Western Youth Services works hard to protect the privacy of the children we help. As such, the names and images of our clients are changed where necessary. Thank you for understanding.
Youth coping with mental health and wellness disorders struggle with everyday life – attending school, making friends, avoiding threats, connecting with their families, holding hope for their futures and more. To understand how WYS helps these children and teens, read on to learn their stories.
Natalie came to Western Youth Services because she was starting to get into trouble at home and at school for losing her temper and shouting at her family and friends. She wanted help but wasn’t sure what that meant. She explained that she felt a deep sadness most days and was confused about her sexual identity. She was also struggling with feelings of embarrassment and shame as memories of sexual abuse that spanned several years during her childhood were beginning to surface. She started using drugs and alcohol to try to help her feel better but it did not seem to be working.
Her WYS counselor helped Natalie heal from the effects of the sexual abuse trauma by using art therapy. Through writing and drawing, she began to explore the most significant aspects of the abuse. Natalie was able to write down her trauma story and eventually share it with her mother and sister, which provided a way for them to understand and support her healing journey. Over time, Natalie recognized the negative thoughts about herself that were created as a result of being abused. She began the process of actively changing her thoughts to more accurate positive thoughts.
She ultimately became more social and confident, and she made new, positive friendships. Her mood got lighter and she stopped using drugs and alcohol. Once she realized she could use acting as an outlet for her emotions, she flourished, and landed two significant roles in the film industry!
Patty had an anxiety attack at school. She didn’t know what was happening but felt major pressure in her chest and anxiousness pulsing through her body. She told her school counselor about it and explained that she wanted to kill herself because she was so afraid. She met with a counselor at her school for a brief series of therapy sessions and was referred to Western Youth Services for family therapy that included sessions with her father, mother and sister.
During family therapy with our WYS Counselor, each member of the family learned new ways to communicate that encouraged Patty to work toward recovery. Patty learned some mindset techniques that included changing her thinking and self-talk to say phrases like “I feel overwhelmed” rather than “I want to kill myself”. Her parents realized they had high expectations of Patty and were placing too many demands on her. They worked together as a family to create a plan and then took one step at a time on their plan to help problem solve.
One of the things they uncovered together, was Patty’s desire to be more independent. She had fears and uncertainty about how to do that. Her mother helped Patty by taking her to the bus station on the weekend and letting her take the bus with her sister while she waited for them several blocks away. After practicing this task and increasing the distance each time, Patty was able to get onto the school bus alone, use her learned coping skills for anxiety, and now regularly rides the bus to and from school.
After feeling successful in this one area, Patty learned to use her coping skills in other areas of her life, increasing her confidence and independence. With the skills she learned at WYS and the support of her family, Patty slowly built the ability to face her fears.
Ms. Jones was the 5 th grade teacher that no kid wanted to get. She was described as cold, mean, “old-school”, and had a reputation among the staff at the school for being a naysayer of positive ideas. Her colleagues spent a great deal of time trying to increase her skills and compassion for her students.
Something shifted when she attended a Western Youth Services Resilience Workshop at her school. The workshop included the critically acclaimed film “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope”. Everyone was pleasantly surprised, that she was the first teacher to speak up after the film during the group discussion. Tearfully, she confessed that she wasn’t aware of how much her students could be hurting. Ms. Jones shared that although she never wanted to be someone causing harm to her students, she realized that her current methods may be doing just that. She made a commitment to treat her students differently and encouraged others to do the same.
Since that workshop, the staff at her school have noticed a big difference in Ms. Jones. She has built better relationships not only with students, but also with other staff at the school. She now makes an effort to give her personal time to her students, shows them empathy and compassion, and listens to what they have to say. She pays attention to her students’ feelings and lets kids slide when she knows they’re having a rough day. One of her students went from saying “I hate Ms. Jones”, to writing her a letter saying she was the best teacher he ever had. It sounds simple, but she found success in simply shifting her thinking from blame and shame to empathy and compassion. Through being exposed to the science behind Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the power of resilience, she chose to look within herself and treat her students differently.
