A Conversation With Tanja Sharpe – mom, entrepreneur & founder of the creative counsellors community!

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Do you ever wonder how creativity can transform lives and enhance therapy? Join me as I sit down with the inspiring Tanya Sharp, founder of Creative Counselors Community and author of Creative Counseling, to discuss her journey of discovering the incredible power of creativity in therapy. Not only does Tanya share her professional insights, but we also delve into her personal struggles as a mother of an autistic son, highlighting the importance of trust, letting go of external pressures, and finding the right support system.

Throughout this heartfelt conversation, we explore the world of supporting young people and parents, breaking down the stigma surrounding teenagers and the need for a safe space to discuss important topics like sex, relationships, drugs, and alcohol. Tanya opens up about her work with the Creative Counselors Community and her empowering program, Concrete Hearts, which helps youth tap into their creative core to navigate through life’s difficulties.

But it’s not all about the young ones – we also touch on the journey of leaving a relationship and starting a fresh chapter, the complexities of navigating autism and neurodiversity, and managing time and parenting challenges. This episode is packed with wisdom, compassion, and the incredible potential of creativity waiting to be unleashed. So join us and be inspired to embrace your own creative power and transform not only your life, but the lives of those around you.

Tanja Sharpe Website
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Introduction: Want Connection Build Better Bonds. One Reflection Build Better Bonds. 

Yasmin: And welcome to the Build Better Bonds podcast. And today we’ll be speaking to Tanya Sharp, who is the founder of the Creative Counselors Community. Tanya is a creative counselor, she’s author of the book Creative Counseling And she is also a mom. Tanya is an extremely generous, kind and wonderfully wonderful human. So hi, tanya, hi, yes. 

Tanja: I’m really, actually, really excited to be here, because I’m really passionate about this kind of side of the world. I’m really excited to be here. 

Yasmin: I’m really excited to talk to you as well. So people who may not know you and for our listeners, could you just share with us a little bit about what you do and the Creative Counselors Community? Oh, wonderful, okay. 

Tanja: So I’m Tanya, founded creative counselors back in 2018, i think, and never short. The 17 or 18 was formal in 2018, i think, and that was at a time that I was working for Rape Crisis and working in the NHS as well as a therapist, and I found that I was getting similar clients cycling back into therapy quite often And I thought to myself there’s something missing. I’m just not getting something here for the client, something unlocking or something that they’re processing, so they’re finding themselves back in a similar situation, and that kind of missing key led down to helping the unconscious to become more conscious And for me that led to creativity. So the first time I ever picked up anything to do with creativity in the room because at the time I also didn’t really feel like I was hugely creative, hadn’t really connected with that past I went to the toilet, got some toilet paper, we got some pens and the client began to write out a timeline on the toilet page. Just being able to see what the client was writing And they were choosing some bowls and they were adding little bits that were important and little doodles and things, and for me it brought the entire kind of experience to life in some ways And we could walk the timeline with the client. 

Tanja: And so after that I started looking madly everywhere to find different bits of creativity I could put in counseling, and what I found was art therapy, drama therapy, play therapy. But I wanted to stick to my core counseling approach, which was integrated therapy, and I wanted to stay in that approach, but I wanted to enhance it with creativity. And so I just set about connecting with other people and asking the question do you ever work poetry or have you bought a story in? And that kind of grew into a few of us, and the more of us, and the more of us, and then we became a community. 

Tanja: They were quite organically, which was really lovely. 

Yasmin: And as you’re speaking, Tanya, I’d never thought of it before. It follows the integrated model, really, doesn’t it? For me? 

Tanja: it does absolutely. I know we’ve got person-centered therapists, we’ve got psychodynamic therapists And what we found over the years is that creativity beautifully enhances whatever core model somebody is coming from, whatever they’re working with. So if you work in a psychodynamic approach, then bringing in some poetry or two chair work in looking at earliest relationships, for example, it just enhances whichever model you’re bringing, which makes it really beautiful, because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You’re just enhancing the model that somebody’s already working with, that they feel really drawn to it. So it’s a really beautiful way of looking at it. 

