Michelle Mott has spent hours volunteering to counsel local families affected by trauma and has been recognised with a special honour.

Westfield Local Hero finalist Michelle Mott has been a volunteer parent counsellor at Warriewood’s Be Centre Foundation for the past 10 years. Michelle, who lives in Bayview, provides counselling at the not-for-profit to parents whose children attend play therapy at the centre and has devoted hours of her time to the role.

Originally from England with a background in nursing, Michelle completed her master’s degree in counselling and psychotherapy over 10 years ago here in Australia and finds that volunteering is very rewarding.

Michelle has been with Be Centre for 10 years

Be Centre has six play therapy rooms and 10 play therapists who help children aged three to 12 with complex trauma to process emotions through play. Children are often referred to Be Centre by psychologists or teachers.

Issues the children face could be separation, divorce, or a parent dying, Michelle tells Peninsula Living Pittwater.

“Some of the children might be really angry and a parent might say, ‘Oh gosh, what’s going on here?’. They’re just lashing out, or they’re hitting out at school,” says Michelle. “But that’s usually because they’re really struggling and not able to say, ‘Oh Mummy, I’m really worried about (this or that).”

But it’s not just the children who need help.

“Parents really need their own support as well,” says Michelle. “Either because they have their own mental health illness or it could be because of their own attachment to their parents. “Some parents haven’t really ever been taught how to parent.”

Michelle runs free one-on-one courses for parents, couples or blended families while the children are in session. “Sometimes we have a couple that are blending a family and say, ‘We’ve both got different parenting styles. How can we meet in the middle?’”

Children’s play therapy has to be consistent, with 12 weekly sessions of 40 minutes. Some parents cannot afford the costs, Michelle says.

“We do run scholarships for some parents that are not working, but as a not-for-profit organisation, we fundraise madly to pay for one child to go through 12 sessions,” she explains.

As a Westfield Local Hero finalist, Michelle received $5,000 for Be Centre which will be put to good use.

In each play therapy room, there are lots of figurines, an art area, a dress-up area, plus a sand tray area. Each room is set up the same, so there’s continuity for the child each week.

Once they’re in session, there’s no structure.

“It really is what the child brings to that session,” Michelle explains. “Sometimes they might not talk about anything, but through play or sand tray work, something might come up that is then talked about.

“Parents really need their own support as well. Some parents haven’t really ever been taught how to parent.”

“We’re mostly seeing children about five years old,” she says. “That seems to be our age group at the moment.”

Michelle wasn’t paid for the first few years at Be Centre, but as she started to work more hours, she now gets paid a little per client. She says she’d probably earn more in the private sector, but likes helping the community.

“I do love my work,” she says.

Be Centre has recently received funding from the NSW Health for a children’s group art therapy program which will start in term one. With a theme of climate change, young people with anxiety can express their feelings through art in a safe and culturally sensitive environment with an art therapist and some local guest artists.

The workshops will culminate in a community art exhibition in Manly. On the opening night, many of the young artists will be able to speak about their artworks, giving them agency and a voice, the centre says.

Be Centre is also supporting a free program, ‘seasons of growth,’ for children aged nine to 12 with the aim of empowering them to navigate change and loss.

To learn more about Be Centre Foundation, visit becentre.org.au