Meeting the client where they're at... Tennyson Center for Children style

October 11, 2017

If you are a mental health professional, you have heard it from your professors, supervisors and colleagues a million times, "Meet the client where they're at." It isn't the most grammatically correct phrase, but it is one of the most prevalent and for good reason. Meeting the client 'where they're at' means that you don't just give a 1-size-fits-all approach or put your own agenda on a client. Instead, we are encouraged to constantly assess what the child and family need and want throughout treatment and adjust our interventions accordingly.

At Tennyson Center for Children, we are unique in that we are able to do this not only as clinicians, counselors and teachers but also as an agency. Because we have a full spectrum of programs and work collaboratively with external partners, such as the Department of Human Services (DHS), guardian ad litems (GAL’s), schools, mental health centers, etc.- we can truly "meet clients where they're at" and customize services to fit their needs; no more, no less.

Tanya and Elijah* are perfect examples of kids who may look similar on paper but have very different needs when we look a little deeper. Tanya and Elijah are both 8-year-old kids who have trauma histories. They both also participate in Tennyson Center’s day treatment program where they get their educational and social-emotional needs met during school days.

While Tanya attends school at Tennyson, she also goes home to two loving parents. Tanya’s symptomology and behaviors are increased in the school environment, but less so in the home and her parents work together to support Tanya’s special needs appropriately. Tanya ‘s parents will come to Tennyson once a week for family therapy and Tanya will also meet with her therapist individually during the school week. It has become clear that Tanya needs a healthy way to express her personal story so she is working on creating a trauma narrative with her TF-CBT (trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy) trained therapist. The special education teacher, youth treatment counselors and therapist in Tanya’s classroom are meeting Tanya’s current needs until she is able to move back to a public school or less restrictive classroom.

Elijah has higher needs than Tanya. Elijah is in the child welfare system and is in need of a foster care placement. The problem is, his behaviors are so severe that he has “blown out” of his last two placements. After consulting with his Denver DHS caseworker, Tennyson admitted Elijah to our residential program until a new foster family can be identified. In residential, Elijah will meet regularly with a therapist certified in facilitating Synergetic Play Therapy. Once DHS finds a foster home for Elijah, Tennyson’s Community-Based Services (CBS) team will offer several hours of in-home support to encourage a successful placement. The CBS team will work with Elijah and his foster parents to create a nurturing and structured home consistent with the environment he is doing well within residential and day treatment. Elijah responds especially well to many Love and Logic techniques and his foster parents have found those new skills to make a big difference. Elijah and his foster parents, G.A.L., caseworker, therapist, teacher, and a family support specialist will meet at least monthly to discuss what is going well and review progress from everyone’s perspective.

Elijah and Tanya are both 8-year-old kids receiving services through Tennyson but those services look very different because their needs are very different. Within our Residential, Community-based and Day Treatment programs we have caring staff trained in anything ranging from trauma-informed yoga to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), sign language and everything in between.

No, we still don’t have a swimming pool like Mt. Saint Vincent …but we collaborate with them too!

There aren’t any cookie-cutter kids. Join us in refusing to give them cookie-cutter services.

Written by guest author Shawn Cohen, LCSW. Shawn began working at Tennyson in 2011 and has since filled roles in their residential and day treatment departments before leaving to earn her MSW at DU and returning as a community-based clinician.

*Client names and details have been changed to protect their identities

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