A healing journey leads to a new beginning
By Beech Brook
Like far too many children who come into our care, Katie’s early years were marked by exposure to violence and the trauma it leaves in its wake.
Now 12, Katie has been working with Beech Brook art therapist Rick Rule-Hoffman ever since she was placed in a Beech Brook foster home at age 7.
Small but mighty. That’s one way to describe her. Katie has always been petite for her age but, as Rick says with a smile, she’s always been “big in voice and actions.”
In one of their first sessions, this tiny dynamo tried to run away and barricaded herself in a room by stacking heavy chairs on top of each other against the door, astonishing the staff members with her strength.
Katie’s tendency to run was one of the toughest issues to overcome. She was constantly running away from her foster home and from school and putting herself into dangerous situations. Often the police had to be called to help find her.
What Katie was really running from, says Rick, was her fear and the powerful feelings she was unable to face, the result of the horrific abuse she had witnessed against her mother and little brother. It’s no surprise that she would want to run away from those memories.
“She did a lot of re-enacting of the things she had seen,” Rick said of Katie’s volatile behavior. “Even as a small child, she always felt she had to play the adult role and would try to protect her mother and brother.”
A good painter, Katie was able to begin dealing with some of these traumatic memories through art therapy sessions with Rick, producing poignant and powerful images of scenes in which she had seen her brother slammed against a wall and others depicting the violence she had witnessed.
Equally important to the healing process were Katie’s Beech Brook foster parents who provided stability and consistency despite her extremely challenging behaviors.
Her foster family did not just sit on the sidelines in terms of Katie’s treatment.
“They really wanted to understand Katie’s trauma and how they could help her,” Rick said.
They came consistently to art therapy sessions with her every week and fully engaged in family therapy, and they learned all they could about trauma and its impact on a child.
And they hung in there with her through thick and thin, providing the caring support she needed as she learned to express her overwhelming feelings verbally instead of acting them out.
Another part of the strategy to help Katie overcome her fears was to provide a special place where she could feel safe and be safe rather than running. At Rick’s suggestion, her foster parents gave her a pop-up tent for her room where she could go to calm herself when she began to experience strong emotions.
Throughout her years in foster care, Katie had continued to hope that she could be reunited with her mother, who had been incarcerated since her children had been removed.
“For a long time, she didn’t want to be adopted, but she finally accepted the fact that she couldn’t go back to her mother,” Rick recalls.
Her foster parents were not able to adopt a child – an additional blow for Katie who had asked if they could adopt her – so the search for an adoptive home was on.
It was a family in another city who saw Katie’s profile and decided to pursue an adoption. After conversations with Rick and others involved in Katie’s care, they began to talk with her by phone and then by video calls, and they hit it off. She got to know her three soon-to-be siblings.
It became clear to all those involved that this was a sensitive and loving family who was truly engaged with all their children and very focused on meeting their individual needs.
“They made a beautiful book, welcoming Katie to the family, and explaining that this would be her home now and that they would be living with her. It was really wonderful,” he said.
Katie has now joined her new family, and her adoption should be finalized in the coming weeks. Her parents are making sure she continues to get the therapy she needs, including transitional sessions with Rick, as she adjusts to her new life. And they’ve created a special niche in her room where she can feel safe whenever she needs to deal with strong feelings.
As they parted for the last time, Rick says, he thanked her for all of her hard work over the last five years. “Just keep on being your best self,” he told her. And thanks to the healing she found at Beech Brook and a wonderful new family, it looks like she’s now on track to do just that.
Visit www.beechbrook.org for more information.