Yasmin: So I worked with young people initially. That was the way I started. So when I worked in the NHS in rape crisis, i was working with adults because it started on placement, and then I went into private practice quite quickly. But the reason I went into private practice was at the time I was volunteering for an autism charity. I’m now in a revision didn’t know it at the time, of course totally blind to that. My son’s autistic as well. He’s 23 and he’s had his own journey for sure. He’s burnt out, he’s struggled. He had to leave school really early on. I home educated him through his teenage years, through his primary years as well. 

Yasmin: And how is that for you trying to juggle career and home school also? 

Tanja: I did pull out a little bit in his teen years. I pulled out a bit so I could try and home educate them, because it’s a hell of a thing If you’re not a teen don’t have that And I was never really switched on in school. 

I was more interested in daydreaming out the window or doing other things. That was a massive challenge, but luckily we found an online virtual school that he attended, which I would recommend to parents. If you’re looking at home educating, it’s bringing online virtual schools where they log into classrooms, your teens, and they taste part in a full classroom experience that you’re not having to teach. Wow, there were really some great examples out there of ways that you could do it where the pressure’s not on you, if it’s not your kind of thing, if you don’t feel able to do that, so, yeah, there were ways to do it. So he’d be learning and I’d be being a therapist and doing my things on the side, and we just made it work in some way. 

But it was tough, but it was really rewarding as well, because he got to step out of the things that were causing him burnout and stress and real, significant mental health. 

Yasmin: I’m speaking as a parent there. How did that impact you as a woman? 

Tanja: It was a massive struggle. Oh my gosh. I can’t remember many of his teenage years. It’s like I detached from so much of it because it was so traumatising Genuinely both of us. There were times when I was on Suicide Watch for nights on end or weeks on end Be hiding things in the house so that you couldn’t access them. I’d be checking. I’d go in the room and check. He’s still there and he’s still sleeping and things are okay. So it was a really stressful time because his mental health had just gotten so bad and he really didn’t want to be here anymore. That’s such tough times. Yeah, it was, and I think we both went through a similar experience because we both needed each other so desperately at the time. I’d also left a relationship that was really top-sec, so I’d moved across the country to get my way from school relationship and start again in a tiny little flat in Chester. That was my absolute favourite place because it was ours for the first time. 

There was no one in that space or that’s all we could just heal together. So for us it was like we really needed each other through that. So for a few years it was like we just shut the world out a little bit so that we could just recalibrate. And now I understand that being neurodivergent. I was going through a similar burnout for him because I was carrying a lot of the stuff that he was carrying at the same time. So I think we both just needed to detach a little bit and pull back and do that together. 

Yasmin: What would you say if there’s a listen, that’s moms or dads who may be going through something similar? What got you through? 

Tanja: Oh my gosh, you know, the things that really got me through was like this deeper sense of knowing that in the long run things will be okay. It’s the only way that I could put it was like in knowing and to release and let go of all the things that didn’t actually have to do the pressures, the external stuff, people’s voices. You’re not doing that right. You’ve got to get him back to school, or he’s going to fail in life, or if you don’t do this, you’ll never change that, or you can’t give up your life for this, or what you’re doing is unhealthy. 

But inside and my God, I really knew that we had to do this thing together. So it was really trusting that inside voice, even though you were getting all this noise from the outside world telling you how you needed to be and what you needed to do. So that was the first thing, and the second thing was just saying that for now I’m not going to engage in the world. I don’t care that I’ve stopped my career, i don’t care that I’ve not got all the money coming in that I have before, because we’re doing okay, we have the basics and this is just like a cocoon period in some ways. We’re just going to do this for now. So it was giving in, surrendering to that process and that things will be okay, but for now we just need to do this in some way. 

Yasmin: And just listening to you it sounds so powerful. Leaving a relationship is really difficult. 

Tanja: Oh gosh, yeah it was a lot of nights of should I and should I. I was actually working in a school for it as a young people, And so I walked into school one day and I said I’m so sorry to do this to you all. Really, genuinely I am, but I’m not coming back as of next week And even though you’re supposed to give me a notice and all that thing I just said, I literally can’t. 

We were shutting down for Christmas on the 18th of December And I said I just I won’t be coming back after Christmas And I’m so sorry, i just can’t. And that day we closed school. I went to the pub and had a drink with some of the people I got quite close with And then went home and packed everything I’d get into my tiny little KA And I was like it doesn’t fit in, it doesn’t matter. And we just left A bit of a funny story on that as well, because I turned up tomorrow since to go in and buy some water. 

