by LeesaMaree Bleicher
The issues some youth face are multifaceted and complex, and the causes of their suffering are often left unnamed. And so as therapists, teachers, and caregivers, we often treat the only thing we can see: the symptoms. Meanwhile, the causes underlying the symptoms can get left behind. Our treatments are further limited by our individual scopes of practice, and sometimes we are only able to addresses a small part of the problem.
Rather than providing limited care, I would like to think that our primary dedication with children is to relieve suffering, to inspire hope and to remove the victim stigma. Through this work done well, we could empower youth to become survivors and eventually leaders.
We can never forget that some youth are still in terrible situations and are often going right back into the eye of the storm. Our goal should be to be the calm in the storm, a safe harbor where they can take a moment to breathe. In the short time we have, our efforts should be restorative, not punitive; healing, not harmful. We should strive to find balance between giving them the love they so desperately need, while giving them tools for resilience, inspiration to instill hope, and guidance to draft the unwritten dreams in their hearts. It’s the dreams which will carry them through the gloom and into the illumination of their potential, and once they feel that ray of what is possible, they become their own saviors. They come to us tired, weary, and worn from the cruelty of the world, and we have one opportunity to help. The universe trusts us to care and to teach them to dream.
The issues youth face are so complex. They are tied by ribbons of silence, stained with tears and years of having to hide behind joyless smiles and canned laughter. They are twisted up in the disease and dysfunction of past generations and are often expected to bare the sins of the mother and father. We find this in children who grow up witnessing domestic violence who watch their parents use drugs and alcohol.
Violence and the drug abuse become the norm of everyday life, and if youth don’t assimilate, they become altered and estranged, delinquent and disenfranchised. They act out in ways that are destructive, harming themselves and their communities. But each acting out is a really a cry, as if to say “help,” even as they are pushing you away. Our mission is to keep caring, keep trying, keep telling them how precious, how valuable and how loveable they really are. Teaching them to dream while they live in nightmares; teaching them compassion in a world that has only been cruel to them; and caring—above all caring. When they are shutting us out as they self-destruct before our eyes, we stand steadfast, ready and waiting to care.
As a profession, we owe it to youth to begin to alter our global perspective and shift from being punitive to being restorative and nurturing. In the effort to relieve the suffering of youth, we must find a way to embrace them and encourage them. To do this, we need to implement compassion as the core competency and mindfulness as the means by which we deliver it.
Visit LeesaMaree Bleicher, along with M. Mick Gardener, at the 2015 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference in their 90-minute breakout session called enlighten: a Trauma Informed Mindfulness Based Therapeutic approach combining Restorative Justice as an answer to youth involved in the criminal justice system. Promoting the concept of: Survivor Empowerment not Victimization of Recovery not Incarceration.