Central America, family reunification, Helping immigrant children and parents reconnect, Helping the Immigrant family heal after separation, parent-child conflict in immigrant families, Undocumented minors
Counseling teens in a group format, with other youth who experience similar pain in reuniting with their family, has proven a successful mode of intervention in the school system. The group becomes a source of support and nurturing even outside of the session, although the members may or may not be friends or classmates. In the experience of the author, these groups worked best for her when they were open and long term in their format, so members can stay for an extended time (in a few cases all through high school). In this format, new members are added each year, as some graduate, move, or cannot continue to attend. The more experienced members can then guide the new ones through the group process and help them develop trust with each other and new communication skills. Many other clinicians work in a short term group format with a limited number of sessions and a specific content. References to that kind of model will be described later as well. In the long term open group format, the members may originate from the workshops on the reunited families, as students interested in further counseling are identified after the presentation. Or, they may be offered the group during individual sessions with them from referrals from teachers, or self-referrals. In any case, every candidate has an intake with the clinician to evaluate the issues and needs for services of each child and to establish rapport. Participation in the group is voluntary. This kind of group can be run with one or two leaders. The ideal leader is someone who has gone through the experience of group therapy as a member/patient, who has had training in group therapy or is receiving supervised training, is continually upgrading his/her skills and is comfortable with this mode of counseling. In the group and under the ongoing modeling, encouraging and teaching from the leader/s plus an environment where safety, confidentiality and respect for each other is continually stressed, the adolescents can progressively learn many skills that will encourage the development of their emotional intelligence, thus fostering resilience and better interpersonal skills, besides receiving emotional support and guidance for the stresses in their lives as immigrant children in a reunited family. The same guidelines and principles utilized in individual therapy are the framework for the group counseling as well and reviewing them before and during the process of leading the members would be a wonderful aid in giving the individuals in the group the help they need in reconnecting successfully in their families. So it becomes a little bit like doing individual therapy in a group setting. This setting, however, has some great advantages that go beyond the ability to provide services to a greater number of youngsters. They learn progressively and at their own pace to talk about personal experiences and trust that others will hold their pain in respectful listening and then express their support. As they share, they inspire others to share similar experiences as well and thus learn that they are not alone in their suffering and that their feelings and reactions are the feelings that any person may have in those circumstances. They learn how to communicate support and understanding as well as setting limits to others, resolving conflict without losing self-control. They increasingly learn to pay attention to their inner feelings and experiences thus connecting their behavior with their observations –insight and self- knowledge. With help from the leader and others, they learn to put themselves in the other’s perspective, ie. parents, teachers, peers, etc. With coaching from the leaders they learn coping skills to handle painful emotions such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, guided meditation and self- control strategies such a time out. They learn also how the way they think, or the way they interpret situations, particularly with the parents, may distort their perception and/or maintain negative feelings and outcomes. As they become better communicators, they may challenge and teach their parents to communicate more openly in ways probably the adults never did with anybody. The members of the group also “parent” each other and procure to stop self-defeating behaviors in each other. As they become increasingly more vocal with their thoughts and feelings, they confront each other, when long held resentments, or inability to trust in their parents’ love distorts their perception and expectations of them. The leader can also help them understand the possible cause for some behaviors or lack of emotional communication skills present in their parents and other adults around them from a perspective of lack of good models and opportunities for learning, or painful experiences in their lives. All very important emotional skills that will be useful to them in all of their relationships through life and that carry over to their present life at home. In there, hopefully they may become also the teachers and models to the parents and the siblings, maybe initiating new and positive forms of interaction and communication. The leaders will also impart, as needed, important information that impact their decision making in their current lives, such as falling into risky behaviors and their consequences, laws and regulations, resources and services and help available to them.
To be continued in next post.