. Censor/edit or remove where you can and allow people to talk to you directly if they want to know more as this is then their choice to engage with this material. Autonomy, agency, curiosity and choice belong to the human being and you cannot suppose/assume for them.

Furthermore, be aware people may ‘opt’ to watch as they are in a high-pressure situation and historical trauma can render a person to “freeze and please” (A common response in children)

So why does this happen? In short for a number of reasons and I made this mistake early in my career and I didn’t actually show anything at the time. (I learned quickly when an audience member let me know how they felt and this is a very rare response in the moment so kudos to that person who gave me such great insight). I was naïve to the impact of potential trauma before I trained in and around the topic, and I was working with therapists who are trained to work with and hear about this kind of stuff! So, naiveté becomes a one-time incident and professionals could be allowed this mistake under those circumstances I suppose. But more than once and that becomes a choice or?

Some professionals are driven by their ego and want to tell their story i.e., of an issue that has happened to someone (sometimes themselves) and they put far too many details of the trauma narrative in because it makes them look like they are an expert or capable of handling talking about graphic trauma, like a prize of their tolerance levels. Sometimes professionals speak/show these topics because they are deeply caught up in their own trauma- i.e. “traumology” (a word I made up to explain the repetitive preoccupation of trauma narrative in that person’s life). Sometimes and hopefully only a very small number, there are some professionals who actually get a kick out of using this kind of material to traumatise other people as an imbalance of power and to feel superior in some way, rather like a dominant masochist. I suspect there are traumology masochists too.

So what material might be shown/discussed that causes this type of cybertrauma/vicarious trauma? What types of material ought to be censored/peer-reviewed by trauma specialists who are versed in the varying aspects of the delivery of this kind of material and can evidence this with best practice guides/evidenced research?

Videos, Images and detailed talks of the following (not exhaustive list)

Child Sexual Abuse – Child Sexual Exploitation- County Lines- Sexual Violence- Grooming- Youth Produced imagery (previously known as sexting)- Revenge Porn- Murder/Homicide- Suicide- Self-harm (all variants)- Domestic Violence/Abuse- Neglect- Safeguarding- Eating Issues- Mental Health- Bullying- Bereavement- Eating Issues-Radicalisation- Child Abuse- Animal Abuse- Natural Disasters- History- Capital/Corporal Punishment- Crime. Most of the films produced by Leicester Police for CSA, CSE, Grooming, Rape and Sexual Violence. 

Internet ‘hanging out/playing with your mates’ disorder? Why it’s MUCH more complicated than that

Originally published 12 June, 2018

Recent media articles have focused in on the psychopathology or ‘diagnoses’ of children using the internet or computer/console games. There is a current push to have a diagnostic criterion for the ‘addictions’ of 1) Internet gaming disorder which almost but not quite, (owing to a need of much more research in this area) appeared in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders number 5 (DSM-V) and more recently 2) gaming disorder in the International classification diagnostic manual (ICD-11) and this latter one will probably soon be a recognised disorder. Of mental health, which omits very important aspects which I will come to.

So apart from the very fact that I often end up bashing my head on the keyboard or falling over backwards in sheer frustration at these labels and diagnosis and the media spin on them I thought I would bring some aspects of this issue to the average media reader. I’m using some quotes and lines here from my second book, which I am frantically writing in the hope we can stop what I believe is nonsense in the face of remembering there is a human being at the very core of these diagnoses. I would rather that we looked at behaviours as having a root cause and understanding why these occur in the first instance rather than adding a label (which is for classification only, such as those that appear in taxonomy and on jars). After all, we are not our behaviours, they are a form of communication about something so let’s look at what I mean by that.

Ask a child what their motivations for playing a game are and they resemble the corporeal world: they want to hang out with their mates, they want to get to the next round (level), they want to improve their skills, they want to be part of a team and so on. We don’t say children are addicted to their friends and we do often say they are addicted to the activity. I’m not going to continue on here as this is in one of my previous blogs, I wanted to bring to you a little of my forthcoming book to give you a different look at this issue as the addiction framework is one I go into in-depth in the contents.

My second Book excerpts/quotes: each taken from a conversation within the text, these do not necessarily follow on directly from each other denoted by the breaks.


Are we addicted to smartphones or the internet?

Insert eye roll emoji or facepalm gif….

I don’t believe so in the true psychopathological sense, however, I think it would be helpful for the reader to understand the difference between a term used by psychiatrists used to diagnose/label or explain a behaviour and that of an everyday person using language to explain a behaviour.


I would ask what are those consequences and has anyone asked why the person engages in the behaviour in the first instance? What function does the behaviour serve? That is often the tell-tale motivator and to be quite frank I have often been informed by young people the internet is a place to ‘be’ or hang out with their friends and that they are in a household where they are bored/don’t communicate with parents/siblings and so they hang out with their friends online who may be geographically further away than is possible to go outside and play with. So, several things spring to mind here. How difficult it must be to live in a family where people don’t or can’t communicate with each other. This must feel very isolating, lonely and or neglectful? This must be very difficult for a child/adolescent to manage and perhaps they will feel that they have ‘done something wrong’ or ‘are bad/have a deficit in some way’. Given this line of thinking wouldn’t you want to hang out with other people?


