Change of career

My daily work in the Family Support Center often resembles more that of a teacher than a clinical psychologist. I give the staff weekly training on different mental health related topics and try to create effective learning tools and materials. 

I have had some great teachers in my life and I notice that I now try to mimic their teaching methods. When I am feeling really courageous I even try to make up some techniques of my own.

Last month, the focus of the training was children. We noticed that all parents presenting at the Family Support Center with traumatized children did not necessarily provide the children most adequate emotional support. For example, there was a case where a family accused a 12-year-old-girl of sexually abusing their seven-year-old son. From our examinations at the Family Support Center, it appeared that it was a case of common child-to-child play and natural children’s curiosity rather than sexual abuse. The family, however, wanted to solve the case by putting the two small children in front of the village court. We feared of course that this might only traumatize the children further. In the last month’s training I therefore talked about early attachment, children’s healthy emotional development, about how to support it, and factors that might jeopardize it. The Family Support Center staff can then use this information when treating children and also to educate the parents.

Related to this training, I also educated the staff about child sexual abuse and its effects on children’s later development and mental health. Since we receive quite a number of cases of suspected child sexual abuse, I also taught the staff some techniques on how to investigate such cases. Since children are very suggestible, it is important that the child is encouraged to give a free narrative of the event and that the interviewer avoids all kinds of leading and suggestive questions, as well as any type of coercion. We discussed the importance of developing alternative explanations to the allegations in order to avoid people being wrongfully accused of sexually abusing a child and also to avoid creating traumas for the child. I also taught the staff about common age-appropriate sexual behavior, since children sometimes naturally exhibit behavior of sexual nature and it is important for health care workers to know what behaviors may likely indicate sexual abuse and which signs likely may not. The topic is complex and challenging, but luckily the Family Support Center staff are motivated and very knowledgeable, which facilitates the teaching.

Usually I give training sessions in the afternoon after all the patients have gone home. By then, some nurses tend to be tired since they often have to get up around 5 am in the morning to prepare food for their families before they head to work. Therefore our sessions are often preceded by a short muscle exercise or intense salsa dancing to get the blood circulating. We close the door to the training room, turn up the volume of the rhythmic music and dance, dance, dance our hearts out for some minutes. This pedagogical technique is one of those I am most proud of.