Child abuse counseling is a specialized field of counseling that focuses on treating children who may have been injured or traumatized by a trusted loved one. The children that Amy Southerland, Liz Goldy and Karen Chapman, clinical social workers for Family & Children’s Place, see may be victims of abuse themselves, or they may have witnessed someone they care about being abused – a parent or sibling.
Following is the fourth in a series of published conversations with Southerland, Goldy and Chapman about their work, the process, the challenges, the impact and the rewards. First in the series. Second in the series. Third in the series.
QUESTION: HOW SIMILAR ARE YOUR CASES AND CLIENTS?
Karen Chapman – There no two clients who are alike. Each is different and each will tell you what they want to do. I had one who wanted to avoid talking about anything, so he created a “feeling obstacle course.” He created lava fields and other obstacles to avoid, and he finally realized that this only made it hurt more, so in time he opened up. You have to meet each child where he or she is.
Amy Southerland – You have to be adaptive, too. It’s easy to see when things are going south, and they can go south in a hurry! So you have to read the child and the situation and react to it … to give the child what he or she needs.
Karen Chapman – I try to use what appeals to the child. For one it was Pokémon, so we created card to help him understand and deal with his anger issues. For another it was wrestling, so we watched a wrestling video and then talked about it. Another preferred the sand tray and art – we use whatever it takes to put the child at ease, what he or she wants to do.
We create a safe space for kids to talk with their parents in the room. This doesn’t really happen anywhere else. Children often are afraid or reluctant to share things with or in front of their parents, but we give them a place to do it with no risk of penalty. We create code or safe words they can use and we give the parents ground rules.
QUESTION: WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
Karen Chapman – There is a typical Monday, a typical Tuesday and a typical Wednesday, but there is no typical day for any of us. It’s always different, always changing.
I usually see from four to five children a day – young children in the morning and teens in the afternoon. It’s never the same.