Dr. Genzel-Derman's Back Story, Founder of Sonic Teens/Acoustic Youth
As a young clinician, I worked as a foster family social worker in order to help pay for my doctoral program in psychology. During these years I encountered some of my most challenging therapeutic struggles. Many of the youth I worked with had not only lost their families, but the hope that they would ever find love or happiness. Day after day, week after week, I enthusiastically and naively visited these youngsters. I hoped to become a dependable adult in their lives that they could trust. However, what I quickly discovered was these children did not trust anyone and that "talk therapy" simply was not going to cut it. These kids desperately needed help yet my training was barely making a dent. I set out on a mission to discover how I could better connect to these kids. I began to "do" things with them. By finding out what they enjoyed and were passionate about I figured out how to enter their world. Soon I was facilitating a mural painting of the movie "Titanic," shooting hoops, making a pancake breakfast, hosting a cupcake decorating contest, putting on a Halloween party, crafting a photo album, discussing journal entries and analyzing song lyrics. Guess what started to happen? We started to talk! We talked about likes and dislikes, friends, school, and family. We engaged in casual conversation and delved into pretty dark spaces. It was through these creative connections that the kids permitted me to enter the vulnerable places in their world. In my experience many teens who are guarded and resistant to traditional talk therapy often open up when they are given the opportunity to express themselves through music, art, drama, writing, etc. With the space to create they often cannot help but let their thoughts and feelings escape. From these experiences, Sonic Teens was developed at the Child and Family Guidance Center in 2015. After much success, Acoustic Youth was created to bring this one-of-a-kind program to a broader audience.
When I overheard a teen say, "I couldn't wait to come to group today" and another teen responded, "You too? I've been thinking about it all week" – I knew I was onto something!