Clinicians' lived experiences working with unaccompanied immigrant children


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A dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in COUNSELOR EDUCATION from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas.
There has been an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing to the U.S. due to gang violence, abuse, and extortion (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2014) and more children are expected to come. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal agency, provides care for these children. Furthermore, these children have an overwhelming need of mental health services because of the trauma they have endured in their home countries. There is a dearth of information regarding lived experiences of clinicians’ practices in providing mental health services to unaccompanied immigrant children. The focus of this study was to explore clinicians’ experiences working with unaccompanied immigrant children utilizing a qualitative heuristic research design. The grand tour questions consisted of (a) What are the lived experiences of clinicians providing mental health services to unaccompanied immigrant children?, and (b) In what ways, if any, have the experiences of working with unaccompanied immigrant children impacted clinicians? Seven participants agreed to take part in the study and to provide interviews. I used a heuristic methodology to collect and analyze data. Six core themes emerged as being central to clinicians’ experiences working with unaccompanied immigrant children: rewarding experiences, professional and personal development, burnout, potential pre-cursors to vicarious trauma, culture, and therapeutic relationship. There are several aspects to consider in terms of recommendations for future research and practice. There is a clear need for more research about unaccompanied minor children, counselors who work with them, and effective intervention approaches. This study may offer insight to counselors and counselor educators in terms of supervision and counselor training. The results of this study indicate counselors working with unaccompanied immigrant children, as with other populations who have experienced trauma, are susceptible to risk factors that could lead to vicarious trauma and burnout if unaddressed. Furthermore, counselor educators might begin to integrate this population into the curricula of counselor training programs in an effort to promote multicultural competency among counselors in training.
Counseling & Educational Psychology
College of Education and Human Development