Bullying, domestic violence, eating disorders and self-harm are just a few of the issues tackled by Phoenix Counselling. The six professional counsellors have teamed up to offer free sessions to young people, believing these challenging economic times make their services vital.

All have extensive experience of working with young people over the past ten years, including time with Oxfordshire County Council’s youth counselling service for 13-19-year-olds.

Each of them also runs a private practice and has children of their own.

Phoenix member Justine Gore-Smith said: “We have seen first-hand how important it is that children and teenagers have the opportunity to talk through difficult feelings when they are dealing with issues.

“Counselling is a way of helping them gain a better understanding of themselves. When there are problems with money and/or unemployment, these issues are exacerbated.

“Young people do not have a voice, so they often act up on behalf of the whole family because they have no other outlet. They do not know how to say what they are feeling, when actually the real problem is what is happening in the whole family,” Ms Gore-Smith said.

“Just growing up is hard but when there are additional issues like drug and alcohol abuse — either them or someone who is a family member, it is much, much harder.”

Typical cases include youngsters cutting themselves with scalpels as a reaction to anxiety about bullying or exam pressure. Others turn to smoking cannabis at school as a way of self-medicating to cope with difficult feelings such as anger.

Ms Gore-Smith added: “We have listened to young women who have been sexually abused and helped them understand how they are putting themselves at risk of STIs and pregnancy and the link between the past abuse and their current behaviours.

“We have helped young men manage their anger constructively instead of setting fire to bins or vandalising school property.

“We have helped young people to speak up against physically and emotionally abusive parents and step-parents, supported young women to escape from forced marriages and helped children and young people work through the devastation after the suicide of a parent.”

Last year, Oxfordshire County Council voted through £18m worth of cuts to its children, education and families division, as part of a £119m reduction of expenditure on public services across the county.

One of the services affected was the Face2Face counselling service, although the council set up seven early intervention hubs to target the most disaffected children and teenagers.

Ms Gore-Smith and fellow cooperative members Debbie Chapel, Hannah Fenton, Lucy Healey, Christine Williams and Irene Williams, aim to persuade schools and health services to meet the cost of Phoenix’s counselling sessions for youngsters.

Some are referred via their GP, others by school or social workers or family members. After an initial session, they receive regular counselling, which in some cases may go on for years.

Phoenix says some of the results of successful therapy include better school attendance, a higher chance of fulfilling potential and stronger resilience and self-esteem. The co-operative also runs one-to-one and group sessions for adults who work with challenging youngsters, to help them deal with stressful situations.

Since starting their cooperative last month, the women, aged between their late 30s and early 50s, have won contracts with three schools and are in talks with several more.

They meet young people at their schools and staff in their own homes but aim to have premises in central Oxford within five years.

The team are expecting turnover for their first year to be £60,000, rising to £175,000 by 2016, which equates to seeing 360 clients in one year, at an average of 12 sessions per person.

Ms Gore-Smith added: “Although some families seek private counselling for their children, many young people come from families who are not able to afford private counselling but are in desperate need of the right support which will enable them to find ways of coping more effectively.

“We want to continue to help all these children and young people.”