Sofia was in the 2nd grade when she came to WYS. She was very guarded and shy, she had attachment issues and it was a bit of a challenge to coax her to participate in counseling services.
We utilized play therapy with Sofia. As we played games and colored some of her favorite Disney Princesses, Sofia started to open up to her WYS counselor. She still needed some quiet time, which we accommodated, but as her trust and confidence in our counselor grew the quiet time was less and less.
Her counselor focused on positive statements and praise. Soon, Sofia allowed her authentic, charming, and sweet personality to show and was laughing and opening up more. She revealed personal information about her past which allowed her counselor to help Sofia with her healing journey. It’s a great reminder of how being present, patient, and there for a child can start the process of making little changes… and often little changes, lead to big change.
One of our favorite ways to help children and teens is to work in schools and with teachers. We had the pleasure of working with a Middle School where we held all day workshops for the students. In these workshops, we focused on talking about coping skills, self-confidence, and did an activity with the kids.
The students told us that they enjoyed getting to share their creations and explain what it meant to them. Mr. Patrick, the school’s counselor, also let us know that he thought it was great that we not only were able to give the students information regarding mental health, but also did it in such an engaging manner. He said he would very much like to have us back in the next school year, and we are very much looking forward to it.
Amal & Kalila
Mother-daughter relationships are challenging, especially during the teen years. Amal and her 16-year-old daughter Kalila came to WYS with communication problems and because they seemed constantly angry at one another. Amal was watching their relationship “grow apart,” and she desperately wanted to help her daughter through this difficult time.
Amal shared that the communication issues started after Kalila experienced a traumatic event. This was good information to have, we had a starting point. We encouraged Amal to access our parent workshops and parent-partner program. In weekly classes, she is learning about trust, patience, and the importance of prioritizing her own self-care and personal growth in order to be present, supportive, and a positive role model to Kalila.
Our work with Kalila focused on improving her communication skills and learning to listen and be more patient. Both have learned new ways to communicate with one another, and mutual respect and trust are growing, as is their closeness to each other.
Maddison came to WYS as an overwhelmed mom of three kids. Initially, she was seeking counseling for her 12-year-old son Brian who was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and autism. He was being bullied at school and started to run away from school to avoid facing his bullies.
As her story started to unfold, the therapist learned that Maddison herself was struggling with anxiety, as were her 16-year old and 9-year old daughters. She shared that while she tries to remain positive, the burden of managing layers of anxiety is complex and more than she could handle.
We were also able to tap into our community of collaborative partnerships and recommend resources that provided Maddison and her children with ongoing support services in addition to counseling for the whole family.
Maddison is moving forward. She even began volunteering. Her eldest daughter connected with her high school’s Transition Workability Program, and is eager to develop new skills and begin working.
Sarah & Sam
Sarah was overwhelmed when she contacted WYS. She is the parent of Sam, an angry 17-year-old. Although Sarah knew that Sam needed help, he refused therapy and Sarah wondered what to do for him. Sarah learned that WYS could help her learn how to cope with her situation and how to be the best parent she can, regardless of Sam’s participation.
Sarah and her therapist met weekly and worked on coping skills, effective communication, stress management, self-care, resiliency, and even resume building. The practice of mindfulness has been particularly helpful to Sarah. She learned through mindfulness practices that “I can only have control of how I feel.”
Unfortunately, Sam is still struggling but Sarah is confident that with her newly obtained skills she is now equipped to better support her son and will get him additional help when he is ready.
At 14 years old, Taylor was fighting with his mom and his siblings and was becoming known as a behavior problem at school. He was angry, verbally and physically aggressive, and his mom was terrified that things would get worse as he grew older.
Knowing that they needed help as a family, Taylor and his mom began a short-term family therapy program at Western Youth Services.
At first, Taylor resisted, but once he realized that the therapy was focused on helping them find positive ways to communicate with each other, rather than being a punishment for his behavior, he started to open up and engage with the therapist and his mother. Throughout the treatment, steady progress was made. They worked together to learn to respect each other and agreed that rules and boundaries help Taylor become more independent and responsible. His mom began to understand that Taylor was not trying to be defiant; rather he struggled with communicating his needs in a way that helped him feel validated. Taylor worked on ways to manage his anger by processing previous trauma, and his mother sought additional support through Western Youth Services parenting groups.
