by Suzanne Cloud
According to recent mental health statistics by the Kaiser Family Foundation, they found for June, 2020, that 36.5% of American adults showed symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. This result was up from 11% in June, 2019. This dramatic rise was all due to Covid-19. Children are also being hard hit emotionally from school closings and activity cancellations.
On the front lines of this crisis stands Kim Wheeler Poitevien (PWAT-vee-en), 39, a licensed clinical social worker, counselor and owner of Amel Counseling and Consulting in Chestnut Hill. (“Amel” is Arabic for “hope.”) The native of Baltimore has lived in Mt. Airy for nine years with her husband, Omaar, who grew up in Chestnut Hill and then Mt. Airy and had attended Chestnut Hill Academy and Norwood Fontbonne Academy. The couple have two sons, 3 and 6.
A therapist for 20 years, Poitevien specializes in children primarily (5-17 years) and family counseling. This mental health hero knew what she wanted to do early in life. “I always wanted to work with kids. Plus, I had my own therapist as a teen, and I didn't connect with her. So (laughing) I figured I could do a better job."
Poitevien received a BA in social work at Cedar Crest College in Allentown and a Master's in social work from the University of Maryland. She is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked extensively with children, adolescents and their families. Much of that time was spent with children diagnosed with severe mental illnesses and trauma histories in schools, inpatient psychiatric units and residential treatment facilities.
Before the pandemic, Poitevien would see a lot of school-based anxiety, especially among private school kids. “The curriculum is rigorous, and kids deal with immense pressure to perform. A lot of kids are over-scheduled, too. I also work with kids of color who are experiencing race and class disparity in primarily white private schools. They feel overwhelmed, like they don't fit in. Or they feel pressure to fit in because they kind of stand out."
Now that the coronavirus has invaded, her patients are hurting from other challenges that wouldn’t have popped up otherwise. For example, parents working from home now are trying to manage their children’s online learning along with Zoom meetings with colleagues. With school closed, the kids are missing their friends and teachers. Mom and dad are overstressed and unwittingly projecting fear onto their children. The grandparents are totally isolated from the family and feel powerless to help.
“For the little kids, I use play therapy techniques, even though my sessions are all virtual right now. But we still play with their favorite toys. We play out what's going on in their lives to draw out something they're frustrated about. We'll watch a video, something we can talk about. I see their body language and listen to their tone of voice. Sometimes we talk about deeper things … We play video fighting games together like Minecraft, and that gets them to talk about their feelings."
Poitevien has some reassuring words for parents: “Remember, there is no manual for parenting during a pandemic. Parents have to cut themselves some slack. Things are not going to be perfect. I normalize all the emotions and teach kids and parents that every emotion is fine. Everyone must realize that this is what people do when they're really stressed out."
This Chestnut Hill therapist has the understanding and emotional empathy to deal with these new issues. "Yes, it's pretty traumatic for most people. Isolation and increased anxiety. Even my own kids. We just went down to Cape May to see the grandparents, and one of my sons went and hid when we were ready to leave. He hadn’t seen them in months and didn’t want to go home.”
Some issues Poitevien sees in the future are possible symptoms of social and emotional regression in children due to isolation from their peers, possible phobias about large groups and complications from grief if someone dies and the survivor can’t say goodbye.
New York Times writer David Leonhardt wrote a recent essay about the long-term after-effects of our current infectious calamity. “... the pandemic increasingly looks like one of the defining events of our time ... It could easily be the most important global experience since World War II and the Great Depression. Events that ... alter the rhythms of everyday life do tend to leave a legacy."
According to Poitevien, “Be kind to yourself. Then, it’s much easier to pass it on.”
For more information, visit ameltherapy.com