By: Katie Sobiech
Some say laughter is the best medicine…Those at Greenleaf know it well. They’ve seen the positive results of lightening the mood, particularly for teens dealing with anger issues.
They do this by playing a game of charades.
“My favorite thing to tell is that we play Charades. The purpose is to have the teens act out their emotions,” Ruth Llewellyn, Behavioral Health Specialist at Greenleaf said.
Greenleaf holds group meetings for 10 weeks at a time for teens referred by the juvenile court, concerned parents, or schools.
“We see all kinds of issues from severe domestic violence, to the use of weapons or theft… It can be very severe things,” Llewellyn said, “In our last group one teen was involved in stabbing another individual, one was indicted in a murder situation, and another was involved in car theft.”
Other forms of acting out have included shoplifting, fighting at school, and even beating up a teacher.
“Many of the individuals are gang-related members,” Llewellyn said.
Two licensed facilitators and counselors manage each group.
“We’re very close to the juvenile court and this is used in a positive way to defer the kids from having to go into Dan Street Juvenile Detention Center. This is a preventative measure taken so things don’t escalate. We do have some very severe cases, but this is meant to stop that progression for them,” Llewellyn said.
“When we introduce the group we have what’s called an anger go-around,” Llewellyn shared, explaining that it is an introductory period where the kids explain what issue got them referred.
“Some of the kids start jockeying for whose tougher or had the worse offense because a lot of the kids are defined by those negative things. That’s what gives them their personality within the community, their school, or gang,” Llewellyn said.
By week five, Llewellyn says, the groups become very intimate due to all of the personal sharing going on.
“It creates some bonding among members,” she said.
One of the goals of the group is to practice expressing anger appropriately.
“We give them leeway in being able to express their feelings. Sometimes you see the anger escalate because we let other members challenge them on what they say. We always have members challenge someone when they think they’re saying something off the wall, inappropriate, or unhealthy,” Llewellyn said.
She recalls the irony of a teen who stole cars yelling at another teen for being disrespectful and violent towards her mother.
A licensed professional counselor herself, Llewellyn is highly aware of the benefits of one-on-one counseling, however, she finds unique value in group therapy.
“Individual counseling is valuable and important but one of the advantages of the group is the peer support because it’s the peer influence that creates how they express their anger. When they have peer support to do different, it’s huge. Individual counseling really can’t ever compete with something like that,” Llewellyn said.
Ways to Deal with Anger
“We talk about not being reactive, and help them look at consequences,” Llewellyn said.
Unfortunately many of them don’t care about consequences.
“When we ask them where they see themselves at age 25 some say they just live day to day; they can’t even think that far ahead,” she continued.
The problem is that many of the teens do not grow up in an atmosphere that encourages goal setting.
“For many of them it’s just about survival; they’re in survival mode. With that, all of their energies have to focus on how to get from one day to the next, so they aren’t focused on going to college, getting a job or having a family. We try to help them visualize all those things, but those aren’t their goals, so the consequences don’t mean as much,” Llewellyn shared.
She explained that if the teens realized that getting a felony now in domestic violence would prevent them from becoming a school teacher, or whatever goal they have, then they would see the need to manage their anger.
“If they’re just cruising through life without any goals, they don’t care about consequences,” she said.
Encouraging the teens to have a dream for their future is a major step in turning their lives around.
Llewellyn also finds it important to get the kids to lighten up and express their emotions in a healthy way. They do this by playing Charades.
“The purpose is that we have them act out emotions. Even the toughest guy will act like a little kid. They’re laughing and giggling and want to do it again, so you get to see that child-like freedom in them in this setting that no one else gets to see. You might not want to stand on a street corner next to them, but we get to see them just being silly, and that more innocent side,” Llewellyn said.
Many of them have never played Charades, or any childlike game before.
For more information on Greenleaf Family Center please visit http://www.greenleafctr.org.