Taylor and his mom have learned to communicate in a way they never thought possible. Most importantly, they worked together to come up with an effective solution for their family. Taylor is much happier, he is excelling in school, participating in extracurricular activities, and experiencing peace at home.
Ten-year-old Fernando was referred to WYS by his school. His behavior was becoming harder to manage in the classroom and his teachers and school administrators were concerned that there might be more to the story since he had a history of being bullied.
At first, Fernando was emotionally closed and showed signs of self-protection, he would sit in the corner, hiding behind his mother and would only communicate through her. He hid himself inside a warm sweater which he wore even on hot summer days.
Throughout a course of family therapy Fernando began to open up. He started to step away from his mom and communicate directly with his counselor. His social skills began to improve, first with his family and then in school. His counselor encouraged his mom to communicate regularly with his teachers and school administration to reinforce the positive work they were doing as a family. His mother and teacher collaborated to create a daily communication system that helped to keep Fernando’s progress on track at school and there were few set-backs.
As Fernando’s self-esteem and confidence increased, he stopped wearing his sweater on hot days and hiding behind his mom. He now participates in school and at home, and his relationships are flourishing. We are so proud of Fernando and his mom for reaching out and getting help. Together they created a system that worked for their family and one that can be applied to other situations that may arise in the future.
Celeste reached out to WYS when she realized that her anxiety about doing something embarrassing in public the fear of rejection from friends, turned debilitating over a six month period and these feelings were keeping her from living an active, happy life.
At 19 years old, Celeste’s world should have been full of new experiences and opportunities, instead, she was struggling with severe panic attacks triggered by attending school, eating out, talking to new people, and meeting up with friends. As the fear and anxiety escalated, she started to get physically ill from the stress and ultimately fear led to her missing school, avoiding social activities, and living in isolation which only made things worse.
Celeste’s WYS therapist recommended Cognitive Behavior Therapy, whereby the patient is guided by the therapist into a situation where they will face their fears and anxieties without going into the avoidance tactics they might normally employ. Week by week, they practiced different social situations, in a safe environment, so Celeste could gain insight into the situations that triggered her feelings, learn the tools needed to identify and offset the fear and anxiety before it takes hold, and now she is able to successfully address and overcome her fears.
Today, Celeste is a full-time college student, is able to give a presentation in class, has gradually started to roll in socializing and comfortably eating out with friends, and she even started dating! We are so proud of the positive changes that Celeste has achieved and cannot wait to see what she does next!
Ten-year-old Melissa was struggling in school. She had high levels of anxiety that led to regular meltdowns, she was unable to focus on her school work, and did not want to go to school.
Melissa began to see a Western Youth Services (WYS) therapist in school who learned through their discussions that Melissa’s mom, a single parent, would often turn to Melissa to ask for help in making adult decisions related to household finances. Unknown to her mother, this was very stressful for Melissa.
The therapist at school recommended that Melissa’s mom meet with another WYS therapist for a series of therapy sessions to help her better manage the complex decisions that she juggles alone as a single parent.
The primary therapist continued to work with Melissa on building her confidence through creativity, one of her strengths. Her mom started to apply some of the new parenting techniques that she was learning to their relationship. Through the collaborative partnership of all involved, Melissa grew and learned more about her feelings. Her crying episodes, negative self-talk, and unhappiness she had been experiencing subsided. She is now more imaginative in her solutions, has started to make new friends, her grades have improved, and her self-esteem has grown. She recently won an award for perfect school attendance.
Melissa has successfully completed therapy, she is happier, more independent in school, and her relationship with her mother improved. Her mom is seeing an individual therapist to continue to support and maintain the progress that she and her daughter have made and prepare them with the necessary tools to make sound future decisions.
