THE mind of a child is supposed to be one of the most innocent and happy dwelling places; however, the world we live in today simply does not allow that level of innocence to thrive much longer past the years of infancy.
All around the world, children are being robbed of their innocence at every corner they turn, be it social media, television, radio, at school, on the streets or community and perhaps worse of all, at home.
With the range of issues faced by children on a daily basis being too wide to mention it is no wonder there are such high cases of children who exhibit “troubling behaviour” and are in need of special care and counselling.
Well, today’s FITC, Tessa John-Guerra, is one of those people who get to delve into the minds of such children, and today she speaks about the job and what it entails.
John-Guerra is the Counsellor of Corinth Secondary School and has been tending to the emotional needs of students for the past 13 years.
Here is what she has to say about a job that is most certainly not for the faint hearted but is a real necessity in today’s society.
The VOICE: What do you go through on a daily basis at school as a counsellor?
John-Guerra: Everyday is different and a lot of days, I come in with some planned work for my students who are counselled one on one, or for my group work, but emergencies come up. Emergencies like, one morning I will get a child who comes crying, and I then have to interview the child, only to find out that the child may have been abused sexually, and right away, I have to follow the protocol of reporting to Human Services. They would then take it from there. Or I would have a child who is crying and depressed, or a group of students mourning the loss of someone who passed, or it could be dealing with problems between students and teachers…little incidents of misunderstanding and maybe the child does not really like the form of correction or discipline. So I have to deal with all these issues. Students get really emotional and at that age, they don’t really have the skills to manage their emotions correctly, so they would manifest it in a way we call disruptive. It is my role to calm them down and for us to work through the whole process. It is also for them to see where they went wrong or where they could have responded in a better way, or at sometime, we would have interventions to see how the situations could be better resolved. So again, no day is the same.
The VOICE: In your 13 year career, how often do you come across cases that are deemed extreme, for example with cases of sexual abuse etc.
John-Guerra: I would get maybe two or three in the span of a term. Some, I’m able to call in the parents, and some I have to report to Human Services, it depends on the situation and how it happened.
The VOICE: We are talking about children here, how do you cope seeing children go through such experiences?
John-Guerra: At the beginning of my career, even though I studied it, I never experienced the stories being taught to me, so at first it was very hard on me, but we as counsellors are taught what is called “Detachment”, and because of that skill, we are able to help the client better, because if we get emotional, we are not objective enough to help the student. Empathy is very important and it is a big part of my personality and how I deal with students, at the same time, I cannot let the emotions take over me to the point that I cannot help the child. So in other words, you have to be strong and realise that this is the nature of the job.
The VOICE: But with that said, you are still only human. Does the job ever get the better of you where you even end up taking the baggage and emotions home with you?
John-Guerra: Of Course! Sometimes, I would wake up in the middle of the night just remembering a case, and that is why I need to have my own mechanism of dealing with the stress.
This is how I found meditation. Because of the nature of the job, I felt drawn to that. So if every night I do my meditation and use my own preparing of centring myself, and leaving the rest to God or the universe or whatever we want to call it, then I know that I played my part and that this person will get the help that they need.
The VOICE: Have you ever reached a breaking point where you felt like it was all too much to deal with and you felt like giving up?
John-Guerra: Yes, I have reached a point where I felt, Wow, this is just not fair and this is crazy, but what I do is to make sure I initiate action to ensure that the person gets help. That energy that I have from the breaking point, I would use it to make sure that the child gets justice and that the child is connected with the different agencies that is better suited to help him or her. These emotions come and go.
The VOICE: It is almost common to find backlash and resistance or attacks when you try to help some individuals, as opposed to a “thank You”. Have you ever faced that kind of reaction?
John-Guerra: That is all part of the job. Sometimes in helping a child overcome a situation at home, I might get some backlash from the members of said home, but as long as I know that what I’m doing is to protect and help the child, then that is ok. That is not something that will scare me from doing what is right and what will help the child.
The VOICE: How have your experiences on the job helped your personal life and growth?
John-Guerra: It has made me more observant in my interaction with people. It has helped me become more empathetic with people, because you never know what people are going through, so the way you speak to and interact with people…it’s just second nature for me now to be nice and mindful. Everybody is walking around with their own story, their own journey, and just to be present within myself and whatever interaction I have with anybody, I try to make it meaningful in any way, even with a smile.
The VOICE: With so many cases of rape, child molestation arising today, how would you compare the number of cases that you faced early in your career, versus the numbers you face today?
John-Guerra: I don’t see much difference. I jus see that students are more exposed to what is happening out there due to social media and their devices. They always know about the latest shootings and killings. But I feel that the number of cases that I deal with has been constant, but it’s also different with regards to the types of cases. Back then, I would have more teenage pregnancies or students who get pregnant and come back to school…I haven’t had that for a while, but I would have a different type of case now, maybe more anger issues. So I’ve always had cases, it’s just that the cases are different.
The VOICE: In cases of suicide, is this a common issue that you come across, and if so, how do you tackle such issues?
John-Guerra: Once a child has suicidal thoughts, I have to take it seriously. I would interview the child to find out what is going and ask if they have a plan. If the child says yes, then I would have to inform the parents that this is what the child is going through, and I would let the child know in advance of course, but I would then look out for different things and observe the child, I would make sure that the child has no access to knives, pills etc. I haven’t had a student tell me that they have a plan per se, but sometimes, the thoughts do enter their mind. With that said, when I ask what prevents them from acting on it, they would say that they don’t want to hurt their mother or father. That is basically a manifestation of the depression or the hurt that they are going through, and so my job is to help them pull through that deep seated hurt that they have. Basically, what I think the children need the most is skills and techniques on how to manage their emotions from time to time based on what is going on.
The VOICE: Riding on what you just said, a lot of people tend to dismiss young people and their thoughts and emotions, thinking that adults are the only ones with real problems. As someone who speaks to these children on a deeper and personal level, how are these children really?
John-Guerra: These children are human beings like all of us…they go through the same pain, hurt, insecurities and they have their anger to deal with, and a lot of parents seem to dismiss that because “They are just children!” but no, they are people, yeah they are little people, but they are people all the same and they have their struggles and challenges. I try to let parents know that they go through their own stuff as well. The importance, I think there from as young as possible, is communication. Engage that child in communication from very young, so that when they reach that age of adolescence, they will be accustomed to communicating with you and expressing how they feel. The same way parents appreciate people honouring their feelings and emotions, they should do the same with their children and respect that they have valid emotions as well.