Every term, “difficult” adolescent students are sent home from schools across the UAE for exhibiting disruptive and antisocial behaviours that not only hinder their academic progress but also jeopardise their schoolmates’.
But where are they to go instead? When will they learn anything more? How can we prevent them from sliding further away from their peers and get these children back to school as soon as possible?
It was these questions Carolyn Yaffe was pondering when she helped shape Bounce Back — a day therapy programme hosted at the UAE’s Camali Clinic specifically designed to fill this gap, ensuring teenagers experiencing emotional, psychological and behavioural issues do not get left behind.
“The reason we put Bounce Back together is that I had an increase in patients who, for one reason or another, were having to temporarily leave school,” explains Yaffe, a clinical social worker and CBT therapist at Camali’s base in Dubai Healthcare City. “Either they were experiencing mental health issues, had poor coping skills, or were suspended.
“If not in school there are no current alternatives — and the young people would most likely have to stay at home during the day, which was not only difficult for their parents but also counterproductive to the young people as they were mostly left to their own devices. Additionally, they are missing out on schoolwork and study support, which will cause them to fall behind academically.”
With a background working with troubled teenagers in the US, Yaffe has seen first-hand how being excluded from mainstream education can exacerbate mental health issues over time. The answer was creating a dynamic, short-term service with the specific and exclusive aim of helping young people living through a difficult period to “bounce back” to school, and realise their own potential.
Yaffe says, as far she is aware, Bounce Back is the only service of its kind in the UAE. The wide-ranging programme rests on a multidisciplinary approach, utilising both traditional and holistic therapeutic care, addressing skills including social, behavioural, communication, healthy living — and, perhaps most importantly, study support.
“The goal is to get them back to school as soon as possible,” adds Yaffe. “We work with most of the schools in Dubai, and we work collaboratively.
“In most cases, the school will provide their schoolwork, and we will offer study support so for the most part they don’t fall behind, and can return to school where they left off.
“Additionally, we work with the school to ensure there are the necessary support services for the young person upon their return.”
Inspired by Camali’s multidisciplinary ethos, the programme is split into four core areas: therapeutic group sessions, including psychotherapy, social skills, relaxation and relationship building; expressive group sessions, including poetry, music and creative art; academic study skills, including reading, concentration and project work; and one-on-one clinical sessions based on the disciplines of psychiatry, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and psychotherapy.
And so far, it appears to be working. Originally started in 2014, Yaffe says all past students on recent record —since she was charged with “restarting” the programme in May 2017 — have successfully returned to school. “The feedback from parents has been very positive,” she adds.
While the recommended stay is three months, some students have returned to mainstream schooling within four weeks, following a regular, ongoing collaborative process alongside the school.
“It really is dependent on the individual,” adds Yaffe. “Thus far, all of our previous Bounce Back students have returned to mainstream school — the program has been very successful.”
Students attend Bounce Back for three days a week, between the hours of 10 am and 2.30pm, with four hour-long timetabled sessions daily, in addition to specialist one-on-one therapy. The programme is administered by a broad range of Camali’s professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, child psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist and a registered nurse.
A key facet of the sessions is the close attention that comes with a smaller group, with typical class sizes of just two to five students. “The goal is to not to have too many [students] as we don’t want it to be overwhelming for the students, and so we can provide them with the necessary individualised attention,” says Yaffe. “However, we will always accommodate when there is a need.”
Mental health stigma
However, one factor that may keep many young people with that need from Bounce Back is the sorry stigma that sadly surrounds mental health issues, with some parents reluctant to acknowledge their children’s behaviour is a problem or may require specialist intervention.
“Mental health is still a very misunderstood and sensitive topic for many people,” says Yaffe. “The link between mental health stigma and discrimination is a strong one. People tend to have differing opinions relating to mental health. Culture plays an important role in how we see mental illness and can be a barrier to seeking out help and support for young people and their families.
“Stigma and discrimination can often delay people seeking help and worsen the problem. If you broke your arm or had a physical illness such as diabetes, you would see a specialist, right? It should be the same for your mental health.”
Before moving to the UAE, in 2013, Yaffe worked as a head clinician at the Department of Youth Services in Boston, administering clinical evaluations and providing counselling to troubled youths and their families.
Prior to this, she was also involved in early intervention services for children with mental health issues, and began her career at an alternative high school providing counselling and crisis intervention for adolescents with a variety of disruptive issues including abusive behaviours, socialisation problems, ADD/ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Camali works within a multidisciplinary framework, and we all work together as a team to provide patient care in a holistic setting together for the best interests of our patients. What makes it even more special for me is that it affords me the opportunity to work with people from all nationalities and cultures.”
To find out more, visit www.camaliclinic.com.