I had my wedding dress and my bridesmaids dresses and things. I didn’t want them anymore. So I went and shoved them all in an Oxfam bank And one of those was my keys in with them. It’s funny, it’s just, i think it’s as quickly as I could. And my car was set outside the Oxfam bank and I lost my key. So I had to call Oxfam and a farmer turned up and he’s only crying, having a moment on my bonnet, as you did. He got a big pair of like pliers out, broken to Oxfam bank, with security helping me. 

Yasmin: Until you mentioned that, i was thinking well, that sounds really cathartic. 

Tanja: Oh gosh, yeah, absolutely. But also the second angel of a farmer just happened to be there. He was like so lovely and he gave me the biggest hug And I’ve never seen this person before And it was like it’d be all right And I gave him my whole life story and so And he said I’m going to do this, And so he helped and I guess she went in and he bought me a bowl of wine as well And he said so your first stop, make sure you sit and you get the glass of that big, which was so sweet. So, yeah, it was a really cool experience. When I look back and when, so it was a definitive I can’t take this anymore. I’ve had enough of everything and to pull back. 

Yasmin: And if anyone out there listening to your experience and they’re in that situation, what would you say to them? 

Tanja: Oh, 100% trust what you feel Like. If something is really niggling at you in a massive way, it’s true. It’s true for some reason, whether other people agree with you, no matter what the reference for what’s happening. If your life has been so deeply affected that you struggle to be in your own world At that point, you struggle to see yourself in your own life, like being hopeful about the future and being excited about getting it tomorrow Then there’s definitely something that needs to change in that, no matter what other people are saying, because I had the whole world telling me you’re crazy. You’re married, you’re settled, you’ve got a brilliant job, you’re on a career path and all these things, but everything felt wrong. 

Yasmin: It can look very different from the outside world.

Tanja: Yeah, totally, i think everyone sees it from that especially. Also, i know in my experience, being neurodivergent, i’ve mastered my whole life. That super masking skill that you have, i think, can make it even more so, because people just always saw the very cheery, bubbly person rocking up to work, even though I’d had my son screaming, begging not to go into school. All of this was going on, but I was fine, life’s great. How can I help you? No problem, i’ll be the person to deal with everyone else’s issues and that kind of thing, then go home and cry in pros and pros and feel exhausted and get under the blanket and want to clean in some way. For me it was hugely freeing to actually acknowledge what I was feeling, even though other people were telling me it shouldn’t feel. 

Yasmin: So trust your gut. The impact it has on our children when we’re in relationships that aren’t right for us is enormous, because, as you’re speaking, i know when my daughter was younger that if the relationship wasn’t fine, although you try really hard not to argue in front of your children, your mood’s still going to be not the best. I had less patience with her at times, which I regret. 

Tanja: Yeah, i think that’s a really important point actually, because if you’re not being your whole, healthy, healed, happy self in some ways as a parent, that is going to impact and it’s not in a guilt way, is it? And that’s not like you should feel guilty that you’re not being a happy parent way, You’re not being your most authentic, happy self and our kids feel that They’re linked to us, and so that’s when I used to get lots of questions like are you okay, mom? Yeah, of course I’m fine, and he knew I wasn’t. So that confusing kind of relationship between you and your kid when they feel one way and you’re saying another thing. In some ways. 

Tanja: When I left and removed, we could both become more ourselves. He became more cheeky while we were healing Okay, that’s all a different like bossy cheek inside And I became more rested. I could actually stay in bed in the morning if I wanted to.

He would make me cups of tea instead of me wishing around all the time. It was like we were looking after each other. At that point We really got it that we would open this thing of healing. So we were both being much more honest and open and we had some really deep chats about that relationship, about how we would walk on eggshells and things like that all the time. 

Yasmin: I love that he became more cheeky. Yeah, it sounds like he could finally be himself also. 

Tanja: Oh yeah, definitely There was a lot of things in that relationship. I’m mindful always about speaking about that relationship because I wouldn’t want to leave any huge negativities in the world about this person, But we were both walking on eggshells all the time. There was a lot that happened with that And so for him him doing that he couldn’t stem, he couldn’t be his autistic self, he couldn’t be his quirky self. This huge quirky person emerged after that really funny, not PC at all a lot of the time, but really deeply funny and cheeky and just a different personality emerging. And that was just from releasing and relaxing and being able to just say what he wanted to say with no repercussion. In some way It was a really important moment for us all. 

