New Frameworks for Centering Children & Their Complex Stories
By BETH HARPAZ
Sharing life stories, reflecting on the past, and even just talking about everyday challenges can help people cope and make sense of their lives — especially if they consider the environmental or societal forces that shaped their paths. Listening to these personal narratives can also be valuable to mental health professionals seeking insights into their clients’ struggles.
These types of stories are at the heart of a recent book, Narrating Practice with Children and Adolescents, edited by Professors Mery Diaz (City Tech) and Benjamin Shepard (City Tech, The Graduate Center).
“People’s lives are grounded in narratives,” they write in their introduction. “Creation stories help us find reality. A visceral feeling colors stories that connect individual lives with larger social forces. They allow us into other people’s lives in ways that other forms of data simply do not, enabling us to contemplate experiences of those we are trying to understand, in this case, the lives of children and adolescents.”
The book’s contributors include academics, therapists, activists, and policy-makers. Their subjects range from stories about their own childhoods to their work with LGBTQ kids, homeless youth, immigrants, formerly incarcerated individuals, and others.
Diaz contributed a chapter reflecting on her experiences growing up as the child of immigrants. She says that rather than “placing the burden of change” on children in need of mental health services, providers should adopt a “social justice perspective” to acknowledge the challenges these children face.
Shepard wrote about his work as a social worker providing AIDS services in New York and San Francisco, including stories about homeless youth and activists.
The book’s other CUNY-affiliated contributors are:
Professor Sherri L. Rings, a clinical psychologist at City College, who wrote about growing up with cerebral palsy; her parents’ efforts to secure services and opportunities for her; and why individuals with disabilities need “self-advocacy skills.”
Professor Kristina Baines, a sociocultural anthropologist at Guttman Community College, who wrote about young women balancing traditional practices while embracing opportunities. Her subjects include a teenager in Belize traveling daily to high school away from her Maya village, and a young woman in New York contemplating her Mexican-American family’s cultural expectations.