My Education: BS, Bridgewater State College (Bridgewater, MA) paralegal certificate, Elms College (Chicopee, MA) MA, Psychology, Westfield State College (Westfield, MA)
My Prior Experience: I was a special education teacher, a paralegal, a preschool teacher, a developmental specialist, and now a care coordinator.
My Company: I work for a community service agency that works with families whose children have serious emotional disturbances.
Job/Career Overview: I work with a team of people who support families who have children with serious emotional disturbances. When a child is referred to our agency, we contact the family and go to their home. We ask about their concerns, and try to ascertain what they would like to achieve over the next six months to a year. We schedule a meeting for them which includes both formal and informal supports. (Teachers, therapists, parole officers, etc. are, typically, "formal" supports; friends, relatives and neighbors are "informal" supports.) We all work together to drum up ideas for what would help the family to reach its goals. Each plan is specific to the family we're helping, and we emphasize the family's voice and choice. Participating in this program is voluntary, and the support we arrange for is tailored to the family's wishes. We support the entire family, so if the parent(s) or other children need help in certain areas, we see what we can provide for them also. It is our belief that by helping the family unit, the child who was referred to us will benefit as well.
More Insights: I have been surprised by the number of adults who suffer from mental illness. As a result, they might not have the capacity to parent effectively and the children suffer. There has been such a stigma associated with mental deficiency, and yet all of us, I believe, can benefit from getting mental heath help at various points in our lives. I hope that people will come to realize this. My personal goal is to help people realize that getting help early, even in preschool, can help prevent more significant problems later on.
I rate this career 8 out of 10.
The best part of this job is helping the children, which is very important to me. When our team has recommended ideas to help the family reach their goals and communicate better, it is ultimately going to help the child. For young children in particular, the family unit is the most important environment, and it is essential that the family's needs are met in order for the child to get the most benefit.
The worst part would be working some nights because you have to plan meetings according to the family's schedule.
In pursuing a career in mental health, I would recommend starting with the age group you are most comfortable with and getting as much experience with it as possible. Also, read whatever you can about that age group so you really get a good understanding about how that group thinks. Of course each individual will be different, but it also helps to know what is common for that age, what challenges they are faced with, etc.