Tanja: So I’ve had other relationships, but then this relationship was marriage and a bit more serious, And I tell you what interesting that actually came out of the thing from people saying he needs a dad, He needs to be in a relationship, He needs a stable home, And so we get these messages to single parents, don’t we all the time, of what our kids need And actually all they need is us being our totally healed, happy, healthy selves. We can be both and all, We don’t actually need to have, I believe, a mother, father, all these kinds of stereotypes in some way. 

Tanja: As long as they have a loving, healthy, happy example of a home. it’s okay. But I didn’t have that message earlier on. I needed to have somebody else in his life to be a completed family, And that was part of the beginnings of the pressure and the problems, I think. 

Yasmin: Yeah, And you’ve touched on something really that sort of touches me, because I was a single mom And it’s also that respectability somewhere as well, that to be somehow respectable I had to be married. 

Tanja: Gosh, okay. So you experienced that kind of thinking as well And I hear that so much from parents. When we talk all the time It’s that same feeling, same. I feel like I’m failing my child because I’ve not created that family environment which is, for me, so old fashioned and thinking because it might not be the right environment. How many young people do we see as therapists so in really dysfunctional family breakdowns and relationships, and they’re just trying to pull it through anyway for the sake of the young person. But it’s not working. 

Tanja: And so for me that safety element of walking away and being alone. I had decided that that was it. After that It was going to be me and him. We were going to stay alone And that was it. But a month later I did meet my partner and so that wasn’t successful in that, but it was a big learning curve because myself and Tighe decided how the next relationship was going to be. 

Tanja: So with my son, he’s been through a really tricky patch and he’s drawn from the world And so has been in his bedroom most of the time or in a hub we put on the garden, which is like a reading game and chilling out space to get him to move between the house and somewhere. So he’s only beginning to emerge again. Now He hits such a deep burnout and clash that really for him he’s had years and years of needing to just push the world out in some ways Again. Now he’s been decided to pick up again. However, through all of that, my partner’s been such a chilled energy And that was important. He’s been. He’s like a lighthouse. He’s just sturdy and stable and chilled in some ways, and so that for my son is what my son did Not? somebody who’s biting at why are you doing this and why are you being there? So you need to go back to school and you need to get a job or any of these things. He’s just let it be in some ways. 

Yasmin: He sounds really accepting. 

Tanja: Oh gosh, he’s incredible. He’s just been such a balancing energy And he is truly accepting in. In that he’s really. He wants to learn more all the time. So I’ll talk to him about what I understand around what Ty’s experiencing. My partner was, you know, ok, it’s interesting. That’s I get it, i understand. That’s OK, take your lead And that’s what we needed Somebody who was willing to say that, even though this is really weird, tanya, that you’re doing it in this way, i’ll take your lead. I love that word weird, yeah, it’s. I think it’s like part of the dictionary on a daily basis. 

Yasmin: But before you to Can you remember the day that or around the time period that your son was diagnosed, and how was that for you? 

Tanja: Gosh, yes, he was only two Right And he was in a play school when I was at work, so I’d get on the bus, drop in the crash and then go up to work I worked in a college at the time and then come back and pick him up. So it was a pretty long day for him. And I remember getting a phone call to say they were really concerned about him and that he was like trying to have other people with orbs on the fingers and they were trying to take the pencils. I remember saying is there any possibility he could have his own pencil pot? So that was me saying can we just reduce the thing while I work out what’s happening and just give him a pencil pot? No, he’s got them to share. I’m thinking gosh, ok, but there’s obviously something going on with the pencils. 

Yasmin: That we need to work out. 

Tanja: So maybe if we could just reduce what’s happening first And that started the battle, training in kind of meeting this thing with environment, would never change, or it was always going to be ties, fault, ties, fault, ties, fault, and very early on there was talk of ADHD. 

Tanja: Then I met with a psychologist and that’s how it started At 12 years old. Then he had a diagnosis of autism And that was the most peculiar day because I walked in, sat down, they met him. I kept a folder about this massive, huge folder of his whole life, every school report, every kind of like behavior, a sheer, and everything that was laid on her. So they looked through all the stuff, did some exercises with him, a few hours here, a few hours there, and then they said, yes, these autistic congratulations and off you go, basically, and we were left to it. There wasn’t a leaflet, there wasn’t now you do this or a pathway, it was just off you go. So I handed that to school and then tried to find my way with it. 

