Mental health IS an essential service
The New Haven Residential Treatment Center (New Haven) is located in Utah County, Utah and is a residential center for girls ages 14 to 18. New Haven’s mission is to treat girls who are dealing with trauma and negative behaviors such as self-harm, addiction, and eating disorders, and provide them with the strength, love, education, and support they need to live a happy and healthy life. They are very successful in achieving their goal and in fact 9 out of 10 of the girls who go through their program return home free from, or better equipped to handle, the issue which brought them there.
Being human is hard, life is hard, these times are hard. I want to put the focus on people who are constantly working to make the world a little bit brighter. The people who work to remind us that we are deserving of happiness and taking the time to deal with the pain and suffering we have endured. We can’t change the world if we don’t acknowledge our own pain. We need to fill ourselves up with love, honesty, and respect so that we can have enough to give to others. I interviewed Joanne Baker, an English teacher at New Haven, to get some insight on how we can triumph over our trauma.
New Haven creates an environment for young women to thrive in, while giving them the tools to get in touch with themselves and identify what’s really important in their lives. Each girl participates in individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy through which they learn the skills to help them escape their negative behaviors.
“We send ourselves so many messages all day long, if we are choosing to send ourselves positive and empowering messages, that’s gotta elevate where we live in our brains” Joanne says. Of course, that is easier said than done, but Joanne warns us that “ if we are in negative thinking then our actions will follow.” We often use negative thinking because we think it will motivate us to be better – “I’m not good enough, I have to work harder” or “I’m not a good enough girlfriend or mom or sister, etc.” – but in the end, this pattern of thinking makes us more depressed and drains our energy and our ability to be there for others, leaving us feeling more alone and unworthy.
As Joanne suggests, one tactic to use when your thinking negatively is to “come up with a statement saying the opposite of what you’re feeling” that challenges the validity of your negative thinking. For example, “I am a good mom, I love my children, I do work everday.” Joanne explains, “I think therefore I am. If I tell myself for long enough I am good enough, then I wanna become that.” Don’t we all want to become the best version of ourselves?
Just like a flower, in order to grow, you need to be in an environment that nourishes you and who you surround yourself with is a big part of that. All the therapy in the world cannot replace the value of healthy, stable relationships and according to Joanne, at New Haven “it’s the relationships that they develop within the community that make all the difference.” She explains that “if you have neglect, parents who are mostly unavailable, you don’t know how to have healthy relationships because you didn’t learn from your parents how to securely attach. If they can come and be in a place with people who show up for them everyday and learn about what a secure attachment relationship is like, it can be transformative in healing the trauma.”
The first lesson I learn here is to be very careful of the people I keep in my circle. Too often we make excuses for people or blame ourselves for the way other people treat us. Enough is enough, we deserve to be with people who lift us up, who accept us as we are, and who help us grow better. The second lesson I learn is that you can’t get rid of a negative behavior or a bad friend without replacing it with something or someone positive. Joanne explains “If you can have these experiences that feel just as good as the negative behaviors, you won’t need the negative behaviors to cope anymore.” I think we can all find things or people in our lives that aren’t good for us, and it can be easier to think of ways to replace them rather than letting them go, cause that way we aren’t losing anything in the process.
The chances are that our parents made a lot of mistakes and the way we were raised heavily shapes who we become. New Haven wants to not only solve the underlying problem, but also the environment that created it and therefore, “it’s a family system-based program, when the students enrolled the parents are enrolled. Given some tools that they didn’t have prior to coming to us, they learn and grow so that when their daughter returns, the system shifts and they are creating a more supportive environment for their daughter to return to.”
I think often parents forget to take care of themselves and set an example for their children because they are so focused on stopping their children from making the same mistakes they did. In the end, children can feel responsible for carrying the burdens that their parents never dealt with and it can do more harm than good. “When our kids are born, they don’t come with a manual. It’s so important for parents to inform themselves on what being a parent means,” says Joanne. When parents take care of their own emotions and issues, they can learn to be more available to their children. Instead of being so focused on being the stereotypical “perfect parent” that can adjust to their child’s specific needs and listen to their children instead of assuming they know best.
Negative behaviors help us “to escape or to feel” when we can not cope with our reality. Sadly, bringing us further from reality and unable to make positive changes. Although we would love to believe that everyone is able to be rehabilitated, Joanne sadly states that “things do happen.” You
have to let people get their own wings, when they prove capable we give them their independence, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.” But that doesn’t mean you ever give up.
We can all learn something from the highly important work being done at New Haven. Mental Health is an essential service for everybody. If you don’t have access to proper therapy or treatment, you can start by replacing your negative thoughts with positive affirmations and your negative behaviors with positive actions. Let’s get in touch with what we’re lacking so we can give ourselves what we need, create an environment that nourishes us, and then share that love and open-mindedness with others. Remember to never be ashamed or afraid to ask for help, we all deserve to be at peace, even when the world is shaking.
Any time you have a negative thought ask yourself 4 questions
Question 1: Is it true?
Question 2: Can you absolutely know it’s true?
Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?
Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?
Joanne is an English Teacher at the New Haven School and a writer for “The Guest House” which focuses on trauma based recovery”