Heart of the Community: Interns have important role at Community Child Guidance Clinic, Inc.

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Mar. 29, 2013
Emily O'Hara is an intern at Community Child Guidance Clinic, Inc.
Emily O'Hara is an intern at Community Child Guidance Clinic, Inc., located at 317 North Main St. in Manchester. CCGC provides diagnostic and treatment services to children with emotional, behavioral, social or academic problems. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

From Marlborough to Stafford Springs, South Windsor to Columbia, families who have a child with psychological needs have a very important resource in Manchester. Founded in 1959, the Community Child Guidance Clinic is a private, non-profit mental health agency that provides diagnostic and treatment services to children up to 18 years of age, and also offers help and support to their families.

CCGC provides a wide range of services, made possible by dedicated and highly-trained staff as well as a handful of interns, who volunteer their time, effort and expertise to help the children that the clinic serves.

Among these interns is Emily O'Hara, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at the University of Hartford. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with children as she gains valuable experience in her field. “I'm very passionate about working with kids and working here,” O'Hara said. “I wake up and like what I do.”

O'Hara is one of five interns currently working at CCGC, many of whom are majoring in social services. They work three days a week for a total of 20 hours, beginning in September and going until May.

CCGC runs a clinical school where children with developmental disorders learn functional and cognitive skills, and students with behavioral or emotional disorders receive academic education while also developing social skills. This is where most of O'Hara's work takes place, where she works individually with students and works with their teachers, social workers and parents. “It's a very collaborative model to help support the emotional and academic needs of the students,” O'Hara said.

Students from within the local school districts that have behavioral challenges come to the CCGC school to receive the structure, positive reinforcement and help they need.

For O'Hara, working with children is rewarding, but also a challenge. Her job is to discover what causes a child to misbehave or struggle, and for very young children who do not yet have the ability to express their problems, this is no easy task. “Sometimes, the barrier is they are not able to articulate [their problems] very well,” she said. “When you're an adolescent, they'll tell you till they're blue in the face what's going on. With kids, it's an extra challenge because they won't go out and tell you, 'I'm really mad at someone' or, 'My teacher is really bothering me.' You have to piece these things together.”

A helpful method O'Hara uses to learn more about a child's struggles is play therapy. You can learn a lot about a child's disposition by observing how they play. Even during a board game, O'Hara can look for subtle clues about their general approach to peer interactions. “There's so many different things that even just playing a board game can tell you about a kid, and why they might be struggling in the classroom,” she said. It is also an opportunity to encourage better peer interaction and build the child's self-esteem.

O'Hara has always loved science, and originally studied to be a physician. But when she studied biology and anatomy, she became more and more intrigued with the psychological make-up of a person. She began her studies in pediatric psychology, which provided her with the foundation for her current doctoral studies. “A lot of my inspiration in psychology came from pediatric psychology, where I'm working in a medical setting and trying to help families cope with some very challenging things that they need to face,” she said.

Working at the clinical school is just one of the services O'Hara is involved in. She also works with the very young in CCGC's Birth to Five Early Intervention Program, which provides services to children up to the age of 5 who have emotional, behavioral or developmental problems. She also is in the process of learning how to conduct autism assessments in the Building Blocks Autism Assessment Program.

“What's great about CCGC is there are so many different programs,” said O'Hara. As she offers her assistance freely, the experience she gains is priceless. “As an intern, I'm getting exposed to so many different things,” she said.

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