When Minerva Spurlock arrived as an intern in the Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Division about three months ago, she had a specific objective.
As a doctoral student at Walden University in Minneapolis, Spurlock was instructed by both her Walden professors as well as American Psychological Association guidelines to “be a facilitator for a great amount of people.”
Spurlock is pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology. So to help get youngsters who were already clients of the Health Department’s Behavioral Health Program “think a little differently,” the simple question was: “How?”
“The interns brainstormed,” Spurlock recalled. “We thought about doing an anger management group, but finally decided on the coping skills group because we’d be able to get into other emotions besides anger, and therefore involve more kids.”
Soon, between posting flyers around the Behavioral Health Division, word of mouth among the interns, and shared information with kids who were already receiving counseling and their parents, two “Conflict Resolution” classes were established.
“For group sessions, it is typical to run a program that lasts between eight and 12 weeks,” Spurlock explained. “We have about ten kids in the 13 and older class and just a couple more in the 12 and under class.”
The interns created a 10-week program schedule of one hour long sessions. Spurlock joined Sierrah Avant and Jennifer vonPerbandt in working with the older kids, and Grace Domzalski and Nakia Hubbard were assigned to work with the younger kids. At the halfway point of five down and five to go, Spurlock said some very significant changes were noticed in how the students approach the sessions.
“They are getting into the habit of following rules, understanding boundaries, and not talking over each other. In addition, they are speaking out more, and more confidently. It’s great to see a client, who starts the program being somewhat disruptive, learning how to apply conflict resolution techniques, and be able to calm down and feel more positive.”
Spurlock also said one specific instance she recalls is two students realizing they had something in common. “The students open up when they realize they are not alone, and are surprised to know some of them are experiencing and going through the same things. For example, a shy kid might open up and share that he has been bullied at school; and then a more talkative, outgoing kid will speak up and say he has been bullied too. And outside of these sessions, they may never have talked to one another and realized this. These group sessions allow the kids to see that they have more in common with each other than they first thought.”
So what should the result be for these youngsters once all ten sessions have taken place? “I think,” Spurlock said, “one of the main goals is for them to have gained a mindfulness, and simply be aware they have conflict resolution tools they can apply to life situations. One kid said he tried counting to ten instead of acting out. He admitted he doesn’t like doing it, but still tried it. We told him the fact that he was open to trying this is very good. Another one told us he ‘just went to his room,’ and decided to try something else besides ‘just acting out.’ Each week we ask them, ‘Has anyone had a chance to try out the strategies we have been learning about?’”
Director of Clinical Training and Licensed Psychologist Dr. Rita Gray says the interns are proving to be a huge asset to the Health Department. “The clients we serve are fortunate to have knowledgeable and dedicated interns to conduct groups around conflict resolution. Since relationship conflicts are bound to happen, learning to deal with them in a healthy way is vital. These group leaders are teaching the youngsters skills that will help them into adolescence and beyond.”
And after the conflict resolution classes end in March, at least two more group sessions are lined up, including an LGBTQ group and a healthy relationships group. Spurlock is scheduled to be with the Will County Health Department through this coming September. For information on Behavioral Health programs at the Health Department, go to willcountyhealth.org
or call 815-727-8521.