I am currently a therapist that works primarily with children who are in foster care and have extensive trauma. While it can be emotionally draining to hear about traumatic events that have happened to these children, I know that what I am doing and the work that we do in therapy is only going to benefit them. I cannot change what has happened to them, however, I can help them process their trauma and develop the skills necessary to move forward and have successful lives. I can only meet them where they are at now, and go from there. Children are going to vary in their experiences and coping skills, so you have to be willing to meet kids where they are at no matter what. I hope this helps.
Kasey Hart, MSW
Great question! I personally am trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), so the majority of my clients are children or adolescents that have been through the unimaginable and resilient is the only word I can I use to describe every single child I have had the privilege of working with. Yes, this involves hearing the unimaginable that these kids have endured, which of course is tough, but I was able to truly see this therapeutic intervention work within the first few weeks of utilizing TF-CBT. As much as I believed in the therapy itself throughout my training, I don't think anything would have prepared me to actually watch the improvement happen so explicitly in front of my eyes. One of my first clients utilizing TF-CBT struggled to even have a discussion without being prompted due to being completely shut down emotionally, was unable to go to school, leave the home without their guardian, and on the verge of failing school for the first time in their lives. Watching this child go from what they described as an "empty shell that just feels numb" to not only be able to identify, express, and feel their emotions, but their continued and consistent ability to manage these intense emotions as they came to very serious and painful realizations about their trauma. I started noticing the "magic" I will call it when they actively refused to give up on treatment and made a commitment to make it to the trauma narration component due to believing that just getting there was enough, because that is when they believed their healing would truly begin. You pick and choose your battles throughout any form of trauma therapy and this was a belief I didn't try to correct due to not seeing anything being caused but pure motivation.
Another part of TF-CBT is not correcting negative thought processes that are harmful and/or hurtful when it is related directly to their trauma until AFTER the trauma narrative is complete to allow them the opportunity to tell their story in the most genuine and pure way possible. This component was extremely tough for me, because jumping directly to challenging these painful and intense thoughts and beliefs came so natural and instead I had to sit back and wait, which was a learning experience to say the least. Fast forward to a few more sessions in, probably week 5, the energy in the room was noticeably different immediately. Assuming something was "wrong", I started working towards processing whatever intense emotion they were struggling with. What this amazing child did for me that day is hard for me to even put into words, because that energy I felt in the room continued the entirety of the session and they were most definitely dealing with intense emotions. Including, liberation, realization, shifting blame to be aimed towards their abuser, while completely reducing their own guilt and assigned blame they had struggled with for so many years, and true clarity. Watching this EXTREME transformation was incredible, but also gave me hope and pure respect towards this child that never thought they would ever feel better a month prior to coming to significant and painful realizations that I had seen debilitate grown men and women over that next hour without even realizing how much strength and vulnerability that took. I am blessed that was my first experience with trauma work, because I can count on one hand how many times I have seen this at that intensity since.
So to answer your first question, yes, of course it is tough and some cases are harder for me than others, so that is what I utilize my supervisor and coworkers for, to not only staff the complex cases with another mental health professional to get their insight and perspectives, but also to express my own personal struggles with people that understand and can help me through it. I cannot effectively do trauma work and essentially could cause more harm if I am being triggered or not in a good place myself mentally, so if there's any advice I can give you it is to utilize your supervisors and staff as much as you possibly can, especially when dealing with the difficult cases, because this career choice is 100% a team sport, so I think that's what makes the difference of it getting "better" or not. Knowing I have the capability of helping kids, or even adults through the unimaginable is definitely beneficial to help me to compartmentalize, but continue to stay aware of your emotions and when something feels off, then something is usually off, right? So, figuring out what triggered that emotion, thought, belief, etc., is imperative to truly provide your future clients with the best possible care in my opinion.
You will get sick of hearing this, but there's a reason they say it so much. Make sure you are taking care of YOU. Thanks for the question and good look on your journey! :)
The short answer is all kinds. Boys, girls, elementary through high school age. I never found it hard to listen to what they were going through, as long as I remembered to be empathetic and try to look at things from their perspective. It does get easier with time and practice, as long as you are fully engaged in the process. There is no particular "type" of child that ends up in counseling, though children who display depressive symptoms or hyperactivity issues are among the most common types of cases I have encountered in my work. I have met children who were dealing with their parents' divorce, social anxiety, suicidality, grief over the death of a loved one, hyperactivity, anxiety and/ or depression, to name a few. The variety can feel amazing at times.
I hope you find this helpful.
This is a very important question! There are things we don't learn in college, and therefore we only know when we go to the workplace. This happened to me!
So I can't think of a better way to tell you than to quote Jung (Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist):
"Know all theories, master all techniques, but by touching a human soul, just be another human soul."
What I mean is: it doesn't matter what kind of children you meet while you work, but how you work when you meet them.
One child will always be different from the other, with their challenges, struggles, achievements, and (multiple) intelligence. The important thing is that you have a good support network (pedagogical and emotional) at the school/environment where you work, such as parents, teachers, psychologists, and other specialists in areas where the child and the teacher need help. Yes, I said teacher, because every educator deserves specialized support to be able to better serve the child. It's like the flight instructions we receive from flight attendants: "first put on your oxygen mask, and then help put the equipment on anyone who has difficulty".
That's it! Hope this helps!