Jessica came to WYS experiencing intense distress and sadness as a result of a long history of traumatic childhood experiences. She avoided thinking or talking about the traumatic situations as well as people or places that might trigger a memory. She struggled with feeling guilt and shame which had a negative impact on her self-confidence and led to a crippling fear of abandonment and anxiety that would lead to cutting.
The diagnosis was PTSD and individual therapy was the recommendation. When Jessica finished up a series of individual Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy she shared with us that she felt like a different person. She now feels like she can “handle it.” If the old feelings of anxiety and fear show up she applies the simple, yet effective techniques she learned during therapy. Deep breathing, self-care, and having a “safe” person to confide in have really helped.
Now that Jessica feels more confident and happy, her relationships with family and friends are improved and she has even found herself helping and teaching others about these coping strategies. Way to go Jessica!
When 6 year-old Amber first came to WYS, she was struggling. Recurring nightmares led to difficulty sleeping, her eating habits had changed, and she was suddenly sensitive to loud noises. All of this led to a change in her personality that was expressed with aggressive behavior, irritability, and “tantrums” at school and at home.
Amber received individual and family therapy. During this time, Amber had several traumatic experiences. Her pet bunny rabbit passed away which sparked a frightening preoccupation with death; and sadly, her parents separated during treatment. Due to the marital conflict, she had difficulty communicating her feelings of pain, she became withdrawn and her outbursts increased at home and in school. She simply didn’t know how to open-up and share her feelings. The clinician working with her family recommended additional family therapy sessions that were focused on working with her parents. Together they learned how to help Amber express herself and how to remain calm.
We are happy to share that Amber has successfully completed treatment. Her parents indicated that she is no longer experiencing outbursts, nightmares, preoccupation with death, or communication issues. If a behavioral problem arises, her parents know how to calmly redirect her behavior.
The result that really touches us is that she has begun to be aware of the emotions of other people and tries to understand why people feel the way they do. Perhaps we have inspired a future mental health professional…
Roberto was 12 years old when his parents brought him to WYS with concerns about his escalating level of anxiety. He was easily distracted, had trouble focusing in school and at home, and when talking he was easily excited and nervous.
The WYS clinician working with Roberto, began a treatment plan that included family and individual therapy with the focus on reducing his anxiety, and fostering relationships with his family and others. It was art therapy that had the biggest impact.
High levels of anxiety need to be brought down before therapy can start to work. When the hands and mind are busy creating art, anxious feelings begin to subside. This is exactly what happened with Roberto. As he started to relax and enjoy himself, he started to open up and express his feelings to the WYS clinician.
We are happy to share that after treatment Roberto is no longer feeling so stressed, his parents report that he is happier and is having fun with his friends, doing better in school, and he is finding it easier to communicate with his friends and family.
“You don’t look like you have mental issues.” Jeremy didn’t know how to respond. His friend was right. Jeremy looked like a typical, happy adolescent. He earned good grades, played sports and followed the rules. No one ever thought anything was wrong. That is until Jeremy made a serious suicide attempt. He just wanted to die but didn’t know why. Life had become too painful. But nothing bad had ever happened to Jeremy, so why was he so unhappy?
After getting out of the hospital, Jeremy felt lost. He was referred to and began receiving therapy at Western Youth Services. He didn’t know what to talk about. He said he had good parents, a nice home and lots of friends. But Jeremy slowly began talking to his therapist about his feelings of worthlessness and how he had always felt anxious and worried. Jeremy learned that these feelings contributed to depression, something he didn’t know anything about. Over time, he learned that it’s not always life circumstances that make people depressed and anxious. Sometimes, people just feel that way.
Jeremy is now able to identify his feelings. He has learned coping strategies for when he feels anxious, sad and hopeless. His family knows the warning signs. Jeremy learned that there is nothing shameful about mental illness or taking medication to help. He started volunteering for a community agency to help educate high school students about mental illness, where to go for help and what each person can do to support someone they know who is struggling with any kind of emotional difficulty.
Karla felt like everyone was angry with her – her parents, teachers, even her soccer coach. She tried to pay attention. She tried to sit quietly in class. Karla began feeling worthless, like she couldn’t do anything right, she was always getting in trouble.