Tanja: But luckily I met Joe Garner from Chester Autism and she was incredible at the time. She no longer works there but she was incredible. Long phone call with her. She’s autistic herself as a charity founder, and I met other parents and that was the key for me. I would say to people I need to find a group of people, a tribe, that really get what you don’t is a parent or as an adult or young neurodivergent person.

Find people like you that really understand and you can relate to and ask questions and learn from In some ways, because that kind of isolation of either being a parent or a neurodivergent person yourself and not really feeling like you understand yourself so much yet because you’re still learning So much.

Understanding for me came from connecting with other people who are first parents. So there is this thing about learning more about yourself and your situation, and sometimes that comes from people who understand and are going through it or have been through it themselves. 

Yasmin: I think things have changed from, say, around 10 years ago. Do you feel that time? Yeah, all parents with children that are autistic even the language it’s autistic, isn’t it? rather than having autism. 

Tanja: Oh gosh, yes, yeah, i mean I still get that wrong sometimes, that I think it can be really hard for people To get the right terms and things like that, and I would say if we’re all doing our best, that’s okay, because it is individual again to each person. So I’m just going to say it might not be a popular opinion. I’ve got people in the family who say they have autism, they don’t class themselves as autistic and that’s their choice, that’s how they see it And so for me, i just respect the individual language of the person who is talking to me and how they would like to be seen and to spoken to and accepted as in some ways. But I had a really interesting conversation with a group of autistic and people at university. 

Yasmin: Right. 

Tanja: And I spoke about this kind of like new growth in neurodivergent friendly spaces And they actually said, if something says it’s like a neurodivergent friendly space, we keep them a mile away from it. Exactly Because I was saying, you know, like would it be great if there was more neurodivergent friendly, like working spaces? And they were like every working space should be neurodivergent, tanya. So I was like, oh okay, i’m being told here a little bit and learning quite quickly that this is true. We’re still in the mindset of by creating more opportunity for people, sometimes still segregating in some ways. So I’m hoping that the way we move forward is that everything becomes much more accepting, compassionate accepting of people’s individuality, regardless of what they’re dealing with or who they are or what a diagnosis is. 

Yasmin: Talking about differences, i’m realizing more and more. I just don’t seem to understand the concept of time. 

Tanja: Yeah, this is something that I’ve struggled with in the past too, in what I can totally relate to what you’re saying, and I guess what I’m getting to is, if there’s a young person going through this, the impact it has on their confidence just growing up and becoming an adult Yeah, it’s massive, i think it is, and I think the more we get parents who really understand and get our willing to begin to learn, to understand how these things are affecting their young people, that’s where it can make the difference. 

Tanja: Because even time blindness, as you say, i know my son was never a case of, and actually I was the same. I think back, so maybe that’s why I understood it a little bit more from before I knew there was a diagnosis of autism or anything like that coming. You could never say, right, quickly, go get your shorts, find your shoes, get your school bag, meet me back here, i’m just going to get your lunch or whatever it was. You’d go and get lost along the way and then you’d find them sitting reading the book he was going to find in some way. 

Tanja: You kind of talk yourself in the book with no shoes on and no shorts, And I’m like that as an adult. I’ll start one task and then something pulls my eye. Next thing, I’m looking for a degree at university level. I’m something different. 

Tanja: I know I’m making an application for that degree now and then I forget the first thing, which was answering an email for something really important, or pain and invoice or something. So I do these swaying things as well And I get lost in a task. but also the game changing thing that I taught my son and I use now is time blocking in my diary. So I don’t have a to-do list at all because they’re rubbish for me. I have 10 million of them. then If something comes in that needs to be done, i put it in my diary. even sending an email or replying something, i block it out in the diary. So when I open my diary, my days are blocked out Right And my diary is actually my to-do list moving forward, instead of having a to-do list. that just looks crazy and overwhelming. I get lost in. 

Yasmin: So time blocking? that is the way forward. Tanya. 

