Trust in a psychotherapist is the first step towards overcoming trauma
Aleksandra Nikcevic, a psychologist and psychotherapist, helps child victims of violence to shed their trauma and continue to develop in line with their age and needs
Niksic, 15. October 2023 – Aleksandra works with children who have experienced some kind of trauma. Establishing trust in their psychotherapist so that they can openly discuss about themselves and their problems is crucial for these children. Although she tailors a different approach and therapeutic method for each child, their initial interaction usually begins similarly: Aleksandra introduces herself and says:
“You can be here, or you don’t have to be. No one will impose conditions on you. You can talk or not talk. You can draw, take a walk, or keep your distance. I’m here to be with you, whether in silence or in conversation, in loud or quiet emotions."
This psychologist has been working for several years at the non-governmental organization “Impuls” in Niksic with children who have suffered some form of violence. Her training for this role involved completing an advanced programme in the neurosequential therapy model, organized with the support of UNICEF and funded by the European Union. The therapeutic approach begins with a comprehensive review of the child’s relational history, an assessment of their current functioning, and the development of specific recommendations for interventions that can help them resolve problems and facilitate their holistic development.
In working with children, she focuses on identifying the cognitive and emotional capacities of the child and on determining which conditions remain unmet for the child to develop in line with their age and needs.
Trust must be established, and the child must be empowered before we can address the issue. Without trust, we cannot delve deeper into the layers of the problematic situation. Without empowerment, we venture into something that can harm both the child and the adult.
Starting a conversation with a child is not always easy for Aleksandra.
“I have a client whose silence lasted the longest. For about two months, she exchanged only two or three sentences with me about how she didn’t believe that therapy could help her,” Aleksandra says.
This girl, who experienced violence within her family, initially appeared distant, as if she were reading a book about her own life.
She harboured so much distrust that I had to take her through the office to reassure her that there were no surveillance cameras.
This is also remembered by the mother of this girl, who explains that her daughter went through long legal processes after experiencing family violence, intensifying the ordeal she had to endure. They learned about the psychotherapy services through the Centre for Social Work, which referred them to the NGO “Impuls”.
“What mattered to my daughter was that she could tell Aleksandra whatever she wanted, that her words were heard and not misinterpreted, and that her private matters would not be discussed on the street or at school...”
The mother herself attended only the initial therapy sessions with the added privilege of being able to reach out to Aleksandra whenever she needed additional advice.
“After more than a year, I can see progress. Nowadays, she is the one to start the conversation; we talk about everything: ordinary topics, how she’s doing at school, the challenges she faced with her friend, how she resolved them, how she talked to her dad, what questions she was asked at the centre."
Aleksandra explains that, in such situations, parents also go through trauma alongside their children and cannot adopt the necessary perspective.
“That is why we need a therapist with the educational and experiential capacity to attune themselves to the child and be there for them.”
Psychotherapy services are provided free-of-charge and interested parents can contact the organization through the contact form on their website.
However, their capacities are limited and, according to this psychotherapist, it is necessary to increase the number of trained therapists and make psychotherapy accessible and free for all those children who need it.
The issue of violence against children and young people in Montenegro is extremely pronounced. More than 60 per cent of children experience some form of violent discipline in their homes, which has a detrimental effect on their mental health. UNICEF is calling for an increase in community-based support services for children and families, especially the number of child psychologists and psychiatrists throughout the country, as well as an increase in the number of professionals in Centres for Social Work.
All children, especially those who have gone through traumatic experiences and been victims of violence, must enjoy access to psychosocial and mental health support.
High-quality social and child protection services are crucial for children, families and society as a whole. Therefore, service providers must be furnished with all the necessary prerequisites, including an adequate number of professionals, to enable them to assist children and families in need.
UNICEF is calling for increased investments and a stronger commitment to establishing and improving social and child protection services, especially their professional capacities, with more trained professionals available to every child who needs support.