Last year, when a local public school district approached me about becoming the director of their Family Support Center, a free, in-house counseling service, I was intrigued. I wondered what it would be like to provide family-oriented mental health services in the hurly-burly of a school setting. Besides, after almost 20 years of teaching in a family therapy training program and practicing as a medical family therapist, I was ready for a change. After I began my new job, I felt the same excitement and sense of encountering the unknown that I felt in the mid-'80s, when I started working as a medical family therapist.
It's a year later now and a new school year has begun. I've learned a lot since last year and, just in case you've forgotten what the world of a public school is like--and how many unknowns there are to encounter everyday--let me take you on a brief tour of the ups and downs of a typical week.
My main "customers" at the center are actually school personnel--school counselors, social workers, psychologists, teachers, and administrators--struggling with kids whose behavior makes it difficult for them (and often anyone around them) to learn. The implicit demand is always to resolve problems quickly--preferably immediately--so that the everyday business of education can proceed unimpeded, but sometimes that isn't possible.
"You fuckin' bitch!" Natalie screams at her mother, who leans forward in her chair and rails…