Tanja: For me it has been for sure, And for my son as well, when he was in school time blocking bits in his journal, instead of just having lists of things he needs to do in homework At the calendar on our fridge. We get home and say you need to do this and that We put it on the calendar for him. So on Monday afternoon five to six I’ll sit with you and we’ll just be reading or whatever. Instead of just knowing that sometime in the week you’ve got to do these things, which has just forgotten about or overwhelming with literally blocking it in a calendar. And that just made all the difference because he’d see all the free time which was a hand of luck more than the one thing he needed to do, instead of sitting with a worry on his head that this thing needed to be done but not knowing when or how or why You say what works for you, and it’s finding the thing that works for the individual. 

Yasmin: As you’re speaking, tanya, i’m just thinking about being a single parent bringing up your child and then having their bio dad also there, somehow fitting that in also managing that relationship and their expectations. How did that manifest for you? 

Tanja: So actually we only had a very short lived after Ty was born. We only stayed together for a few months and I just didn’t want to. We’re really good friends but we were never meant to be any more than that, to be honest. So we split our ways And at that time I never really had contact with his biological dad. At that time I saw him a few times a few years after, kind of thing. 

Tanja:: So for me actually, looking back, that was a little bit of a blessing because the struggles that Ty would go on Ty is mixed heritage And so the culture his dad’s culture would have seen things very differently for Ty’s experience. There would have been a lot more pressure on Ty as the first born son and that kind of thing, and so actually in some ways I see it as a blessing because we didn’t have all those cultural kind of pressures growing up that we would have had, because they really started when I was pregnant in a big way And I would have seen things a lot different for him in some ways. So I feel really blessed. So you see that other side of things for me when those pennies dropped, in some ways it was like a weight was lifted. 

Yasmin: Yeah, really trust the process. 

Tanja: Yeah, trust the process and trust just trust in life. 

Yasmin: Yeah, trust life. 

Tanja: We are smashing all these old stereotypes out, aren’t we? Now? this is what the younger generation are doing so beautifully as well. They’re just not buying into these old stereotypes at all anymore, are they No, making their own paths and leading the way, and we’re all having to catch up, which is brilliant in some ways, because it means that those old stereotypes are just being blown away. When we’re working in professional spaces, we don’t really much talk about these kinds of parts of our lives, and I know, certainly in Creative Counsellors  even though I will say in a lot of our training that we’ve got 40 ways create training which is like short-heartened, our best, and I thought well, the only way to show these techniques is to be the client in some ways. 

Tanja: And I’ve always brought real stuff, because otherwise for me, masking and real stuff I can’t blend them very easily. So I just thought I’d just bring real stuff when I’m a client. 

Yasmin: So there’s a load of me in our training place If there’s a parent and they’re intrigued about how they can incorporate creativity. there’s so much talk about talk therapies. It can feel a bit intimidating for a parent to suddenly then make the jump to a creative therapist. 

Tanja: Oh, gosh, yeah. But I think the important thing there is that creativity is something we’re all doing every day anyway. I know when I got up this morning I decided I wanted a greater. I was feeling a little bit not a crazy cool colour, it means like a happy colour, it’s not like a sad colour. So I’ve been in that like. I wanted something grey. I’ve got like green pants on, i’ve painted my nails in an aqua colour today. So I’ll go choose my feed, i’ll place it, i’ll make it look nice because I like the way food looks on the plate. I’ll decide what makeup I put on, what jewelry I put on, what rings I’m wearing. 

Tanja: All of these things is a creative process. It’s how we express ourselves in the world. So, in creativity, when we’re working with young people, for instance, your cards, working with the images of the Polyvagal team card, that’s a creative process because we’re helping the brain to engage in a different way. So, for those who are thinking a little bit like I’m not creative, if you doodle on the edge of a sheet of paper when you’re on the phone, or you like to look in a magazine because you love the images, or you like to do photography, or you go to a really beautiful place and you sit outside and you’re like, oh my gosh, this view is amazing. Look at those colours. You’re a creative person because these kinds of ways of working can help you in a way that is so much deeper than using words alone and talking. So it’s the simplicity of life, i think, brought to life in counselling using your own interests. 

Yasmin: That’s really important, isn’t it? Creativity, for me, is also finding solutions. 

Tanja: Yeah, exactly, it is that creative solution, and we think, even in the context of work in related spaces, looking at problem solving, they always call it creative problem solving. Yeah, bringing your creative skill forward, being able to think of a way out of a situation, and so, for some reason, we’ve pegged creativity as art throughout life. 