After being assessed by the school psychologist and her pediatrician, she was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Her parents brought her to Western Youth Services.
The Western Youth Services professional consulted with the school psychologist and pediatrician, went to the school to observe Karla in the classroom, talked to her teachers, and gathered as much information to get a full picture of Karla’s behavior at home, at school and in other situations.
Karla didn’t know what ADHD meant. Was something really wrong with her? At Western Youth Services, she began participating in a weekly group. There, she met other kids who felt the same way she did! They learned to support each other while learning different skills, like relaxation techniques, and exercises to build the ability to monitor and control her behavior, emotions, and thoughts. Along with the other children in the group, Karla learned how to manage her behavior, feelings and thoughts in social situations.
Karla practiced these exercises when she was in school and at home. Karla was excited, she felt like, for the first time, she was getting praised! She was proud of herself, that she able to follow directions and really listen. Her grades went from Cs and Ds to As and Bs. Though she learned how to focus much better, more importantly, she learned that she is a worthy, valuable person. As she graduated from middle school, Karla proudly accepted her honors’ award and is looking forward to high school and taking some advanced courses.
By the time Pamela was 16 years old, she was running the streets and refusing to be home. Her mother had given up and stopped trying. With no means of transportation, she wouldn’t be able to get Pamela mental health services anyway. This was until she was able to secure Therapeutic Behavioral Services (TBS).
Pamela had a difficult time believing someone could help her, she had given up on herself. She had also given up on everyone else. She was already failing in school and her physical health was declining. Every day she thought about killing herself. After not showing up twice when her TBS coach came to see her, Pamela was surprised when her coach found her in a nearby park. Pamela agreed to sit down with her.
One and a half years later, Pamela’s mother could be seen with tears streaming down her cheeks, cheering wildly at the school’s graduation ceremony as Pamela received her high school diploma. Pamela would be the first one in the family to attend a university. She plans to study social work and states she “will never give up again, not on myself or anyone else.”
Savannah came to Western Youth Services after she was placed in foster care due to domestic violence. At 6 years old, she didn’t have the words to describe what she was feeling inside and didn’t understand why she couldn’t be with her mother and siblings. Savannah’s foster mother reported that she cried most of the day, would curl into a ball and scream anytime someone came near her and didn’t sleep. At first, Savannah refused to participate in therapy but her therapist didn’t give up. Every week, her therapist provided Savannah with a safe place to begin identifying and expressing her feelings. Over time, Savannah began to verbalize her thoughts and feelings and at the age of 7, for the first time, she disclosed to her therapist the physical and sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend since the age of 2. Savannah received therapy for the next year where she learned coping skills, how to manage her anxiety and prepared for the very difficult task of testifying against her abuser.
Savannah’s therapist was able to sit in the courtroom with her on the day she testified. She watched a tiny little girl sit in a big chair and talk into a microphone that was far too large for a child. Savannah was able to state the facts as she remembered them and held her head up high, looking into the face of her abuser. It was at that moment, her therapist knew Savannah had truly taken control of her own life and feelings.
Savannah is now 11 years old and in middle school. She started a group last year for kids who are bullied and will be the upcoming class president. In her campaign speech, she stated her goal in life is to “help those who are unable to do so for themselves, just like I was helped all of those years ago; someone saved my life and now I’m going to do the same.”
Savannah plans on becoming a clinical psychologist and working with childhood survivors of abuse.
Daniel was referred to WYS after getting kicked out of preschool. His mother said she didn’t know how to parent him. Daniel was oppositional, defiant and aggressive. It was recommended that Daniel and his mother participate in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). Daniel’s mother was skeptical and expressed that Daniel was the one that needed help and therapy, not her and she didn’t want to learn any new parenting skills. The newly certified therapist was nervous but gently explained the process and encouraged Daniel’s mother to consider, which she eventually did two weeks later when Daniel become so aggressive that he seriously injured another child.
