A family recovers from trauma … and finds another ‘family’

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There was a time when the sounds of anger filled Teresa’s house. Her boyfriend let his fists and foul language fly so much that she, their two sons, and her daughter lived in fear.

Teresa thought therapy could change him, and for a while, it seemed to work. But one day in 2013, Teresa saw her partner sexually abuse her daughter, who was then just 10. Police officers arrested and quickly deported him, and the family hasn’t seen him since.

But their troubles didn’t end. The children, traumatized, had withdrawn. Teresa’s youngest, a 6-year-old boy, barely spoke. Her middle child was always angry and fighting. Her daughter couldn’t sleep, harmed herself, and dreaded school because some books triggered unwanted memories of the sexual abuse she’d suffered. For Teresa, parenting became a challenge, as she struggled with her children’s complicated needs and her own quick temper that she’d developed from years of stress and abuse.

In 2014, she connected with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Family Growth Program in Monmouth County (pictured, above). Therapists there specialize in treating children and families who have experienced sexual abuse and other trauma.

Teresa and all three of her children began counseling there.

Getting the family involved

“We teach kids coping skills, relaxation, feelings identification, and other tools they can use when they experience symptoms of trauma,” said Caroline Glidden (pictured, right), a marriage and family therapist with Family Growth who worked with Caroline’s youngest son. “We want the whole family very involved, because we also teach the parents all these things so that they can help their kids.”

Therapists encourage children to write “trauma narratives” of what they experienced in order to help them process it.

Teresa’s counselor taught her self-care strategies to boost her mental health, because a parent who isn’t in a good place mentally may not have the patience and other tools required for parenting.

Changing lives by listening

They also helped Teresa understand how her own childhood trauma, which included abandonment and sexual abuse, echoed into her adulthood. But Teresa learned how mindfulness and positive thinking can help her avoid dwelling on the past.

She especially appreciates that the help came with no strings attached.

“I didn’t have insurance, and they didn’t charge a single dollar,” Teresa said. “The kindness they showed me was everything.”

Teresa is now engaged to a “very nice and responsible” man. And her children – now 17, 14, and 13 – have promising futures. Her daughter will graduate high school this spring with plans to study art in college. Her middle son attends a private high school on academic scholarship and has his sights set on Harvard University and a career in neurology. And her youngest son? He’s talking again.

“I thank God for Catholic Charities. People like Caroline change our lives, just by listening to us and talking to us,” Teresa said, gesturing to Glidden. “It’s like Catholic Charities is my other family. When I see people struggling with their life now, I say: ‘Go to Catholic Charities, you’ll find help there!’”

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For more information about the Monmouth Family Growth Program, call Program Director Jane Meyer at (732) 747-9660, ext. 7106.; or Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, at ddifilippo@cctrenton.org or (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153. This story appeared in our spring 2020 Spirit newsletter. Read the whole newsletter here.

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