Tanja: And I think that happens in school early on, when you feel embarrassed and somebody tells you not to create your opinion or you haven’t done that apple in the right way, and it’s kind of breaking people away from their creative self to just express themselves. But we can find our way back to that as well. So yeah, creativity is important. 

Yasmin: So what exciting things have you got this coming year that could support young people? 

Tanja: Ah yeah, Okay, so we’ve got, obviously, the Concrete Hearts launching. So I have been running a programme up until about six months ago. I paused that programme But that trained facilitators out in the community to guide young people in schools and in community circles through a specific core structure. It was all about empowering young people’s core, creative well-being and mindfulness. That’s been paused because we’ve been recalibrating and recreating a whole new programme If that will be back up and ready for teachers and social workers and parents and anyone who wants to work with young people in the community. 

Tanja: But also we’ve got these new one hour sessions being launched which are really important. So they’re going to just answer all of the everyday kind of things that young people might face or parents might face or people working with young people too, just to help them to be able to understand from a scientific education point what might be happening and what can be done about it. We focus on everything practical because there’s so much information out there. Isn’t it theory but it’s putting it into practice that can be practical There. For us it’s a real practical element on practical skills Teachers, social workers, parents, therapists, anyone who kind of supports some young people, including at home. It’s really important. One hour talk. 

Yasmin: What topics are young people talking about? Tanya from your experience at the moment, and especially after lockdown. 

Tanja: Anxiety. That’s got to be the number one Exhaustion donouts. Finding balance is a big one. I know a lot of young people get told a lot that screen’s bad for you, gaming’s bad for you, all these things But these are the ways that they chill out and they disconnect and cocoon from the world a little bit. So it’s more for me around finding balance than it is about saying this is bad or good for you. So it’s really good to hold those conversations. And how do we have healthy, balanced lives? instead of what’s good or what’s bad for you Same for anything energy, drinks, sugar, whatever it is Instead of putting the lane down the law and saying don’t do it, let’s talk about how we do it healthily in some ways, Compromise, Compromise yeah, exactly, And young people know when they feel rubbish after having something or not, but maybe they don’t connect the dots. So these conversations can help them to really just connect the dots and what’s happening in life. 

Yasmin: And also, i guess, how you approach the subject. If you’ve got someone shouting at you, well less likely to respond are you in a positive way, whereas being able to have a conversation about it and having some choice. 

Tanja: Yeah, i think the choice is experimenting. I know for sure. I don’t know if you remember oh it might be different, i don’t know but my teenage years I sure experienced everything. And if I was told not to do it, i’d do it 10 times just to see what the fuss was about. And you’re either going to do it in plain sight or you’re going to go do it hiding away somewhere else and not speak about it. So for me, i’d rather have a space where young people can try things and then talk about it. What was that like? What was the good, the bad? Would you do it again? How might you do it safely in some ways? So that includes everything like sex relationships, everything, drugs, alcohol, anything. A second open space for discussion in Melbourne. 

Yasmin: And young people, especially teenagers, do get such a bad rack, don’t they that they’re moody, they’re disconnected, they’re rude. I find young people fascinating. As you said, they teach you, don’t they? 

Tanja: They do, And I think for me they’re only rude based on our stereotypes on them. That’s exactly what. 

Yasmin: I was thinking. 

Tanja: Yeah, like these days, like swearing is not rude in some ways. But for maybe when I was growing up, if I sat at the table and swore in front of everyone, that would be deemed as really rude. But now, wherever you go, swearing is like really culturally accepted. It’s like in books, there’s some podcasts, everywhere it’s more culturally accepted, and so for young people being in their culture of their day, swearing is quite normal, and so some of the words I hear young people saying from parents and parents freak out And I think, oh, it wasn’t actually too bad. Yeah, that’s like really calm, they’re really holding back. I feel a bit safe for you, and so even that, or just like hoodsuck, headphones on in restaurants, and for a lot of young people I think there’s so much there’s more neurodivergence being accepted, and you know we’re seeing more and more young people who are neurodivergent, and so a hood up and headphones on it’s not a rude or a choice to be rude. 

