Shawna Burns does not believe in “bad kids.” As a Licensed Counselor and Regional Director at Youth Bridge, when she meets with a child who has problems, she approaches this as symptoms of inner-pain and struggles.

“When trauma occurs all those seeds get planted way back in the mind,” she said. “As all that pain start surfacing, it’s almost like a child is swimming in the middle of the ocean and they’re trying to stay alive because the pain is overwhelming. So they will grab at anything to hang on and minimize the pain. That’s when they grab at addictions.”

According to Shawna, behaviors such as drug, alcohol and sex addictions even self-mutilation and eating disorders are all ways children might be dealing with the pain. Many times, children will be heavily medicated with antidepressants, which may be helpful in the short-term, but fail to address the core issues in the long-term. In order to deal with the true cause of the pain, you’ve got to dig a little deeper. Once such treatment is seed digging, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that Shawna and the team at Youth Bridge have practiced since 2014.

“Seed Digging aims to get to the root of the problem and doesn’t just ‘chop weeds,’ she said. “It aims to get to the underlying reason for the depression, anger, anxiety, or substance abuse/addiction issue. These are all ‘symptoms’ and not the underlying problem. It’s very similar to a child with pneumonia. The physicians would not just treat the ‘fever’ with Tylenol. They would figure out why the fever is there and when they discover it, the give the person antibiotics to treat the pneumonia. In turn the fever takes care of itself.”

The goal is not just bandaging the symptoms with medications or ineffective therapy, but looking past the weeds of the garden and dig to the root of the issue. It can take an average of 5-6 sessions to get to the root of things. If these deeply-hidden problems are not addressed, the child can continue acting out and even become suicidal.

Shawna cites addictions has being a form of survival mode, but this can shift to hopeless mode. Signs of this include kids feeling despondent, lacking energy or even giving away their favorite items. The best prevention for suicide is early identification and catch those kids when they’re in survival mode, not hopeless mode.

“If we identify symptoms early and realize that kids who are acting out are not bad kids, but they’re trying to tell us something,” Shawna said. “They’re trying to deal with their pain and we have to stop judging that. We have to change our focus and realize all those things are telling us a story. Those kids are hurting and we need to get them into counseling and do a lot of prevention or intervention services.  If they keep in that mode, give it time and they’ll end up in hopeless mode and that’s when they can take their life very quickly.”

Luckily, seed digging is an effective, evidence-based therapy. Youth Bridge counselors have dealt with many kids who were suicidal and even homicidal and achieved positive results. If you think your child is in need of seed-digging therapy, please call us at 479-521-1532.

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