Graduate student Tyeisha Deas is learning the skills to work with severely traumatized youth.

Tyeisha Deas is learning the skills to treat severely traumatized youth.

by Ela Schwartz

In her 13 years as a family advocate for Child Protective Services in New York City, Tyeisha Deas has seen her share of children who needed the intervention of a social worker. Some of them suffered from severe trauma—the result of physical abuse, domestic violence or sexual abuse— but her work with such children was limited. “I did initial contact and then referred them to more specialized agencies,” she said.

But Tyeisha wanted to do more; she wanted to be the person who would help these severely traumatized children and adolescents heal. “We want to help children who were exposed to abuse or violence get to a place where they can have some sense of normalcy,” she said.

Tyeisha decided to pursue her M.S.W. in order to learn the skills that would enable her to work with these severely traumatized children and teens. Now enrolled in the Adelphi University Master of Social Work program, she is participating in training and mentoring offered through the program’s newest initiative: the Institute for Adolescent Trauma Treatment and Training.

In May 2013, Tyeisha began participating in a year-long trauma treatment training program that included three days of training at at MercyFirst, one of the largest residential youth treatment programs in New York. She and eight fellow graduate students and more than 30 MercyFirst staff were trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Clinicians from other social service agencies, including Hope for Youth, Madonna Heights SCO Family of Services, and the New York City Children’s Center, Queens campus also participated in the training, with the goal of creating a community of trauma-informed professionals.

Evidence-based therapy that enables children to heal

According to Victor Labruna, Ph.D., who, along with Mandy Habib, Psy.D., serve as co-directors for the Institute, TF-CBT is a widely used, evidence-backed method for treating trauma. Tyeisha and the other students learned how to help children regulate their responses and get comfortable telling their stories and confiding in a trusted adult, who becomes part of the therapeutic process.

“Often, children may not recognize that their behavior may be the consequence of trauma,” Dr. Habib said. “They may feel like there is something wrong with them, and may not understand that their symptoms are a normal response to traumatic events. Part of TF-CBT involves helping children normalize these responses.”

“As a Child Protective Services worker, TF-CBT helps me with my initial investigations with the kids,” Tyeisha explained. “I learned how to use more kid-friendly language and to normalize the severity of their symptoms with regard to what they’re going through. We also learned that in order to treat one individual, you may need to work with the entire family. Many trauma cases are multigenerational; one person in the family was traumatized and then the children and grandchildren are retraumatized. We want to break that cycle.”

Putting training into practice

In the Fall 2013 semester, she takes her training to the next level with a field placement through her job at the Queens Child Advocacy Center through the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, where she is learning to implement TF-CBT with more severely traumatized children and adolescents.

“After going through TF-CBT training, our graduate students will be placed at MercyFirst or other agencies where they can use their new skills and get supervised at the same time,” Dr. Labruna said. “They will also participate in consultation calls with nationally certified TF-CBT trainers for several months, receiving additional support and guidance as they implement the new intervention with traumatized youth.

“In her capacity as a family advocate for CPS, Tyeisha has worked with hundreds of families,” he continued. “With the addition of this new skill set, she is now able to provide trauma-focused treatment, and is on her way to becoming a nationally certified TF-CBT clinician.”

Dr. Habib pointed out that access to specialized trauma treatment is often limited. By participating in the institute’s year-long training, “students like Tyeisha, along with our community partners, have created a learning community of mental health professionals who are developing a common language and  expertise in delivering state-of-the art treatment to children and families suffering the effects of trauma.”

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