Tanja: This is how I cope in the world. I’m quite happy here. I’m taking part in my own way. But you see the looks in restaurants and things when young people sit with headphones on or on their phone or hoodsuck. From the people There’s judgement, And if you see a group of young people walking past with their hoodsuck it’s genuine all the time like the troublemakers. No, they’re just a group of young people walking with their hoodsuck some ways, So there is a lot of judgement for them to face. So sometimes I think they live up to that stereotype then as well. 

Yasmin: So if there is a parent struggling with their teen or they’ve had a new diagnosis, perhaps would you have any parting words you’d like or listeners to know to share with them about bringing up their teens, or parents that may be struggling. 

Tanja: Yeah, i would say absolutely. Firstly, don’t feel alone in this. That’s the most important thing. If you’ve got young people who are struggling, there’s brilliant organisations like Parenting Mental Health. I met Suzanne Alderson, the founder of Parenting Mental Health, and she had me crying in about five seconds on meeting her when she told me her story and how that was developed And that was out of her own experience of raising a young person who was struggling with their mental health, and so she too sat one night at a table, didn’t want anyone else to experience this isolation ever again that she was experiencing and has grown. 

Tanja: This incredible community of parents that is all born out of compassion, curiosity is there as a space for you as a parent to be able to offload, get support, hear from other people who might be experiencing something similar. So again, for me the message would be like don’t sit alone struggling in whatever you’re going through, whether it’s advice to raise your teen, just somebody else to literally let things go over. A cup of tea worth finding a local support group, whether it’s online, whether it’s in person. There’s some great support groups in person all over the UK by lots of different charities for parents or even therapy. Let’s not leave that one out, maybe speaking to someone who can support you with your own mental health as a parent taking care of a young person, because we know when we heal our own path as parents, that will have an impact on the way that we parent and our young people. So just don’t sit alone struggling in that. Really reach out and speak to people and find the support that you need to make a difference. 

Yasmin: It can feel really difficult, can’t it, if you’re in a group of friends or family and everyone else appears to and I say appears, because we never really know, do we? 

Tanja: And it can feel quite vulnerable to say I’m actually not okay, or because it can feel like being judged as a mom Oh gosh yeah, and I think also people I’ve experienced this myself as well when you do maybe reach out, the support that you get back might not be the support that you need. It could be deeply invalidating in some ways if somebody really wants to fix from their own frame of reference again, from their own knowledge base again, so you might be given the worst bloody advice in the world might be by the people who love you the most, because that is all again taking you away from trusting your gut instincts sometimes. Sometimes even when you do reach out, it’s like you might not get the support that you need. So that’s okay, reach out, keep reaching out until you find support that you do need. 

Tanja: Because I certainly had people and family people and friends trying to support myself and my son, but was coming from a approach I was like I’ll get him in school, you got to do this, you got to do that, and actually that was worse for the both of us in some ways. But you follow that because you want to take guidance of people, whereas when you meet people who are going through something similar, there’s a different level of understanding. I think maybe people have been there, come out the other side, going into it in the same way, work together, band together And so definitely find the support that feels right for you, that hits your belly and goes oh, these are my people in some ways. 

Yasmin: So thank you so much for that, tanya, and thank you listeners. That was Tanya Sharp from the Created Counselors community and sharing her story of being a mob, thank you. So if there’s any listeners out there who can relate to what Tanya was saying, perhaps you’ve been in your relationship and you know it’s not good for you and it’s taken you a while, but you’ve actually freed yourself and you’ve got out and it positively impacted your children and you’d like to chat to me about. I would love to hear from you And if you have any questions about creative counselling or perhaps finding a creative therapist for your child or for yourself even, you can find contact details and links to the Creative Counselors community. I a directory of creative counselors all in the showcase notes. This is your host, yasmin Shaheen Zafar, and until next time, have an utterly fabulous day. One connection built, better bonds one reflection built better bonds. 

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About the author: Yasmin Shaheen-Zaffar

With a passion for improving the emotional wellbeing of young people, adults and parents, she is  the founder and creator of Polyvagal Teen®, she has developed an innovative approach to helping teens recognise and manage stress and anxiety through becoming “Polyvagal Aware”. In addition, Yasmin is also the founder of World Let’s Stop Shouting Day, which aims to promote peaceful communication and reduce conflict and aggression in our daily interactions. Neurosloth™ and The Hearts Whisper®

She also runs a small private practice providing counselling and neurofeedback  to young people and adults in North Yorkshire.

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