We recently sat down with two of our therapists to find out more about their work with children who might have been abused or neglected or have witnessed violence. Jan Pelletier and Taylor Newman both work in our Bluffton office.
Jan & Taylor, as therapists, what do you see as your main role?
Jan: As a therapist, I believe my main role is to help my clients create new opportunities for growth and positive change in their lives. Empowering our clients is paramount because it not only provides a sense of control and a claim to their rights as individuals, but also develops a sense of personal value and capacity that our clients can draw from throughout their lives. Ultimately, I want my clients to have the confidence and knowledge to make informed choices and to engage in the world in a meaningful way.
Taylor: My main role is to provide evidence-based trauma treatment to children who have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse or any type of traumatic event, and adult survivors of sexual assault and child sexual abuse. My role includes working with children and families toward their healing process and communicating with other disciplines to ensure client needs are met.
What drew you to the field of therapy and counseling and working in a therapeutic environment with kids?
Jan: Even as a child I loved children and knew I would ultimately work with kids. I was the neighborhood babysitter and at family get-togethers I could always be found with the “little ones.” I believe I was able to connect with children so early on because I was a sensitive child. I had a sharpened sense of awareness that was perhaps lost on my parents – with a family of seven children it is easy to understand how that can happen! I found solace in interacting with children because there was a kind of synergistic relationship – they enjoyed getting attention from me and I felt validated by the connection. Connecting with children helped me to experience my sensitivity as a strength.
Taylor: I recently graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Master of Social Work in May of 2018. I have always had an interest in working in the mental health field, however a trauma-informed social work practice course I took in graduate school is what sparked my passion for working with children. I have been a therapist with Hopeful Horizons since August of 2018.
I would imagine that some children that you work with stay very close to your heart. What part of that child’s story impacts you the most? What are the things you most remember about a child?
Jan: What stays with me most about the children that I work with is not their trauma, but their resilience – their ability to overcome hardship, and in our work at Hopeful Horizons that means their ability to overcome trauma and abuse. Resiliency is unique to every child – it is a compilation of various traits and skills that we foster and encourage throughout therapy. For some children, that “shift” of resiliency happens early on, for example, when they understand the frequency of abuse and that they are not alone. For others, building skills over time helps them feel empowered and in control of their feelings and subsequent reactions. What is most inspiring is that resiliency can be taught – and learned! – and used throughout a lifetime!
What is the most critical piece of the healing process? What signs do you see that tell you a child or a parent is beginning to heal?
Jan: Healing is unique to the individual, but if I had to choose one critical piece I would say there must be an opportunity for hope. Depending on the needs and experience of the child, hope presents itself in different ways. A child may feel relief and hope after telling their experience in a forensic interview, another may feel hopeful when she learns that her experience of abuse is not her fault. Perhaps the biggest sign that the healing process has begun, and our clients are feeling hopeful, is when they attend that very first session. I am most appreciative for the courage (and hope!) that our clients exhibit by walking through our doors.
Tell us a little about working with parents who have experienced abuse in the past. How do you help them cope with their own pain and their child’s pain at the same time?
Jan: Unfortunately, having a parent who has experienced childhood trauma significantly increases the chances that the child will also experience trauma in their lifetime. That is very evident in the work we do at Hopeful Horizons. The trauma that our child clients experience is often a trigger for untreated abuse the parent may have experienced. The flexibility of our services allows for treatment of childhood sexual abuse for both children and adults. I am always so grateful to have the opportunity to offer individual services to a parent who may be re-experiencing their childhood trauma and we very often have both parent and child simultaneously receiving individual services by our team of clinicians.
You’ve mentioned the importance of communication - parents and children talking about what they’ve gone through and being able to communicate to each other about the experience. What stands out to you about this? What is important for parents to know about that communication?
Taylor: Acknowledging trauma exposure between parents and children is key. When children can communicate with their parents about the trauma they have experienced, it’s almost as if you witness a weight being lifted off their shoulders. One thing that really stands out to me is the listening component of communication. Children seeing that their caregivers are genuinely hearing what they are saying and feeling, and that need is a huge part of the therapeutic process and having children succeed in treatment. It’s important for parents to know children simply need someone to hear them and sit with them through their experience.
You hear a lot of heartbreaking stories and work with families who need so much healing. That has to be a very tough job. What do you do to take care of yourself and your own family?
Taylor: Self-care is something that I’m working to improve on every day. I try to make sure when I leave work, I don’t talk to anyone about my work day. I like to watch a few episodes of something on Netflix (usually Greys Anatomy!) or find myself shopping at Target. I try and remind myself that I am one piece of a family’s puzzle. I also love to snuggle up with my pup Koda and blast music!
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Jan: If I could have a superpower, it would be two-fold: I would love to be able to travel back in time and live the life of a famous person. I am especially intrigued with Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), who was incredibly clever and wrote her own rules of what it meant to be Queen. To be a woman in power during the Middle Ages must have been very difficult yet super rewarding!
Taylor: If I had a super power it would be to move at lighting speed!