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Thoughts from a graduate student

Written by Sara Schaller

Practicum Student with Rainbows’ Early Childhood Mental Health Team, Sara Schaller, shares her experience over the course of 6 months.

When I started my second and final year of graduate school, I began to experience a whole new level of anxiety; one that far exceeded the previously experienced bouts of panic and disorientation. The reality of my impending professional future was officially settling in. With graduation in sight, friends and family were beginning to ask the inevitable questions, “What kind of job are you going to get?” and “What are you going to do with your degree?” These are the kinds of questions that any college student should expect, no? Being a person who didn’t intend on incorporating social work into their professional career, let alone going to graduate school to study it, I had absolutely no idea how to respond to my inquisitive peers. In addition to feeling aimless regarding my career path, I was uncertain where I was going to fit in the collegiate puzzle of field practicums. With my mind reeling about my fast approaching future, I made the decision to pursue mental health. This was a familiar space for me, coming from a background filled with law enforcement and crisis intervention. Despite being unsure of where this venture would take me, I felt secure in the selection I had made for my final field placement as a college student. Enter stage left, Rainbows United Inc.

With nerves gone awry and my stomach in knots, I forged my way into a world unknown to me, early childhood mental health. While I had previously experienced countless encounters with individuals suffering from declining mental health, I had never worked in an environment quite like this one. I felt much like Charlie when he entered Wonka’s magical world, bewildered, excited, hopeful. From day one, I became enmeshed in a world of mental health professionals who possessed limitless amounts of compassion, caring, and knowledge. It was immediately clear to me that if childhood mental health was the direction I was heading, Rainbows’ Mental Health Department was the place for me to be. My days at Rainbows quickly became filled with informative discussions and meetings, individual therapy sessions and classroom support with amazing little kiddos, research, interventions, developmental assessments, and relying on my office buddies to fill in the gaps where my college education ran dry. I was exposed to numerous other services for special needs children, some of which I was vaguely familiar with, others I was unfamiliar with. My field instructor, the ever-fearless Mental Health Department Coordinator – Audra Kenneson, guided and lighted my path, introducing me to concepts and topics previously left unpondered. I had been gifted with the exact learning experience I didn’t know I needed.

My time as an intern at Rainbows is coming to a close. The number of my remaining days here have dwindled down to single digit numbers. With my exit date just around the corner, I want to share my experience here with others, particularly those who are also seeking their elusive life purpose or are trying to nail down their  future professional endeavors. For the last 6.5 months, Rainbows has offered me incredible insight into the world of early childhood mental health. Having previously worked with many teenaged and adult individuals suffering from various afflictions that affected their psychological well-being, I always wondered if any of those individuals would have been dealt a better deck of cards, had they received early intervention as a child. Being at Rainbows and working with young children who have been identified as having social/emotional and behavioral needs has allowed me to enter into a whole new world of hope where mental health services and early intervention are concerned. The staff at Rainbows work tirelessly and diligently, striving day after day to not only supply high quality services to children and their families, but also to improve screening efforts to effectively reach children who need services and may otherwise be overlooked.

Being someone who has had the pleasure of sharing a workspace with the incredible staff at Rainbows, I wish to stress the importance of allowing college students to intern at agencies and organizations that provide mental health services of any kind, but especially early childhood intervention. As humans, mental health is the foundation upon which we build ourselves and our lives. For mental health professionals, it is imperative that we supply children with the tools and skills necessary for them to have a strong, stable foundation that will support them for all the years of their life. If this ever-expanding industry is going to withstand the test of time, the plucky college students of the future with hopes of making a difference in the world of mental health need to have the learning experiences necessary to develop their skills. I will forever be grateful for my time spent at Rainbows, as the knowledge and experience I have earned while I was here are immeasurable. My hope is that future students will be afforded the same incredible experience that I have had, because the children of tomorrow depend on it.