Taking Charge: What Works

The following reflection on advocacy is written by Mary-Jane Beach, secretary of the NEAFAST Board. For more information about joining the NEAFAST Board of Directors, please email [email protected].

I remember that in the mid-1990’s, I was working with families, often after school and evenings. I had two children and never seemed to have enough time. Some of the families had various negative and pejorative labels: dysfunction, multi-stressed, multi-problem.

Fortunately, the labels have changed thanks to Positive Psychology, systemic influences, and strength-based practices.  It’s easier to be transparent when we use the same language for clients and providers. With significant encouragement and input from parents, clients and colleagues and the burst of neuropsychiatric / brain research, Bridges, my nonprofit, began to create a new treatment approach, a therapeutic coaching model.

There were a few simple criteria: it had to be positive, playful, rewarding and effective if we were going to help people whose self-esteem and confidence matched the negative labels. My vision was to help people move from a victim stance to self-advocacy. I called it TAKE CHARGE! ® Coaching.

When people came into my office, instead of focusing on the problems, I asked the following "What works?" "When you feel successful, what do you do to feel as if you are successful at home, in school, at work and in your community?"

Calling it "Coaching" was perceived as welcoming, in contrast to mental health care. How many times did I hear: I’m not mental, I won’t go to a mental health clinic. I have a dyslexia, I don’t need a psychotherapy group. A group of adults with ADHD and Learning Disabilities, some of whom were science teachers or parents, began to envision a tool kit with symbolic tools instead of paper.

Simultaneously groups of students ages 8 and older, social workers and educators, introduced puppets, animal stories and bibliotherapy. My TAKE CHARGE! tool kit grew to include hands-on tools in a safety net bag, surveys for self-awareness, twelve resiliency lessons, and experiential activities to build relationships while accommodating the range of skills: learning, processing, emotional and behavioral styles.

Almost every group program concluded with Stories of Resilience, prepared as a creative writing activity and published with the participant. The Stories had to honor and respect the privacy of the individual and use empowering language. How do you translate weeks or months of perhaps painful work to a positive story they will be proud to share?

Participant’s began to describe their strengths and abilities, they spoke of what they could do, and they began to laugh and work together.  We began seeing signs of resilience theoretically emanating from a strength based multisensory approach in groups that focused on SELF AWARENESS and SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS.

Building Bridges

About 10 years ago, for more than 5 years, I participated in a Barnstable County Project called the Cape Cod Youth Empowerment Initiative. Twenty-five youth serving organizations participated in Positive Youth Development (Search Institute) training, collaboration, non-profit leadership and organizational capacity building. We were encouraged to share resources and create more integrated programs and partnerships to benefit youth and families. My project was TAKE CHARGE! ® At Home with Stories of Resilience, an adaptation of the TAKE CHARGE! Groups and Coaching we developed.

Family and systems consultants helped me describe and evaluate the model although it was most often implemented in programs with providers from other disciplines.  The following people from the MFT community played a significant role: Alan Sloboknik, LICSW, Gonzalo Bacigalupe, Ed.D., M.P.H.; MaryAnna Ham, Ph.D., Jacqueline Gagliardi, L.M.F.T, and William James College Students and Joan Cancilla, LMFT, LMHC; and MFT Interns Sarah Reyburn, Carolee Abbott, Elizabeth Stevens, and Betty Anne Bevis.

Let’s bring some history back in focus with current needs! These goals relate to NEAFAST, EOHHS and BRIDGES vision for Cape Cod. I suggest that this is what needs to happen going forward:

  1. Develop regional supervision and training that is accessible, relevant and attentive to self-care of therapists.
  2. Model cross-sector or cross-disciplinary teams after the Pediatric Prevention Team that was organized to reduce incidence of child abuse and neglect and reduce E.R. visits and inpatient admissions.
  3. Expand after school and community-based programs that include wellness, educational achievement and public health goals and objectives such as Nutrition / Cooking, Self-Awareness, Nutrition, Mindful Movement/Fitness, Creative Arts & Play, Healthy Social Relationships and Family Education.
  4. Participate in an EOHHS Listening Session. It’s not too late! There are sessions scheduled through August 14th. If you speak at a session, your comments are transcribed and posted. I went to the 2nd EOHHS listening session at Cape Cod Community College on June 18, 2019.  It was very well attended by a representative sample of consumers, families, providers, schools, advocacy organizations, and constituents. Sen. Julian Cyr (D Truro) came in and spoke about his interest and concerns. The meeting was informative, exciting and affirming for me as a family therapist.

In our community the important takeaways were:

  • Family advocates and consumers pled for more family sensitive behavioral health care and support.
  • Parents and young adults over 22 are left without help when they lose Special Education Services.
  • The future of ambulatory behavioral health care may be in schools and primary health care offices.

Attend a listening session in your community or somewhere in the state this summer. Prepare a brief statement of support for families and your profession. Let us know about your experience.

Mary-Jane Beach is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an AAMFT Clinical Fellow (since 1987) and an Approved Supervisor (since 2003). She has worked in behavioral health, health, education and community systems for more than 45 years on Cape Cod and in Boston. She founded Bridges Associates, Inc. in 1989, as a private not-for-profit 501c3 organization with her husband John, a Licensed Educational Psychologist and Special Education Consultant. Their mission is to help children and adults take charge of their lives. They offer professional services (evaluation, consulting and coaching) and community-based group programs. They strive to build bridges among systems to help those who have barriers to success and who may have disabilities or special needs.

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