Helping Traumatized Youth


I recently applied for a position of Youth Counselor for traumatized youngsters living at a Residential Treatment Center in Sonoma County, California. I submitted a resume which I can’t but help feel puts me way at the head of the pack of candidates. But no one’s replied to date to my outreach. Don’t know, but the silence might have something to do with my underscoring in my initial missive to the Human Resource Director that although I was ready to be a team player applying necessary tourniquets in solidarity, I wanted to deal with the sources of bleeding also. Wanted to address what was behind the fact that more and more youth were in need of their services each passing year.

The Center seems to do a bang job respecting psychological counseling already. And considering their success rate over decades, the staff, apparently, is providing excellent job training, etc. too. In short, one would think they weren’t at all in need of any old upstart like me coming along, farting forth this and that new paradigm for dealing with the youth.

Well, yes, if the aim is exclusively to enable those served to acclimate to society. To avoid personal pitfalls (like drug addiction, depression and the like), and secure stable, rewarding jobs upon graduation from the high school which is associated with the Center. If so, YES.

But if we’re really concerned with treating youth in the most appropriate way at this juncture in the 21st Century, we cannot merely employ the approaches that were in gear prior to the dominating emergence of Silicon Valley. For the products coming out of that realm are unhealthy on many serious scores — individually and socially — and to graduate from high school, and mark one’s success by the degree in which one has made lots of money and/or had multiple pleasures connected with what high tech is all about is to be a sad soul, indeed. [I’d be happy to elaborate on this, upon request; the groundbreaking work of cell biologist Dr. Martin Blank and the insights provided by the critical pedagogy of Henry Giroux, though, are worthwhile Googles for now.]

The overt signs of one’s trauma may disappear through a treatment program based on the most popular forms of 20th Century therapy, and youngsters who are targeted for treatment may very well look and feel fine at a given moment. But authentic satisfaction — festooned with embraces of global responsibility — is essential. Meaning, it’s a no-brainer that a teen will look and feel thrilled (along with her/his loved ones) if they make a personal breakthrough, and wind up, say, dropping a drug habit and picking up a check weekly which puts them in a strong, self-serving position. Members of their community will rejoice too. But what about the Big Picture?

What difference will it make, say, to have someone kick a heroin habit, and gain the respect from members of their family and their community, driving a new car… no longer in danger of being part of a, say, hit-and-run scenario? In the Big Picture… down the road. Of course, carving out our personal inroads is something to be proud of, and anyone who has helped a traumatized youth to achieve positive accomplishments of any kind should be applauded, supported. But that goes without saying.

What is not addressed at all nationwide are the many variables that contribute to the traumatizing of youth on an ongoing basis, getting worse weekly. I’m talking about the fact that we can’t expect, say, a dad who might be unemployed and traumatized himself from active duty abroad in one of our abominable wars to not hit his precious kid if push comes to shove.

I’m just giving a few examples here, of course; if you want others, feel free to contact me not only for general discussion, but for consideration of the viable options for dealing with the various dynamics which plague youth today. Which trouble us all.

I can tell you this, though, to encourage a call. I’ve spent the last dozen years plus crisscrossing the nation, taking the pulse of this country in quarters which specialize in the treatment of traumatized youth, and I can tell you definitively that when I say that “many variables” are “not being addressed at all nationwide” I know what I’m talking about.

No one anywhere — as I write this piece — is dealing effectively with how increasing, illegal U.S. wars are guaranteeing that pervasive fear will proliferate, the number of immiserated will increase and/or that our social safety nets are slated to waste away. Our present horrid momentum ensures that improvement on the part of any given individual will be a surface advance, quite shaky for the long run. Good enough to guarantee, say, continued financial support for given non-profits engaged with youth (courtesy of well-meaning concerned citizens), but insufficient for what I called the Big Picture. Which involves seeing the depth and range of the sickness in our society, and not being content with helping youth to merely acclimate to our psychopathology.

What effects are a decrease in privacy and an increase in domestic militarization having on our youth? More importantly, why isn’t something being done about such dynamics — simultaneously — as we treat a given individual with necessary tourniquets? I fear that — with the select examples I’ve given — counselors generally think either that someone else will address the challenges, and/or that effective work is already being done on those counts.

Nothing sufficient is being done, to put it mildly. But that can change, if you do.

Rachel Olivia O’Connor is a freelance journalist. She can be reached at [email protected].


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