During 16 weeks of treatment, Daniel’s mother learned many new parenting skills that she reports she had “never considered.” She is now able to offer Daniel choices, reinforce him properly, be consistent and also model effective ways of relating to others. Daniel and his mother officially “graduated” from PCIT and with tears in her eyes, his mother stated “I never thought I could be a good parent or have a loving relationship with my child. I thought parenting was yelling and punishing.” When asked how life was better for him, Daniel thought for a moment and even though he was just 5 years old, relayed “I wake up with a smile every day and I’m excited about my day. And the best is that I go to bed every night with an even bigger smile on my face because every day is a good day now.”
At a time of life when most of her peers were looking forward to school dances or planning college, 15-year-old Angie was escaping a lifetime of abuse. Angie was removed from her mother’s care because of neglect and failure to protect her daughter.
Angie toiled enormously. She wanted to give up. She couldn’t see past the trauma to imagine a stable future or an environment where she felt like she belonged.
WYS began providing Angie treatment when she was experiencing depression so deep she considered suicide. Through this intervention, Angie discovered her own reasons to live and ways to create her future. Now 18, Angie lives in another state and is involved in a committed relationship. She now has access to an entirely new life, with happiness as an option.
Matt and his Grandmother
Kinship care – a term often used when grandparents step in to raise their grandchildren – is a complex relationship with a unique set of challenges for all family members. It’s a growing phenomenon across the country, with more than 2.5 million grandparents taking on responsibility for the youth in their family, according to AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Grandparents often find themselves in this role because their own children may be incarcerated, dealing with drug and/or alcohol addiction, struggling with mental illness or otherwise unavailable to parent their children. Even though most grandparents feel their grandchildren fare better being raised by a family member, tension, resentment and desperation commonly arise from the stress and unexpected demands placed upon them by necessity.
Matt and his grandmother typify the conundrum of such relationships. Because of his mother’s drug addiction, Matt was sent to live with his grandmother. When WYS met Matt, he was angry, lost, and depressed. His grandmother struggled with her own range of feelings and doubts about her ability to rear another generation.
A WYS mental health professional worked with Matt to help make sense of the turmoil, while his grandmother joined our Caregiver’s Group to learn parenting skills and gain support from other people, like her, in kinship care roles.
As a result of what they learned, Matt says he feels more loved and cared for by his grandmother. Since setting boundaries with him and employing other techniques, his grandmother is enjoying Matt’s more positive attitude toward her. She found ways to reduce her fear that she might create a similar outcome of her adult child in Matt, finding new confidence in her ability to parent. This allowed her to experience the joy of being a grandparent.
Josh and Mark
Sibling rivalry, it’s as old as the family unit itself. And whether competing for toys or attention, the continual bickering, jealousy and sometimes even aggression can become disruptive and even unhealthy. Although sibling rivalry is normal, it needs addressing at escalated levels. WYS is experienced in bringing families back together.
When Josh and Mark, a 6- and 8-year-old set of siblings, came to WYS, they fought bitterly. They competed for their mother’s attention, animosity pitted one against the other. Through treatment with our supportive counselors, Josh and Mark learned how to trust one another and recognize their mother’s love encompassed them both. Everyday squabbles are normal between siblings but Josh and Mark no longer fight as rivals. Instead, they can be found playing together during recess and might even be overheard paying compliments to one another. Their mother learned new strategies to minimize competition for her attention and encourage the boys toward their individual interests. WYS unearthed their unique and different talents and skills, allowing Josh and Mark to distinguish themselves as individuals.
All 15-year-old Maria knew was that she felt depressed and unmotivated. Hoping to bury her hurt, she retreated, withdrawing from activities with family and friends – or lashing out verbally in a struggle to communicate her seemingly inarticulate feelings. Her poor performance academically only added to her challenges.
And then her mother found WYS through word of mouth.
After eight months of treatment with a mental health professional from WYS, she learned to identify the triggers causing her depression and anger as well as coping skills to address these emotions. Maria says this newfound feeling of self-control is freeing. She reports an overall improvement in mood. As evidence, she no longer spends hours alone in her room. She re-engaged socially and is thriving academically, jumping up an entire grade in most subjects. With the tools she learned at WYS and her own determination, Maria is planning for her future after high school and beyond.