By RENEE WEBB, Content and Design Coordinator, Lumen Media

Republished with permission by Dawn Prosser, Director of Communications, Lumen Media of the Diocese of Sioux City

School may be out for the summer but the school-based therapist at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Sioux City continues to work with students. This time it’s in a new setting.

Nathan Philips, P-LMHC, who spends more than half of his time in rural Catholic schools of the diocese during the school year, recently began offering services at the Boys and Girls Club of Siouxland on a weekly basis.

This a new connection between Catholic Charities and the Boys and Girls Club of Siouxland.

Amy Bloch, executive director of Catholic Charities, pointed out she was on a community video conference meeting when the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club mentioned she was concerned about their clients with the increase in mental health issues and suicide among youth. They were researching potential grants because for the club because they did not have anyone providing that type of education or resources.

“We then met and they were ecstatic that we would be able to offer them educational and supportive services for both the kids they work with and their staff on a weekly basis through the summer at no cost to them,” noted Bloch.

Given Phillips’ work with students throughout the year, the executive director said he has significant experience working with kids both individually and in group settings.

“He also has been a great resource for teachers who are trying to find ways to work with kids differently that may be struggling,” she said.

Presently, the therapist is working at the Boys and Girls Club one day a week throughout the summer. Catholic Charities is also looking at ways they can serve as a resource for their program throughout the school year as well.

Phillips pointed out that much of his work centers on presenting or discussing topics in small groups of 10 to 15 students who range in age from 7 to 18 years old.

“The topics are based largely upon what it is determined the kids need at the time,” he said. “A typical thing I work a lot with is relationships. Oftentimes kids struggle with the way they interpret messages and interactions in their daily lives. And this can cause distress.”

Dealing with anxiety, interpreting social media messages, coping with their parents fighting and numerous other subjects are among common themes, noted Phillips, “whatever is going on in the lives of the kids” is a potential topic of discussion. Subjects can surface in conversations with the students and through the staff of the club.

In the small group format, Phillips noted he presents various scenarios and the children/adolescents ask him questions which can allow them to work through situations, possibly obtain coping skills and even to know they are not alone.

A child may feel better if they realize they are not the only one going through a struggle. The therapist said it can be a bond with others which helps establish connections and builds socialization.

“Hopefully I can increase awareness of their overall mental state and with that awareness they can develop those grounding techniques and skills, possibly even develop healthier thinking patterns,” he said. By addressing or improving some potentially irrational perception early, he added, can serve them well as adults.

To gain a better understanding of the youth and build rapport with them, Phillips also spends time interacting and playing games with the kids, as well as being available for the staff.

During his time at the Boys and Girls Club, he does not offer or hold one-on-one counseling sessions but if a situation presents itself he is able to offer support, and connect the family with resources or referrals for therapy if appropriate.

His presence at Boys and Girls Club is not only beneficial by offering education and support, but Phillips said there is value in raising awareness about mental health services that help to break down stigmas related to seeking help.

By offering these supportive services at the Boys and Girls Club, it is another way that Catholic Charities is trying to meet the needs of and form connections in the community.

“Our mission is to reach out, identify any gaps and fill them, and to serve the most vulnerable,” said Bloch. “Working with the Boys and Girls Club fits both of those criteria.”