3 years as a Behavioral Health Professional

Behavioral Health Professional

Shelby Wilson, 30, in Aroostook County, has been working as a Behavioral Health professional for the last three years. With an interest in serving children who have a background of trauma, she works with agencies in group settings and performs in-home care. 

What has your career path looked like?

I started out as a Day Habilitation Trainer and ended up as a Children’s Rehabilitative and Community Support Therapist. Before I began in this position, I worked with underserved youth to gain access to community resources and college education opportunities.

I have taken several trainings necessary to maintain a BHP certification, such as CPR/First Aid, MANDT (a behavioral crisis interaction training), and Mandated Reporting, as well as bedbug and lice treatment and trauma-informed care.

What do you consider success in your job?

People who are compassionate and who wish to have a career in behavioral health can begin by being patient with someone who is in a crisis state or by being kind to someone who is differently-abled.

Mother Teresa stated: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” While this is a mantra I have lived by, I must also disagree that those small things, acts with love, make our work great.

How would you describe the impact of your work as a BHP?

I worked with a certain client for three years. This particular person had mild intellectual disabilities. He was aware that this separated him from his peers socially.

For the first six months, we worked on getting him to learn my name. I was the safe adult he needed to be able to identify in case of emergency. We often worked on recognizing important words that would help him seek out community resources. He would come to me and ask random questions such as: ‘What does 10 times 10 equal?’ 

In one instance, he wanted to learn to spell a word he found funny, but first, he had to complete recognizing a list of words I’d given him. The BHP in me could not refuse a compromise and agreed. This young man excelled in his words for the day and his home tasks. In conversation, he admitted that his peers often asked him math problems to pick at his inability to solve them. At our office building, he asked which office was mine. I told him that the offices were for the coordinators and directors and those important within the agency. To that, he responded: ‘You’re important too. You taught me 10 times 10 equals 100 and how to spell funny words.’ The gestures seemed small on my end but gave him a sense of confidence that he had not shown before, and I felt an overwhelming sense of purpose.

What advice would you give people who want to be a BHP?

It’s very important to be open, coming from a place of compassion. When you are working with people with mental and behavioral struggles, you can’t be judgmental. I try to seek out the root cause as opposed to changing the behavior. For example, if little Timmy bangs his head on the table every time he’s hungry, it does no good to tell Timmy to stop banging his head–because that’s not a good behavior–it does more service to him if I say: ‘Why don’t we take a break and get a snack.’ The best way to see if this field is for you, particularly with children, is to spend some time observing them. Watch their behaviors and interactions and put yourself in their shoes.

What kind of person is the right fit for your line of work, both in personality and character traits?

You have to be passionate and fun-loving. If you come into this profession working with adults or children and just look at it as a day of work and not a day of building human connections and social skills, this is not for you. Having the right mindset is an essential part of this role. 

What do you wish people outside the industry knew about your daily challenges?

Living in Aroostook County, not everybody has the best transportation. My car has 215,000 miles on it, and the majority of those miles have been in the last three years I’ve been working. For me, it sometimes takes me 30-40 minutes to reach clients. My agency tries to position us to work as close to the populations that we serve, but it doesn’t always work out. It becomes more of an endeavor to serve people the more rural they are located. There is mileage reimbursement, but with rising fuel costs, wages are not enough to match the level of work and quality of care that we give. The other thing is, just like teachers, we end up paying for a lot of supplies out of pocket. If you’re working with someone on interaction skills and teaching a kid to play a board game with another kid, where does that board game come from? There’s a big commitment involved if you’re going to do this. 

What do you want them to know about the rewards of your line of work? 

People need to understand that the rewards are very personal; they’re not monetary. The connections that you build, the successes that you witness, are the reward.

And you have to be flexible to see progress. For example, take a kid who has a disability or diagnosis and struggles with social interactions. Let’s say one day, he decides he wants to go play basketball with other kids instead of working on budgeting. You have to let him. I try to plan each day’s sessions, but if I see that this kid who struggles to make friends is doing something to build those social interactions, I let that part of the day’s plans go. The reward is seeing him make friends. 

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