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Listening a Major Key to Success

When Child Saving Institute Therapist Vanessa Summers begins working with a new client, she spends time building rapport with the child and family through active listening. She is committed to helping her clients navigate their therapeutic process and find the unique set of skills needed to meet their goals.

Vanessa works with children of all ages and their families. She is passionate about creating an inclusive environment and meeting her clients with empathy. Children, especially younger children, often lack the words to explain what they feel, Vanessa said.

“Because children don’t have the words to express the big feelings around their trauma verbally, emotions often come out in their behaviors,” Vanessa said. “When you work with children to help them process and heal from the trauma, abuse, and neglect they experienced, you use a lot of metaphors. You help them figure out the connection between physical feelings and emotional feelings — like sometimes a stomachache might be caused by anxiety or fear.”

Therapists must recognize when they need to back off a topic and ensure the child knows he/she is safe.

 “You have to do a delicate dance when you are working with kids,” she said. “You have to push them to begin talking about what happened, but not too hard. You don’t want to re-traumatize them. You want them to be ready to talk. I empower them to take control of the narrative as they share and begin to process the trauma event.”

Vanessa also works with the parents and child together.

“We’re trying to bridge the relationship between the parent and child around the trauma,” Vanessa said. “It’s hard for parents to know what happened to their child and to handle their own feelings about it. They may feel guilty as if they could have prevented what happened. We work to help the parents and child cope together.”

Vanessa sometimes assigns the family homework to practice using the coping skills they learn during sessions.

Vanessa might use a variety of therapy modes with a client, depending on the child’s age and diagnosis. She often uses Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy as it works well with other therapeutic modes.

The client and parents may also have a say in the type of therapy she uses, depending on the age of the child.

“I explain to the child and parents how the therapies work so they know what we’re doing,” Vanessa said. “We set goals for what they want out of therapy. Then I put together a recommended treatment plan.”

Ultimately, she wants the children and their families to know that they will experience ups and downs and that therapy does not “cure” them, but instead equips them to handle challenges together. She also wants them to know that their past does not control their future.

“Therapy can bring back hope,” Vanessa said. “Once therapy has ended, both the child and parents can recognize setbacks and express a desire or need to return for additional help. They know they don’t have to walk alone. We are here for them.”

Vanessa joined CSI in 2016. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and classical studies from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and her master of social work degree (MSW) from the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO). She is a Provisionally Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (PLMHP) in the State of Nebraska and has received training in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and Circle of Security – Parenting (COS-P).

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