The Watford school tackling children’s mental health issues with a pioneering therapy technique

Amidst a myriad of concerns regarding the state of the UK’s mental health sector - including a serious lack of funding and huge waiting times for access to services* - one Watford primary school is leading the way inearly-intervention by championing an informed therapy technique, Drawing and Talking. 

Laurance Haines Primary & Nursery School in West Watford, first employed the therapy method in 2012, when the school’s Nurture Leader, Nicola Furey, undertook the training. She comments: “The course was recommended to me by the Nurture Group Network and it’s been central to the wellbeing of the children at Laurance Haines ever since. We do use a number of therapy methods at the school but without a shadow of doubt, Drawing and Talking is by far the most effective.”

Established in 2004, Drawing and Talking teaches an innovative therapeutic method that can be used by adults to help children who have suffered trauma or who have underlying emotional problems that may be affecting their learning and behaviour. Examples include those on the waiting list for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) or other outside agencies as well as children who are showing signs of anxious-avoidant insecure attachment. 

​Gemma Williamson, Nicola Furey and Lizzie Butler 
with pupils from Laurance Haines Primary School.

To date the company has trained over 7,000 professionals and its technique has been implemented in over 5,000 schools across the UK. 

Gemma Williamson is a teacher at Laurance Haines and as Foundation Stage Leader is responsible for the welfare and development of around 120 children, she comments: “I have seen first-hand the response of children who have completed a course of Drawing and Talking and the results are outstanding.

“I truly believe that it provides an avenue for these children to release and share the emotional baggage that they carry and, in turn, improve their ability to learn.”

Designed for teaching assistants (TAs), learning mentors, SENCOs, teachers or anyone who works with children, the one-day training course enables an empathetic adult to facilitate 12, 30-minute weekly sessions to individual pupils, during which they draw and talk. 

Typically, children who are referred for the 12-week programme will have experienced bereavement, bullying, their parent’s divorce, abuse or even unsettling things like moving house and starting a new school.

gemma williamson nicola furey and lizzie butler. laurance haines primary school
​(L-R) Gemma Williamson, Nicola Furey and
Lizzie Butler. Laurance Haines Primary School.

As Deputy Head of Laurance Haines Primary & Nursery School and SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator), Lizzie Butler is the ‘front door’ when it comes to referring children for CAMHS and is very much aware of the demand for early-intervention methods that can be implemented by schools.

It is estimated that 10% of children and young people have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet in some areas of the country, they are stuck on waiting lists for treatment for up to three years**. Lizzie Butler says, “In our school there are around 540 pupils – that’s 54 pupils who need some kind of support – you can see why Drawing and Talking is so valuable to us.” 

At Laurance Haines, a whole school approach underpins the success of Drawing and Talking, with every teacher and TA aware of the method and the remarkable improvements it can help a child achieve. 

“While academic skills are extremely important, we are lucky to have a very forward-thinking leadership team, who understand that the emotional wellbeing of a child is also key to their development,” adds Lizzie. 

Drawing and Talking is currently hosting training days across the UK, as well as its annual conference, where participants have the chance to meet the company’s founder, Maria Beagley. 

“Providing training in talking therapies, such as Drawing and Talking, to the thousands of teachers, learning mentors, nurses and counsellors who help and nurture children daily, will not only lighten the pressure on our health service but improve the wellbeing – and in some cases save the lives - of children and young people,” said Maria. 

​For more information on Drawing and Talking, visit

March 22, 2017

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