Skilled therapists make the difference for families facing uncertainty
We often use phrases like “evidence-based” or “highly effective” to describe the clinical care delivered at CCFH. While these are accurate, they risk creating the impression that treatment for child traumatic stress is formulaic and that positive outcomes are assured, if a family simply follows a prescribed plan. The reality, though, is that each family’s journey through treatment is unique. How long it will take, what obstacles they will face, what will constitute success – all of these things are uncertain at the outset.
That is where our well-trained, well-supported therapists truly make the difference for families. Equipped with evidence-based treatment models, they are a family’s guide through the uncertainty on the path to healing.
Below you will find short profiles of three of our full-time therapists – snapshots from the beginning, middle, and end of the treatment journey. By giving you their perspective from those points along the path, we hope to share insight into what the treatment process is like for families, as well as the remarkable skill, dedication, and compassion of all the clinical staff at CCFH.
“There’s nothing easy about this job.” That’s Tiana’s first thought when asked what she finds most gratifying about her work in the Urbaniak Clinic at CCFH. As an intake coordinator, her role is to meet with families who have been referred to CCFH and determine whether and how a child’s needs can be met with the specialized trauma-focused care provided in the clinic. It’s a role that presents her with many difficult conversations.
The conversations are hard, in part, because families often come to CCFH through extraordinary adversity and painful experiences. Tiana spends two hours with each family during intake, and, while some of that time is devoted to standardized assessments, a large part is simply listening with compassion to what they have been through.
Often, Tiana must also communicate difficult matters to families. For some, it’s a determination that the clinic’s trauma-focused treatment models are not a good fit for their child’s condition or symptoms. For others, it is setting clear expectations for how challenging treatment can be and how much the process may demand of them.
What makes this work gratifying to Tiana, though, is knowing that the purpose of these difficult conversations is to set families up for success in treatment. The path to healing is more certain when a child, his family, and his therapist are well prepared to take the journey together.
“When you are treating a specific diagnosis like PTSD, there is a very scripted way to do it. I’ll tell you, though, we almost never see a child with PTSD only.” In one succinct statement, Jessica conveys the complexity and challenge that she and her colleagues face in caring for children and families who come to the Urbaniak Clinic.
While the evidence-based treatment models used in the clinic are highly structured and well defined, they do not specify how to navigate every variable a therapist may encounter in a case, such as family dynamics, custody circumstances, court proceedings, or developmental issues. In this way, the models function less like a map and more like a list of landmarks that foster healing. It’s up to the individual therapist to chart a course through those landmarks that will work best for a particular child and family.
To chart that course, Jessica draws on her experience, seeks input from colleagues, and applies a certain amount of creativity. She also listens carefully to the family, delving further into their story and clarifying their goals and expectations for treatment. This is especially vital because successful treatment requires a strong commitment from parents or caregivers, and they – not Jessica – are the ones who can provide an enduring healing presence for the child over the long term.
Because of the many variables children bring with them to the clinic, success is never guaranteed. Though the journey is uncertain, Jessica is sustained by knowing that she and the family are on a path together and that it is leading somewhere.
“We all try to make it really festive.” Whitney admires the creative touches her colleagues bring to their celebratory final sessions with clients, but, working with older children and teens, she has perfected her own special approach: over-the-top cheesy. She plays “Pomp and Circumstance” and has everyone stand. She presents the graduate with a laminated certificate and invites her to make a speech. “And that’s usually when the parents start crying,” she says.
Whitney and the other therapists put as much thought and preparation into the graduation as they do all other aspects of treatment. They also give the child a lead role in planning it, especially the food. This is to ensure it is a truly special occasion for the child, but it is also to fix that moment as a significant milestone in his life.
To accomplish this, Whitney helps the child and her parents or guardian reflect back over the journey of treatment before the festivities begin. She prompts them to remember what they were feeling and experiencing when they first came to CCFH, and they talk about high points and low points along the way. This is all to reinforce the narrative of healing that she has helped the child write over the experience of trauma.
After graduation, a child and her family continue on the journey of growth and development without Whitney’s company, but it’s a path no longer overshadowed by trauma. Equipped with hope and resilience, they are on their way to a healthy future.