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Center of Excellence: Mental Health Support for Those with Developmental Disabilities

Center of Excellence: Mental Health Support for Those with Developmental Disabilities

For those with developmental disabilities, finding quality care for mental health issues can be difficult.

“The main reason the knowledgeable, compassionate care that we provide is so important is because these individuals are marginalized,” said Bart Mongiello, LCSW, Director of Outpatient Mental Health Services. “It's not easy for unique populations to access care. For those without a developmental disability, there’s someone to treat your concerns anywhere. For people with a developmental disability, it’s harder to find appropriate care from professionals with the proper experience.”

The Difference at the Center of Excellence

LiveWell Counseling is home to the largest mental health center for individuals with a developmental disability in the Bergen and Passaic County areas. When treating those in this population, mental health professionals require the experience and expertise to support them properly, understand their unique struggles, and help them learn effective coping methods to manage their feelings and behavior.

The comprehensive care services offered at the center include mental health evaluations, one-on-one counseling, group and family therapy, medication assessment and monitoring, and parent and caregiver support services.

“To treat those with a developmental disability, you have to have extensive experience, and it’s challenging to find psychiatrists and therapists that do,” said Bart. “It’s a unique set of skills. If you don't have them, you can’t provide the quality of care that they need. At LiveWell, we've taken the time to develop the skills and training necessary to assess and treat those who are differently abled with patience and understanding.”

Common issues faced by those with developmental disabilities include:

  • Struggles with grief and loss
  • Interpersonal issues
  • Difficulty with social and life skills
  • Group home conflict
  • Family issues

When treating those with a developmental disability through talk therapy, Jennifer Puskas, LCSW, Outpatient Mental Health Therapist, said that encouraging her patients to communicate and process their emotions effectively is crucial to alleviating their behavioral health challenges.

“When people without a developmental disability go to therapy to talk about a specific issue, they often know what they’re feeling and how to describe it,” she said. “Individuals with a developmental disability don’t always have the right words or know how to express themselves. Often, if they’re angry or upset, it manifests through behavioral changes. Teaching them to learn what we call ‘feeling words’ and how to express themselves is paramount to what I do.”

Many common life challenges, such as grief and loss, can be difficult for those with a developmental disability to understand, let alone cope with. “These are abstract concepts,” said Jennifer. “They often think in very concrete, black-and-white terms. If they don’t get something they wanted or were hoping for, they often struggle to cope with it.”

Those with developmental disabilities often experience a host of unique struggles that make it more difficult for them to cope with negative emotions.

“We might have a strong peer group, but they often don’t,” said Jennifer. “They may feel lonely and isolated. They don’t understand that the feelings they have happen to other people too.”

The most important part of treating mental health issues in those with developmental disabilities is establishing trust and helping them share their feelings constructively through gentle, compassionate care.

The Center of Excellence offers support for those with developmental disabilities in the following ways:

  • Assessment: A trained psychiatrist with extensive experience treating those with developmental disabilities provides a thorough evaluation and recommends a personalized treatment plan.
  • One-on-one talk therapy: Therapists specializing in treating this population provide counseling to help their clients learn how to process emotions, communicate in productive and nonaggressive ways, reduce negative behaviors, and cope with crises healthily and effectively.
  • Family and group-home therapy: Interpersonal issues are common among individuals who live in a group home or with their family. These sessions help each member of the household communicate their needs and feelings with one another to help reduce and resolve conflict.
  • Group therapy: Other group therapy sessions are offered to help participants relate to others who are coping with similar struggles, such as a life skills group.
  • Medication monitoring: The psychiatrist may prescribe and adjust the client’s medications and dosage to treat their unique symptoms.

A Center of Excellence Success Story

When Jane* started therapy at the Center of Excellence, she was very shy, soft-spoken, highly anxious, and had difficulty communicating her needs. Whenever Jane, who has Down’s syndrome and generalized anxiety disorder, would become frustrated, she would stomp her feet and hit herself in the leg.

“We worked slowly to build rapport and trust and then began working on learning various ‘feeling words,’” said Jennifer, who is Jane’s therapist.

Jane and Jennifer developed worksheets specific to Jane’s thoughts and concerns to help her learn how to journal and organize her thoughts. The goal was to reduce her overwhelming feelings when her head “was full of thinking,” as she put it, making her body feel tense. Jennifer also encouraged Jane to speak louder and with more confidence so that she could express her feelings effectively and be heard.

“Now, Jane speaks and can easily be heard, knows her feeling words and how to use them to express herself, and has not stomped her feet or hit herself in quite a long time,” said Jennifer. “At family dinners, she speaks up to contribute to the conversations and has learned to self-advocate and be flexible. She has even learned progressive relaxation techniques to use to relax her mind when she feels tense.”

Learn More About the Center of Excellence

Our mission at Christian Health is to ensure high-quality, compassionate mental health care is available to everyone in our community. To learn more about the Center of Excellence and how we can help you or someone you love, please call LiveWell Counseling at (201) 848-5800.

*Name has been changed.