PSR alum helps traumatized girls see their strengths

May 11, 2010

Allyson PlattIn a teenage therapeutic group home, where fights can break out instantly and where therapy sessions can be raw and grueling, there is no such thing as a typical day, explains Allyson Platt (MDiv 1987). “I work with teenage girls with a lot of trauma history, so any given day is different depending on how well the kids are functioning,” she says. One recent day was filled with counseling about a slew of incidents, in which some girls had violent outbreaks and others traded their medication; reading incident reports; providing grief support; and holding an art therapy class.

Platt hadn’t planned on such intense and difficult work—in fact, she happened across her most recent position while looking for a kitchen table on Craigslist a few months ago. But she says she felt God move her to working with troubled teens.

“Once I started doing this job, it was clear I had experience and understanding from my own life and my work as a pastor for 20 years. It informed my ability to see all the pictures at play in the girls’ lives,” the therapist and supervisor explains. “It was undeniably clear that this was what I was supposed to do. I understood. It is a calling.”

Although the home where Platt works is secular, she sees much of what she does from a faith-based perspective.

“The connection I make with the girls and the staff is an existential one. It has to do with the inherent worth and dignity of every human being – that of God within each of us,” says Platt, who lives near the home in Willimantic, Connecticut. “I try to see their strengths, helping them develop those strengths and skills, and help them appreciate their goodness. A big part of the job is reinforcing kids’ strengths – reinforcing it often enough so that it’s not a foreign concept.”

That slow but important work infuses everything Platt does at the home. One girl stopped taking her medication, became violent, and had to be hospitalized. When he teen returned to the home, she began to reconsider her previous motives, and with Platt’s help, she realized how the medication aided her balance.

Although such reasoning might seem unremarkable, the girl’s progress marked a significant improvement. “She used her best self to look at her life issues, the academic issues involved. She did well making a decision for herself,” Platt says.

Of course, such breakthroughs are sometimes fleeting: The same girl later had to be re-hospitalized briefly after refusing her medication. But the turnaround to a more even keel was much quicker this time, Platt points out.

Although it may seem to be a big leap from interpreting the Bible to managing crises at a therapy home, Platt sees her current work as a continuation of her education at PSR.

“Archie Smith’s pastoral counseling class comes to mind. By looking at the interpretation of scripture, the different conclusions people draw, he showed me not to judge others,” Platt says. “You can’t get away with judging people in therapy. PSR reinforced my inclination to be open-minded.” That strength allows her to help the girls who need acceptance and kindness the most.