Social and Emotional Skills Groups

What Are Social and Emotional Skills Groups?

Our Social and Emotional Skills Groups have been designed across time within the clinic and on demand for several primary schools. We call these our ‘Magpies’ groups and our preliminary data shows that these are highly effective at teaching the desired skill sets (mindfulness, coping with anxiety, emotional regulation, social skills and self-awareness skills, building self-esteem and resilience) that are important for children in almost all of their everyday settings. We are currently gathering further data for publication on the efficacy of these groups with larger numbers.


Magpies is a focused and systemic acceptance and mindfulness based, transdiagnostic, therapeutic intervention for children with a wide range of social, emotional, behavioural difficulties and mental health concerns. These group therapy programmes generally run for 8-10 weeks, 1.5-hour sessions per week in a small group therapy format. During each session, children will do activities and play games designed to improve their overall emotional wellbeing and social and behavioural functioning in safe environments with highly skilled professionals. Parents and/or Teachers will be provided with notes on each session such that in the week after each session, parents/teachers can spend some time reinforcing the lessons or key messages from the previous session in the larger class settings, if they wish to do so.

Rationale for Magpies

It is widely accepted that mental health difficulties are on the rise. We also know that children with neurodevelopmental differences and/or additional educational needs have likely suffered more academically and socially & emotionally than those that have more typical developmental trajectories. We also know that children in lower SES groups tend to have poorer rates of access to necessary services for the foregoing issues. As such, we are trying to remove as many barriers to mental health supports as possible by developing a programme which tackles some of these ever-increasing commonly experienced difficulties by children in Ireland and of course, across the world.

Current rates of anxiety in children and teenagers are extremely high. In Ireland alone, 22% of adolescents (12-19 years) reported severe anxiety levels, while 26% of young adults (18-25) fell into severe and very severe categories for anxiety (Dooley, O’Connor, Fitzgerald, & O’Reilly, 2019). The ‘My World Survey 2’ found that 4% of their participants had severe depression and another 4% had very severe depression (Dooley et al., 2019). A UNICEF report details how life satisfaction for children in Ireland is lower than in many of the other countries surveyed (UNICEF, 2020). These already high levels of distress have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than one-in-four (27.7%) people screened positive for generalized anxiety disorder or depression during the first week of the strictest COVID-19 lockdown measures in Ireland (Hyland et al., 2020). Specifically in children, one in five 12-year-olds in the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ longitudinal survey reported ‘low mood’ (Growing Up in Ireland, 2021). We are hopeful that treating these difficulties in naturalistic settings and in pre-emptive ways may act as a protective buffer against these difficulties being brought forward into adolescent and adulthood. More generally, we are hoping to increase positive life outcomes for those children that are most at risk. We know that therapy, and particularly ACT Therapy, is an effective treatment for anxiety, and indeed for a wide variety of different mental health difficulties (Ruiz, 2010; Hayes, 2004); having been found equally as effective as treatments such as CBT (Bluett, Homan, Morrison, Levin, & Twohig, 2014), in both clinical and non clinical populations (Swain, Hancock, Hainsworth, & Bowman).

The Magpies programme was originally created by amending individual psychotherapy programmes carried out at Smithsfield Clinic for children in their specialist EBD units in County Meath and in County Dublin but has since been through several iterations and we are now gathering research on this as a pilot programme with the aim of giving further high risk children access to ACT Therapy in their natural settings (e.g., schools) or in other appropriate group based settings (e.g., clinic or local classrooms). Magpies aims to increase skills in children in order to give them tools to cope more successfully and pro-socially with commonly experienced emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties. The Magpies programme specifically focuses on teaching the skills necessary for coping with anxiety, for enhancing self-esteem, for improving emotional regulation skills and for fostering self awareness and social skills. Running this programme in groups allows larger numbers of children access to evidence-based psychotherapy. We recognise that there are a complicated series of factors which often prevent children from accessing much needed psychological support services. One of these factors is the high cost of therapy. Another factor is that children don’t always want to go to therapy. Our aim in designing this programme is to remove as many of those barriers as possible by making the therapy programmes available in school settings during school hours (if commissioned by the school) or at our local LMETB or similar venue (if commissioned by parents), for lower cost to schools or to individual families in return for allowing us to collect anonymised data from the children who attend in order to continue to improve the programme for further cohorts of children.

The Magpies programmes are carried out by several experienced behaviour analysts and several assistant psychologists under the direct supervision of Dr. Sarah Cassidy. Our clinicians all have a minimum of a Master’s degree in psychology or in behaviour analysis. Many of our clinicians also have doctorates in either psychology or behaviour analysis or are currently undertaking doctorates in same. As such, those delivering the therapy are highly skilled individuals with many years of training in precisely these settings.

Contact us

Call Us

Our Location

Fosterfields, Athboy
Co. Meath, C15 A9P3

Get in Touch

For any enquiries, please contact us using the contact details on the page. Alternatively, you can fill out the contact form.

These are just some of the professional and academic organisations that our team are members of: