Emotional Development

Emotional Regulation 9th Grade: This year, the 9th grade students will be working on a year long class movie project. The project will provide the students with a real life situation with numerous social, emotional and executive skill demands. The students will be tasked with creating a movie together, requiring them to work as a team, articulating their own ideas as well as listening to each others’ and incorporating the opinions and needs of others into their own thinking. The project will also give the students an opportunity to practice flexible problem solving, perspective-taking and emotional regulation, particularly in situations when the students do not agree on the solution. Making a movie provides the students with a creative and fun experience that will result in a product that they will be able to take home and keep as a memento at the end of the year. For students that are concerned with performing, the project will provide them with a supportive setting to try something outside their comfort zone.

The following is an overview of how the groups will progress in the coming months. Please note that changes may occur due to topics taking longer to cover then expected, the needs of the group require a different therapeutic intervention or group dynamics require a change in approach.  Please feel free to contact your case manager for any additional information regarding your child.

The students were introduced to the project at the beginning of the summer program. Collectively, they appeared excited and enthusiastic about the possibility. The classes watched several movies that had been done in previous years as examples of what was possible. The classes then discussed different types of genres as a way to spark ideas. Ideas began to be generated and the students began to settle on a general plot outline. The students were generally supportive of each other’s ideas and flexible when their own ideas were not adopted by the group. An emphasis was placed on encouraging all of the students to have a voice and to be respectful of each others’ ideas.

In September, the focus of the groups centered on finalizing a general plot outline, casting the movie, and discussing different ways of opening a film. The class watched the opening of a popular Disney movie to illustrate different considerations one should have when designing the look and content of the first ten minutes of a film. The classes also focused on problem-solving practical issues such as where should a scene be filmed and how to acquire costumes and props.

In October, the groups began filming their movies. Emphasis was placed on solving minute to minute problems as a group, being comfortable acting in front of one’s peers, being supportive of each other when one make mistakes and learning to use the camera. Certain students worked on utilizing coping strategies to negotiate and tolerate the increased sensory demands (i.e. the high level of energy and enthusiasm in the room).

From November through March, the classes continued to focus on scripting and filming scenes. The students had opportunities to practice various skills such as flexibility, empathy, perspective-taking, emotional regulation and collaborative problem-solving. Emphasis was placed on encouraging the students to function as a group i.e. listening to each other, being open to considering different ideas, disagreeing in a respectful manner, encouraging each other. Throughout the process the students have been encouraged to reflect on their experiences.

In April, May and June, the classes will focus on completing the filming of the movies and then will begin the editing of the footage. The students will continue to have the opportunity to practice the previously mentioned skills as well as reflect on their progress and experience.

Emotional Regulation 10th Grade: For the coming school year, the 10th grade emotional regulation class will be focusing on the topic of mental health. The students will explore what it means to be emotionally healthy, to normalize and de-stigmatize emotional difficulties, to educate them about different psychiatric disorders and to work on prevention and coping strategies for depression and anxiety. Topics will be introduced to the group through presentations and video clips and then explored through group discussions.

The following is an overview of topics that will be covered in the therapeutic groups. Please note that changes may occur due to topics taking longer to cover then expected, the needs of the group require a different therapeutic intervention or group dynamics require a change in approach.  Please feel free to contact your case manager for any additional information regarding your child.

Over the summer program, the students were introduced to the topic for the coming year. Generally, they appeared interested and intrigued by the subject matter. Initial lessons focused on generating rules and expectations for the students around disclosure and maintaining an atmosphere of mutual respect, exploring what it means to be emotionally healthy and creating a definition or criteria for mental health. By the end of the summer, discussions touched on the subjective nature of perception, the social stigma of mental illness, and the connection between thoughts, feelings and choices. Each of these topics will be returned to and explored more fully over the course of the year.

In September, the students began to learn about depression. Initial lessons discussed the features and prevalence of depression as well as specific diagnostic criteria that distinguishes clinical depression from everyday sadness. Emphasis was placed on de-stigmatizing the illness. Several clips were shown of real individuals discussing how hard it was for them to make the decision to seek treatment due to their own misconceptions about depression and due to the larger stigma in society. To illustrate the points, the students began watching the movie, Shall We Dance?. The film features a man who at the outset of the film is depressed and devoid of passion in his life. Over the course of the movie, he acquires the elements of a happier life that he was previously lacking i.e. friends, interests, engagement and most importantly communication. The students discussed the movie in segments. The overall theme of the movie was that feeling ashamed of being depressed leads to silence and greater depression.

In October, the students finished watching the movie and had an opportunity to discuss the personal journeys of the main and supporting characters. For the rest of the month, discussions will focus on introducing the students to preventative steps one can take to reduce the likelihood of developing depression as well as the range of treatment options available should depression arise. Continued discussion of the way in which stigma prevents people from pursuing treatment will be addressed.

