Mary, a Child & Family therapist at LifeWorks NW’s Rockwood and King sites, shared that a fifth of her young clients were in therapy largely because of bullying. One child had been bullied so constantly throughout her school years, in part because of her racial background, she didn’t want to be seen. During the pandemic, it took three months of therapy before she would allow herself to be visible on Zoom.
“By using a great deal of positive unconditional regard and encouragement, we were able to begin making baby steps toward improvement,” says Mary. “We made a goal of spending 5 minutes face-to-face on Zoom, and [eventually she was] on with me all the time. This was a huge win for her.”
Extreme bullying has become a major mental health issue with the advent of online chat, social media and other technologies. Because bullies often feel anonymous, their cruelty ranges from such extremes as hate comments all the way to death threats. Bullies will search for victims online they haven’t seen in years and re-inaugurate the abuse. Because the pandemic has most children isolated at home, the online comments and conversations are often their only social interaction with peers.
“When it gets bad online, it’s coming right into their homes and triggers past trauma all over again,” says Mary.
To deal with an issue that seems almost unsolvable to parents, Mary uses a lot of solution-focused, collaborative problem solving. Constructivism is a key tool she uses it to help them create and find meaning in their lives.
“Who would you like to be is a key question,” says Mary. “For kids who are being bullied, the answer is usually to feel confident and safe around others. We talk about how we can work toward getting where they want to be.”
The pandemic made Child & Family therapy particularly challenging, according to Mary. Normally, she uses non-verbal tools, especially with younger kids who don’t yet have the vocabulary to express their emotions.
“I use pictures of my horses,” says Mary who calls herself a farm girl. “[During the pandemic] I missed the art and games I usually use in my office and my drawer full of glitter. It really helps them to open up and express themselves. It is in the quiet times in an office when a lot of therapeutic breakthroughs are made.”
Online during the pandemic and now in person, LifeWorks NW’s child therapists still use humor and metaphors to help young clients open up. Together, they collaborate to take each step, no matter how small. While showing your face on Zoom for five minutes may not seem like a breakthrough to some, for a child who has spent most of her life traumatized by others, it can be a giant leap forward. The goal is, one small step at a time, to strive together to create a life of freedom, self-confidence and safety.