Unique Counseling Fields: Infant Mental HealthBy Ashley VanBemmelen on April 18, 2016
A deep desire to help victims of trauma led me to the field of counseling. During my undergraduate days, I met therapists in Grand Rapids to learn about trauma counseling. I connected with therapists from private practices, inpatient facilities as well as outpatient services to understand what it meant to work in the field. I grew in my understanding of the field, but I didn't see anyone doing what I wanted to, so I started to second-guess my desire to be a counselor. If I wanted to work with victims of human trafficking and other crimes, perhaps I needed to go into advocacy work or law. I didn't know how many options there really were to use a counseling degree.
As I entered a M.A. in Counseling program and started looking for places to work, I realized there are a lot more possibilities in the mental health field. I could work with victims of trauma at the YWCA. I could even use my degree to mentor high school students in a mega church. There are so many interesting jobs!
One area of counseling I recently learned about is infant mental health. A good friend of mine, Janee' Beville, is a therapist and supervisor at Centennial Park Counseling in Grand Rapids, Mich. She spent two years providing in-home therapy to infants, toddlers and their caregivers to improve their attachment and parenting skills. Recently, I was able to ask Janee' a few questions about her work, so I want to highlight this important area here.
AV: What is it like to work in infant mental health (IMH)?
JB: Therapists in IMH are able to make their own schedule, so days look different for each person. Some sessions are with biological parents and others are with families who have children in foster care. Sessions are very casual and you often meet families where they are. The main work of an IMH therapist involves play, coaching and skill building activities, but they also do a lot of driving and paperwork. Time management is very key.
AV: What is the most rewarding part of the work that you do?
JB: For me, it is the opportunity to work with families who I relate to due to my upbringing. I was able to draw on my own experience of being raised in a low-income, single-parent home and still be successful in getting an education and professional career. When I see a mom working towards her personal goals, I see her child's probability of success increasing. Giving them hope is what I believe I was called to do, and I'm thankful God used me in that way. I also loved seeing parents enjoy their children through laughter, hugs and play. Babies and toddlers are quite entertaining and adorable!
AV: Are you optimistic about the future of infant mental health counseling? Why or why not?
JB: IMH has been around for many years, but it is still not widely known or understood. One great accomplishment that came from the work of IMH therapists was the creation of Baby Court. Baby Court is meant to help the court system manage the cases of children, putting children's needs first. The work of IMH is what helped bring this concept to life and become a reality. Baby Court is already in the works for Kent County, thanks to the work of IMH therapists. The IMH program is growing steadily here in Kent County, and I think that is a great thing. It is an intensive, preventive program, which I personally believe is the best approach to healing our communities.
AV: You mentioned that you are a supervisor for counselors who have the LLPC. What motivated you to add on that credential?
JB: Working in IMH taught me that I can be a good teacher. I am still slow at accepting this role, but becoming a supervisor allows me to continue expanding those skills and take on the task of helping other therapists. I see the need for healing more and more in our world, and counselors can make an impact. I enjoy learning and discussing ideas about our human experiences; supervision allows for the sharing of ideas to better support clients. I learn from them even as I help them.
AV: Do you have any other thoughts you'd like to share with counselors in training?
JB: Yes. Continuous learning is necessary to be effective. Take initiative! Don't wait for others to give you the information you need. Be approachable and open to criticism. Accept the fact that you will make mistakes, apologize and try to do better. And here's the big one: always remember why you wanted to be a counselor. This sense of purpose and these habits will help you stay motivated, hopeful and positive, in a world that doesn't always breed positivity.
I am thankful for Janee' and others who work in the field of infant mental health. It is great to see counselors who are using their skills in such unique ways. Thanks to the work of IMH therapists, infants are getting a chance to grow up in homes with more attentive parents—homes that are safer and more supportive.
Are you currently working in a unique area of mental health? Tell us about it by posting a comment!