In November, class discussion focused on one treatment option in particular: cognitive behavioral therapy. Students continued to learn about the role our thoughts have in how we subsequently feel about things and the subsequent choices we then make as a result. Then the students learned about the basic principals of how one can reshape their experience by reframing and redefining situations. The unit on depression concluded with a discussion on suicide and self-injury.

In December, the students took a break from discussing mental illness and instead did a unit on social psychology. The lessons focused on being more aware of how the presence of others can subtly impact our feelings and behaviors both positively and negatively. Examples from well-known studies were described to illustrate points about social facilitation and inhibition, groupthink, conformity and obedience. Presentations included lectures and videos of experiments by such persons as Asch and Milgrim.

In January, the class focused on the topic of anxiety. The students learned about the general features of anxiety as well as the more specific types of anxiety described in the DSM-V manual such as generalized anxiety, phobias, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Strategies for prevention and treatment were also discussed. At the end of the month, the students learned about the features of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). A video clip was used to illustrate the experience of an individual with OCD.

In February, the class focused on the history of psychology in an effort to help the students appreciate how our understanding of mental processes and mental health have evolved over the centuries. Special emphasis was given to the 20th century and the rise of psychodynamic theories, behaviorism, and experimental psychology. The students learned the origins of the contemporary fields of cognitive-behavioral therapy, social psychology and psychodynamic talk therapy. One class was devoted to the history and impact of Sigmund Freud.

In March, the class began a unit on autism and Aspergers. They watched a video documentary created by a young woman with Aspergers describing the disorder and sharing her own experiences and that of friends of hers that have also been diagnosed with Aspergers. The class then learned about the basic features of autism. Emphasis was placed on de-stigmatizing the diagnosis.

In April, May and June, the students will be given the opportunity to request the topics that will be covered for the remainder of the year. In the past, students have requested lessons on Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Multiple Personality Disorder, ADHD, Psychosis, and eating disorders.

Emotional Regulation 11th Grade: For the coming school year, the 11th grade emotional regulation class will be discussing dating and emotional intimacy in relationships. This class is meant to focus on the emotional and interpersonal aspects of dating and less on physical intimacy and reproduction. The students though will have an opportunity to have input on the topics and issues covered. Over the summer, the students were introduced to the topic. They expressed interest and seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of having a class that focused on this subject. The students then created class rules together, emphasizing the need to respect each other and recognize that each of them may have different levels of comfort when it comes to discussing this topic. The lessons will use a combination of lecture, open discussion and video clips to illustrate points.

The following is an overview of topics that will be covered in the therapeutic groups. Please note that changes may occur due to topics taking longer to cover then expected, the needs of the group require a different therapeutic intervention or group dynamics require a change in approach.  Please feel free to contact your case manager for any additional information regarding your child.

Over the summer, the class considered where teenagers often get their information from and the reliability of those various sources. The class discussed “lies” or fallacies perpetuated by movies and television shows that create false expectations for viewers if they are taken literally. The students were able to express how it made them feel when their real life experiences did not match those of the characters in the shows. The lessons then turned to discussing the differences between friendship and dating, how one knows when one is ready to date, and the need to be able to strike a balance between being flexible (i.e. trying new things, being willing to change certain aspects of oneself) and being able to set reasonable boundaries and say “no”. The students were challenged to consider what their expectations for a relationship might be and to consider what another person’s expectations might be as well, specifically in how they might differ.

In September, the students continued discussing the pro’s and con’s of seeking to date someone who is similar in experiences, values and interests versus dating someone who on the surface might seem very different. The students discussed finding a balance between being able to try new things and being asked to change in ways they are not comfortable with. The students also discussed issues related to choosing who one asks out i.e. someone you know well versus someone you have noticed at a distance. Emphasis was placed on understanding that the other person has their own perception, feelings and agenda and that liking someone earnestly does not in and of itself guarantee that other person will reciprocate. The class then watched for fun a video produced in 1949 that imparted dating advice to teenagers.

In October, the lessons focused on how to choose a place/activity for a first date and what were reasonable expectations for that date. The class also had lessons on how to approach someone, pick-up lines, body language and signs of interest. Future classes in October will include discussions about the dating friends, the possible implications for that friendship and how it might affect other peers.

In November, the class will begin considering different issues that might arise during the early stages of a relationship. The students will be asked to consider mistakes that one might commit early on such as prematurely pushing emotional and physical intimacy before the relationship has developed to that point. The students will discuss different ways one might intentionally and unintentionally communicate pressure. The students will then discuss what are reasonable expectations when one is in a romantic relationship i.e. fidelity, respect, attention.

In December, the class will continue on this theme and explore questions of what constitutes a reasonable amount of attention. The class will then discuss how being in a relationship can impact one’s daily routine i.e. when one devotes time and attention on the relationship, they are taking it away from other things like friends, family and familiar activities. At the end of the month, the students will discuss issues related to introducing a person to one’s friends and family. Future topics will include dating issues faced by those in the LGBTQ community as well as the autism community.