Monday, June 15, 2015

Five reasons I'm a better person because I've worked in Residential Treatment

I've had some thoughts floating around in my head for the past few weeks and I just want to get them written down before my pregnant brain allows them to vanish forever. I am SO, SO grateful for my experiences working at a Residential Treatment Center (RTC).  Just as a little background for those of you who don't totally know what an RTC is: RTCs are basically live-in health care facilities where teenagers come to live, go to school, and receive intensive therapeutic services. The place I work is a lock-down setting (I've also worked in a less intense therapeutic boarding school). The center I'm at now provides treatment for adolescents with lots of different issues. . . oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, depression and suicidal ideation, reactive attachment disorder, bipolar disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, educational issues and histories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. There's always a lot going on with these kids! I'm a recreational therapist and currently work primarily with 15 to 17-year old boys with behavioral misconduct issues. I think I'm a better person because of the time I've spent with them. Here's why.

1. I'm less sensitive.

When I got my first job at an RTC, I was pretty naive, pure, and untainted by the world. The intensity of language and vulgarity in behavior and mannerisms I faced in those first few months was shocking to my system. And the first time the profanity was directed at me? I was rattled! I cried and wondered what I'd done wrong. How could someone be so mean and insensitive?! I was only trying to help. I've realized now that when teenagers yell profanities and call me horrific names, it usually has little or nothing to do with me. They're mad at a situation; there's history of abandonment I don't know about; they're just feeling angry in general. I'm better about letting things go and not making issues about me.  I don't take things as personally as I once did. I'm okay with the reality that not everyone is going to like me all the time.  I've learned to apply this concept in adult interactions too.

2. I'm more understanding.

I'm not going to say I don't judge people. .  because I definitely still do at times. I think everyone does to some degree. BUT I realize now that people make different choices and have different opinions because of different upbringings. I try to understand how family dynamics, parenting styles (or lack thereof), home environments and other factors influence child development. What is right and wrong to me is only right and wrong to me because it's what I was taught.  I'm less critical of others' choices because I realize they can't always be accountable for choices they made when they didn't know better. I'm not trying to justify bad behavior. . . I'm just saying there's usually more to a story than what outsiders see on the surface.

3. I have more insight about group dynamics.

There are a lot of people working in an RTC to provide the best quality of care to the residents. Admissions, dietary, education, milieu (unit) staff, clinicians, maintenance, etc. A lot of decisions have to be approved by a lot of people before they can be put in place. Sometimes, changes are slow. Sometimes, there's frustration. I understand better how much planning goes into pulling off big events or implementing big changes. I know how much it affects others when someone doesn't do something they said they would do. For this reason, I'm more committed to doing my job tasks well and to having good follow-through with assignments.

4. I can be assertive if I need to be.

The teenagers on my unit are master manipulators. In the early days, I definitely think I got pushed around and taken advantage of because I was too nice and confrontation was so hard. It's hard to be direct. It's hard to recognize an issue and then know how to address it. It's often easier to let bad behavior slide. BUT! I've learned to step it up. I can be assertive and direct. I can issue consequences. I can take away privileges. I can say it like it is. Working residential treatment is good parenting practice ;).

5. I'm more aware.

I'm more aware of the brutal, ugly realities of the world. I've read cases of severe abuse and neglect. I've cried over stories of early exposure to drugs and alcohol and the nasty consequences. I've listened to tales of gang involvement, domestic violence, and other scary situations. I know real people who've gone through these real trials and it breaks my heart over and over again. But, I've also observed healing and change and the power of kindness. I'm more aware than ever of the need for a Savior in this world and for my responsibility to reflect and share His light and love.

Sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes the emotional, physical, and mental drain of working in this population is overwhelming. However, I am learning and growing and changing right alongside my boys. I know I am a better person because of them. . . so I think I'll stick it out a little longer. It's hard to imagine my life without the friendships I've gained, the lessons I've learned, the insight I've acquired, the personal progress I've made, and the professional development I've experienced because I've worked in an RTC. I am SO, SO grateful.

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