Recently, during my first semester of my second year in Child and Youth Care at Mount Royal University - I was assigned to my first practicum, ever. I was a little worried in the beginning but the feeling subsided after time. My practicum placement was at a youth homeless shelter in the middle of my city. The feelings, which had me so terrified in the beginning, subsided, as I was capable of connecting my life as a troubled teen to the lives of these youth. Although, something that I couldn’t prepare for had happened, causing me to second-guess my influence on these young members of society. A suicide had occurred in the homeless shelter and there are a lot of things in this world I am capable of handling, preparing or even understanding, but this time I had no idea what to do. I was afraid to show up to my practicum and I was nervous to speak with the youth because I was only a practicum student.
I guess this leaves me to why I am sending this email – as a practicum student; do we have the same influence as staff, emotionally? If our presence or relationship with these youth is beneficial should we pursue that and help them out with traumatic experiences without any training that these situations usually require? Is it worse to be an influence and leave your youth once your placement is finished or is it worse to watch your boundaries and not be the influence they could benefit from at the time?
Congratulations on jumping right into your practicum placement. One of the best ways to learn this work is simply by doing it. Some of those feelings and fear are quite normal - it is a deep thing to come along side others helping them make sense of where they are and where they want to go. You’re right that we really can’t prepare for everything that happens in our work. I am really sorry to hear of the suicide at the homeless shelter.
You might be interested in checking out my article in September’s CYC-Online - I share some about the loss of a good friend and what those struggling with ending their lives might need from us.
Reflecting on your inner response to what happened and your roles is a good thing. It’s something that some don’t take the time to do and there is a lot to learn from the process.
Don’t think of your role as a practicum student as a less valuable or influential role. In this work we never know what opportunity might arise in the moment of interaction. Of course, we do have to realize the limits of our training and scope, but the level of our influence lies in our ability to really be with someone, connecting and engaging with them in meaningful moments of time.
And, in a way, you are not really leaving once your practicum placement is finished. You and the young people you connected with will both share what you have learned from each other for a lifetime.
Best wishes in your work and healing from the loss,
I have comments from staff and kids too numerous to mention about the influence and impact of individual students on placement. I have memories myself of students who came in and didn’t go away - yours is an invaluable contribution. Even 'lesser' students teach us something (often about ourselves).
I am guessing you weren’t alone in not knowing what to do, what to say, how far to go - others will have the same fear and nervousness. The beauty of working in residential environments in particular is the immediate support of your colleagues - they will keep you right - and the part young people play in looking out for each other. Beyond that the role of supervisors/managers/consultants should offer further time for planning what to do next in a meaningful and purposeful way, not to mention informal and formal opportunities for reflection and learning.
Your relationships with young people as a student will be short but if they are genuine they can be meaningful and have a long lasting positive impact without having to be artificially or inappropriately enduring.
While I was growing up my favorite teacher was in 5th grade. She was my influence. I hung on her every word. I was only with her for 180 days. I didn’t have a therapist, although I probably could have used one. I also would hope that I’m a great friend.
ALL of these are connections I will carry with me my entire life.
I too have had people I know end their life way too early, by their own hand or other circumstances.
Whether or not you have training in handling or helping someone who has these thoughts, there is no “one thing” to say to that person. You need to be you. That is what will help. Be real. Sometimes not knowing what to say is just as important as trying to say the right thing.
The fact that you have written means that you care. The fact that you are asking people for help means that you are questioning your thoughts.
I am going to tell you that what ever you tell that youth or yourself will be the right thing for that moment.
One last thing: Being professional doesn’t mean you stop caring.
/0\ my professional arms are open for the therapeutic hug I feel you need.