In terms of the word addiction, I have often heard this used by parents/teachers when they want a child to engage in a particular behaviour and it seems the word addicted is then used when there is conflict. For example, the parent wants the child to put down the comic and put their shoes on for school. The child continues to walk across the room with the comic and the parent snatches it out of the child’s hands. (often telling them they are obsessed with these darn silly things). Perhaps a teen is using the house telephone and after 30 minutes of talking the parent wants to use it and suddenly the atmosphere changes, the parent waves at the child and performs an action akin to sign language and mouths get off the phone, increasingly the teen takes a few minutes to say goodbye and the parent becomes irate and the situation ends up with the parent getting rather angst and telling the child to ‘get off the darn phone!” I wonder if these situations are similar? Well indeed they are, however often I see or children/adolescents report parents snatching the smartphone/console away or turning them off mid-game/sentence and this results in the behaviour that’s often attributed to addiction. That reaction is anger from the child and hence this is where the everyday language has changed somewhat and now parents/teachers/professionals use the word addicted. We have created a system of blame and shame (more on this later) to appease the parents who want their children to conform/behave according to their agenda, wants and needs at the time and I wonder if the skills of parenting have become punitive rather than teaching, negotiation and compassion?


in terms of not engaging with people, doing chores, cleaning themselves or going out to get a job. Would we say this was a gaming addiction? Internet addiction? I think the answer could be yes in terms of the simple facts provided here without the contextual information. However, If I now elaborate with some more details or again another angle through the prism of human behaviour this perspective lends itself to looking like; withdrawal from face to face human connection which could be diagnosed as perhaps Autism or Depression? Both of these issues have all of the same ‘symptoms’ as above but a different ‘prognosis’ or treatment plan.

We could be ‘treating’ people for issues that we do not fully understand, would like to make money out of (more on this later) and most importantly for me are labelling children and young people with diagnoses that miss the person behind that label because we often don’t ask the questions that reveal why a person is doing this behaviour.

All behaviour is a form of communication. Understanding that communication means to understand the person. The human being at the end of the diagnoses.

These excerpts are taken from my book and are meant to introduce you to the complexities of this subject. As you read the media, how are you to know fully what a family’s life is really like and whether there are script/patterns of Internet use in that household? Furthermore, in relation to an article posted this week when a child uses a gaming platform to engage socially with friends (hint here its social) Twitch’ing can often provide other motivational factors, such as live streaming and increasing the ‘fanbase’ and being paid for it. I wonder what grown ups do to get paid and if we took their job away what their reaction might be? (sarcastic opinion I know but we do seem to have adult and child rules which often don’t make sense at times, particularly to children who can think for themselves.

For counsellors who use directories. Did you know..?

Originally published 1 May, 2018

In light of the information shared with me from the biggest directory of counsellors when I have asked why their system of sending client contact information is not secure, hackable and contains PII in the form of an IP/email address – I thought we could start a discussion about the fact that clients in distress: Visit this directory, open a counsellors profile page and send that counsellor detailed information via a contact form (because they are in distress and are dysregulated and in need of help. Sometimes urgently) This contact form then arrives at the email box of the counsellor and contains the clients IP address, email contact and more often than not a telephone number.

All sounds okay so far? Well, I asked how this contact form was forwarded and what measures are in place to secure the transition of this infusion from the directory to the inbox. To keep it short the answer is it isn’t if you don’t have an email system that is secure at your end.

When I challenged this and explained many counsellors are not tech-savvy, nor do they have encrypted email systems I was given some advice about best practice.

The directory has informed me that for GDPR compliance they will put a notice on the directory “not to send personal information to the counsellor” However, they send the clients IP/email address?

This is not good enough. Not when I feel as a psychotherapist that I have a duty of care to the potential client to offer them a safe space to connect.

When I challenged them on the ethics of ‘the onus is on the client and counsellor’ to set up a secure email system and that an IP and email address is actually identifying information that they send I was given the same response. Including a line about using codes for client confidentiality. (After sending the contact form to me with identifying info?) Metaphors of horses and gates springs to mind.

The world of cybersecurity applies to the profession of counselling/psychotherapy and currently, I am not seeing enough care and due diligence in this domain. (see my previous blogs and videos on my Facebook page cyber trauma and young people)

I’m aware the profession of counselling is not as tech-savvy as I am, however surely there’s a body of advisors to this directory and others? When I used PlusGuidance all messages were kept secure and I had to login to read and reply. The system held the info. Why is it not possible for a directory that charges approximately £20 per month to thousands of counsellors to set up a system like this to keep client and counsellor safe and GDPR compliant?

Let me know your thoughts.

Dear client, does your therapist discuss you on social media?

