The author, who has written widely on abused girls, provides a different perspective by describing how these angry girls sometimes abuse the staff who seek to help them. The article explores why maltreated girls sometimes act abusively to their staff and provides suggestions on strategies for avoiding burnout and maintaining a positive, therapeutic demeanor even in the face of challenging behavior.
Itís an ordinary morning. You enter your office or classroom expecting to have a few minutes alone to get organized for the day. Instead, there is Jill. She is early, and she is using your desk scissors to rip the stuffing out of your chair
Questions streak through your mind such as, "Am I a failure? Is Jill untreatable?" Before you really consider these rhetorical questions, you deal with immediate reality. You get control of the scissors without causing injury to yourself or Jill, and you restrain your desire to plunge the scissors into Jillís body or your own. Now the time has come to congratulate yourself on a job well done and forgive yourself for the very nasty thoughts still coursing through your brain.
If, after taking a deep breath, you can go on to make this event and its consequences therapeutic, you donít need this article. For all individuals who have recurrent dark or helpless thoughts about students like Jill, or who are doubting whether they are the kind, empathetic, caring, and gifted helpers they thought they were, read on: Combat burnout, understand why maltreated girls may abuse you, remember who you are and donít be a loner, act like a bulldog, and be realistic.
Understand Why Maltreated Girls May
These girls have received erratic, poor-quality, or abusive parenting. They may show profound deficits in developmental, physical, academic, and/or social skills. The repercussions? They truly may not know right from wrong. They may not know what to learn or how to learn from us. As nonabusive helpers, we ask girls and boys to trust us and follow our instructions. Why should they? They have good reasons not to. We may show few differences in our overt behaviors from those of their abusers. They may have asked for help before and not received it. In addition, they may have huge reservoirs of bad feelings stored up against those who have maltreated them. It was not safe for them to display these feelings before, but they are safe with us now. So, the geysers of anger, fear, pain, and distrust burst forth and drench us.
Besides having socialization deficits and great amounts of unresolved negative feelings, these girls are also developing people and will show all the cognitive limitations and irrational thinking of people their age. For example, they may believe that you could do anything they asked if you really wanted to. Over the course of treatment, they may show a developmental shift from assiduously copying you to desperately seeking independence from you.
Multimodal treatment is usually optimal for dealing with the complex problems presented by these little girls and teenagers. However, due to lack of family support for treatment, monetary resources, or treatment resources, or due to transportation difficulties, one form of treatment is often all that is available. When therapists are floundering, they frequently blame themselves or disengage from the girls instead of maintaining their focus on the realities of the situation.
Remember Who You Are and Donít Be a
Act Like a Bulldog
Remember, you may be doing exactly
what you need to do, but you need to be a bulldog and not give up. You
may need to do the same thing over and over and over again before you
see the benefits. Progress may build gradually at a snailís pace, and
then it may appear abruptly. You need to have faith that your
nurturance and your modeling of honesty and integrity will ultimately
conquer teenagersí distrust of adults and their attempts to be
impervious to your influence.
You have recognized your strengths and limitations and have developed an appropriate treatment plan. What next? Expect the going to get rough. Seek another opinion on your treatment plan and techniques; this eases your mind that you havenít forgotten something important, and it shares responsibility with others. For peer support, seek ongoing consultation with others as treatment progresses. Plan breaks in treatment intensity and donít try to force yourself to "do it all in I day." Long-term cases can lead to such intense involvement from you that you lose a degree of professional judgment about what is and is not realistic for the girl with whom you are working. Remember, it is she who needs to be most actively involved in your treatment partnership, not you.
Summary and Conclusions
Altruists need and deserve support.
Donít forget that if you are going to work with these tough, needy
girls, you cannot work alone. The child or adolescent you are treating
must participate actively with you in treatment, and families,
professionals, other children and teens, and youth workers must also
be involved. Expect to feel burned out sometimes. Then take action to
fight itóconsult with others, read articles, take a vacation. There
will be some girls you cannot help. Give yourself permission to refer
them to others, and then forgive yourself for not being the perfect
helper for every girl who needs help.