Our grant proposal was to explore how to bring psychoanalytic ideas to work with children in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). RAMS clinicians are involved in the SOAR (Success, Opportunity, Achievement, Resiliency) Academy program, a classroom for students with severe emotional needs. Additional support, including on-site mental health services, and resources are provided with the goal of helping these students be able to return to a regular classroom. There are myriad challenges to a traditional therapeutic model in this setting. Students often have mixed feelings about being in the program in general, much less in therapy. Teachers tend to prioritize education. The schools themselves are not set up to promote a confidential, self-enclosed space to explore internal worlds.
We applied for the grant in order to provide a space for our clinicians to grapple with the challenges to the model, and to consider what psychoanalysis can contribute to clinical work in a school.
Once we were awarded the grant, the first task was to find a consultant who would be a good fit for the project we had proposed. We were fortunate to find Audrey Dunn, LCSW, a proverbial needle in a haystack. She has both provided mental health services in various collaborations with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) for decades (in an adolescent day treatment program, on-site at middle school, etc.) and is actively involved in the psychoanalytic community.
We began the program in September, two monthly meetings held throughout the school year (Sept 2015- June 2016): a reading group facilitated by the project coordinator and a consultation group. Dr. Loong Kwok, a supervising psychologist who is part of the CYF team at RAMS, assigns readings in advance of his group (with input from Ms. Dunn based on what comes up in the consultation group) and discusses the readings with the clinicians. Ms. Dunn provides a space for the clinicians to apply the readings to their experiences of running groups in the SOAR Academy classrooms and have clinical discussions with their colleagues.
Clinicians participating in the training series have observed that they are incorporating the ideas they’ve been reading when running the groups. In addition to attending to behaviors, they have also been paying attention to how the individuals interact with each other in the therapy group, and how the group itself fits into the school. We have come up with some answers to specific questions about how to incorporate psychoanalytic approaches to our school-based groups. We are still working on joining these together into a cohesive plan. In the coming months, we will be considering the specific contributions of ethnicity and trauma in this work. By this summer, we believe that we can create a list of questions that need to be answered as we continue group therapy within the school system, and a list of preliminary answers.
Photo credit - Noel Z Gondek on Flickr