Originally published 7 February, 2018

Dear potential client, or perhaps one already in a therapy chair/room. I wanted to speak out on your behalf, rather than write an article that would require you to do anything. You do indeed have that choice of course and perhaps this is a question you will raise once you have seen this article. If you are not old enough I hope your parents/carers or some professional reads this and considers its contents on your behalf.

I have been commenting on lots of posts on social media over the last few years and I now feel that I need to address and speak out on behalf of clients everywhere. You see being a human and doing the very kind of behaviour I’m going to talk about I made a mistake in my training and posted a picture of my birthday party being held at a training group because I was excited, and I also made an assumption that other trainees (begin adults) knew how to use social media. I was very wrong, and some of my peers were identified through their Facebook settings. It resulted in a shaming and guilt laden experience for me and one I quickly learned from.

What I see and comment on, on social media leaves me very worried for some of you. We provide you with a safe space and we discuss with you, reassure and ensure that sessions are confidential, and we mean it.

Well mostly, most of us do. Some of us however…

I would like to let BACP, UKCP, BPS, BAPT, BABPT, IAPT, NHS, NCS know some of your therapists are doing exactly this.

Dear child and/or adult counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists….

Social media is not supervision, nor is it a peer group, nor is it a safe space to talk about client work. It is not a an ego boosting platform for you to parade the numbers of clients you see. It is not a place to share photos of your work created together, it is not a place to share their stories of the day, nor is it a place to identify them through comments such as “Im glad to have supported this boy/girl”. It is not a place to discuss issues that you are struggling with clients nor is it a place to discuss how the sessions have gone.

Take it to supervision and keep it confidential. Keep it to yourself or discuss it with peers when you are guaranteed a safe space such as a therapy room, training room or classroom. One where you know that the other people in the room are your profession also. Social media is exactly that, its not your living room where you’re having a chat with a friend, you are not protected and its not confidential! Your post can be seen. Potentially by anyone who has access to the internet.

Do not share (identifying) information about your clients so they can be traced because here is a little experiment that some clients, stalkers, hackers, people, and companies do. I have also carried this out and here’s why this is a problem for you.

Let’s take Facebook groups for a moment: I’m going to pretend that I run a group called real counsellors only. So, I set it up and make potential group members answer a question. I’m not tech savvy so this question is are you a real counsellor? (I know, this happens believe me) So now I have 2,000 group members. Its very difficult for me to watch all of the posts that happen on the page, but its okay as I pinned a message saying, “no real client work posted here thanks!” A post appears about a counsellor struggling with a child client, whose 8 years old and they see this client at school and its Friday.

A potential client identifier (this sentence is important and I’ll come back to it shortly)

Will/can/might do this…They join these kinds of groups for varying reasons, as they want to know more? They see the post, they click on your profile, its not locked and now they can see your pictures, your family members, your friends, the groups you like, the groups you’re in, pages you like and so on. Most importantly for this exercise they see your practice, the school you have posted about where you work or your website as its advertised on your page. The goto your website, and/or they look at the school website in this example. They perhaps go and wait on a Friday near to the practice/school/setting and they see the clients leaving that day/time. I’m aware that schools are contained and its only leaving the grounds that children can be identified by the public, but bear with me and you’ll see why this is still an issue. They now know something about that child’s work so this could give them a starting conversation eg, “so you like painting?”

The client identifiers might be: The client themselves. Imagine if that came up in a session?

They might be potential abusers, yes this is a behaviour they would engage in. Lots of parents share photos with their children’s school uniform in and we know that’s how perpetrators learn about potential victims, so this fits the modus operandi here too.

They might be abusive partners, parents, adoptive parents, long lost family members trying to trace the person.

They might be your supervisor?

The peers of the client. Imagine if you’re discussing a sexuality issue that you struggle with and the client is outed?

An Artificial Intelligence programme and yes this is definitely a thing

An identify thief?

And now we have the GDPR ruling coming in it might be a solicitor/organisation?

All trust that clients put in us is sacred, as is the space we allow them to have when they work with us. We are bound by ethics and confidentiality not to identify them. Clients can of course identify us or talk about us on social media and that is their privilege, not ours. We also grant them safe protection of their data and this includes their words, pictures and anything we discuss about them. Social media is NOT the place to do this.

Social media policies won’t cut this as they will be vague or non-actionable, it needs to be in mandatory in training from the outset and it needs implementing now. Trainees need to hear messages that say DO NOT discuss your work on social media, it’s the only way to be crystal clear and to prevent clients being identified/shamed/outed/disrespected.

Please share this message so we can begin to provide our clients with the protection they deserve. My message to Governing bodies is your message (if you have one about this) isn’t working. Trainees are not the only ones carrying out this behaviour on social media (I’ve seen posts from Dr’s/Accred therapists doing exactly this). Ethically we cannot carry on allowing this to happen. Imagine the consequences, law suits and potential deaths/suicide that could be caused by this behaviour.