Sara Young, who runs a practice in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, has launched Changing Minds with Pick Up a Penny (CIC) with the initial specific goal of raising money to construct a £3.7m centre in Northumberland.

She has ambitious plans to address further the rapidly growing problem of access to mental health therapies across the country, significantly as waiting periods for CAMHS and Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services can range from weeks to months.

The planned mental health centre in Northumberland will offer alternative therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), recently promoted by Prince Harry, and Neurotherapy and integrative psychotherapy.

One of the UK’s biggest brick manufactures, Forterra, has backed Ms Young’s plans by offering free building materials for the new centre in Northumberland. And Barclays Bank has also stepped up by offering its network of Northeast retail banks as an opportunity to fundraise.

Ms Young commented that the idea behind the project is to address psychological issues in children and young people before they have the time to become entrenched, and “because the facilities include well designed shared space, they will provide the opportunity for professionals to take continued professional development learning and adapting the very latest in therapies and pioneering techniques.”

The treatment for those most in need will be paid for by accessing additional funding streams. These funding streams have included the National Lottery Communities and extra funding from the IAPT programme due to the Government's £500m investment in mental health services in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“One size doesn’t fit all” – increasing accessibility to diverse therapeutic innovations

Ms Young said that early in her training, she realised that for many children and young people, their needs were not being met, although her voice mainly went unheard in the professional hierarchy:

“I thought people would listen to my request for change and more provision for children, young people and their families, but sadly that didn't happen. Instead, I was told I needed a PhD to be listened to… So, after two years of meetings and consultations at various departments and then universities, I was accepted at Northumbria University to do my PhD.”

During her PhD training, Ms Young said that she realised that the diverse symptoms that she was coming across were not being met by the range of psychotherapies traditionally offered on the NHS.

“I would often get asked why this therapy isn’t available on the NHS at that time I was working as an integrative psychotherapist and had trained in EMDR. I had no real response other than Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was a highly evidence-based former of therapy and was used a lot within the NHS mental health service.”

While Ms Young said that she believes that CBT “has a place as a therapeutic approach”, she added that multiple other therapies such as Transactional Analysis (TA), EMDR, and Neurofeedback, also should be more widely available to better treat the individual symptoms of service users.

“I truly believe one size doesn't fit all, and you have to approach working with each child and young person in the way that meets their needs as opposed to what's available or your own personal view. It's not about me; it's about the children, young people and their families and providing what they need.”

She said that one specific experience of working with a child who had been diagnosed with ADHD profoundly impacted her thoughts on the limitations of available therapy and her desire to explore Neurofeedback as a treatment for that neurodiversity.

“I had been working with a young boy who had a diagnosis of ADHD, and he had come such a long way in his therapy with me, but on this one day, he came in, sat down and was very different. He began to rub the backs of the patchwork chairs that I had in my room and was so engaging and animated I asked, ‘what's different about you today? You are so different, and he replied, ‘oh, my Mam forgot to give me my meds’. I then asked, ‘what's it like to not be on your medication’ to which he replied, ‘I feel alive, I feel free’.”

Once the first centre in the Northeast of England is established, Changing Minds with Pick up a Penny plans to lay the foundations for 69 new therapy centres in each UK cities. The centres will cater to every child, young person, and adult struggling with any issue related to their mental health and wellbeing and provide training for therapists, families, and organisations wishing to learn more about mental health.

Ms Young commented: “I’m aware this will be a big undertaking, but the aim is that the first centre will be a template and foundation from which to build on. Once other cities see what we are doing and the evidence we provide, they will want to support a centre in their city.”

“My dad was the inspiration for the Pick up a Penny Campaign, as a number of years ago he had cancer and following his treatment he decided to pick up the pennies that he found on the ground and at the end of each year he would donate the money to Cancer Research. He would find about £30 a year.”

“One day I rang him and went round for a cuppa, and I said, ‘Dad, what do you think about me asking people if they find a penny to pick it up and donate it to Changing Minds with Pick up a Penny? If even half the population of the UK found and donated just £1 it would raise about £33 million’. My Dad smiled, laughed and said, ‘that’s a wonderful idea Sara’.”