"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

The good: This week a young lady hugged me and said "thank you, you help me so much." I will most definitely complain about life as a social worker often, but when I am blessed with moments like these it reminds me why I love my job and refuels me to continue on this crazy journey. Between the paperwork, office politics, struggling to pay the bills, and driving all over town, there are sessions where you are able to truly connect with a client and help them to work through all the hurt that has been imposed on them by parents, grandparents, community members, systems and even themselves. The children I have worked with have taught me more about the world than all the higher education I obtained has. Children are more resilient than we give them credit for and they prove it to me every day. Many of them have endured unimaginable experiences and develop incredible coping skills in order to manage their worlds. My experience is that adults tend to believe that children are not aware of what is going on around them... and adults are usually wrong. I have heard children and adolescents discuss family and personal problems in such insightful and mature ways that they often make parents appear ignorant. My hope is to be able to provide a safe space for children and adolescents to cry, laugh, explore, process, tolerate emotions, and build their self-esteem because some kids just don't get this at home. More importantly, I've seen children and adolescents do the work to help themselves cope with seemingly hopeless life circumstances. If you look close enough, children will without a doubt always impress you... that is, if you let them.

The bad: Lately, I have been thinking about what a challenging responsibilty it is to be a parent. One of the worst parts of being a therapist is explaining to a parent that you are going to report them for abusing their child. If you are lucky, they cry instead of scream. Mothers will often describe how they never desire to hurt their children, but they become overwhelmed and resort to violence. Sometimes there will be a child that is so difficult and out of control that you can empathize with the parent even if when you don't agree with their methods. You listen to them share their own trauma narrative of their childhood. I can't help but think to myself, well these people didn't know any better. These parents are abused children themselves. Abusive parents generally have not been able to process their own feelings about the abuse they have endured. This is especially common with parents who have immigrated from other countries. Some cultures indicate to parents that it is not only ok, but normal to physically abuse your child. Upon arrival in the US, the rules have immediately changed and they often don't even know it. Their children acculturate to Americanized ideals and values learned in schools and communities that often contradict their traditional ones from their place of origin. I am the white woman who has reported them to the authorities. I have to remind myself that these laws protect these children and hopefully a report will stop abuse or provide support in some way for overwhelmed parents. Being a therapist in this population is challenging. I cannot imagine the burden that state social workers have of deciding whether an abused child should stay in their home or be removed. I admire social workers who work hard to keep these kids safe, so that I don't have to. (there is an abundance of bad decision making on the part of these workers as well, which I'm sure will come up in a later post)

The ugly: The ugliest thing about my job is listening to children describe the awful things that adults have done to them. Children trust the adults in their lives to protect them and they are repeatedly disappointed. Ironically, no matter how severe the abuse, most of the children defend their abuser and want to remain with them (especially if it is a parent). These wounded children grow up to be unhealthy and dysfunctional adults and then parents... and so the cycle continues. When adults take advantage of children, children are not only robbed of their childhood, but also their chance of having a healthy adulthood is decreased. One child molester who Oprah interviewed stated that his actions, "killed the person she (his victim) could have been." These abusive adults do not model healthy and supportive relationships and boundaries. Therefore, children grow up with a skewed perception of how relationships should be. Abused children who do not receive any mental health treatment can become our ugliest members of society... they are the drug addicts, prostitutes, rapists, and murders. And to be honest, after listening to what children have endured, it is no surprise to me. All the proof you need is in any drug rehab facility or prison. Take for example the show Intervention. It is almost becomes comical how each and every person on this program has an almost identical past. Every episode a new person discloses their experience of being physically or sexually abused and/or neglected by someone they trusted as a child. Hopefully, through therapy abused children can cope with the ugly things that adults do and end the cycle of abuse.

Child abuse hotline: (800)540-4000