One of the most important things when it comes to seeing a psychologist is building rapport.
While qualifications are essential, without positive rapport children simply won’t benefit from counselling…
So we invite you to get to know a bit more about our staff before you consider engaging their help.
First up, meet Dani Kaufman — a talented and skilled psychologist with a wealth of experience working with kids.
From babysitting as a young teen to working with troubled youths in residential care, Dani has taken her skills, warmth and natural flair for working with children around the world with her.
‘Whenever I’ve gone on holiday, I’ve tried to volunteer with local kids. I taught English to orphaned kids in Cambodia, taught maths and English to street kids in India, and I worked at a centre for children who had been taken away from their families in Israel.’
These opportunities presented some often disturbing and painful situations to witness… so what made Dani want to spend her hard-earned holidays volunteering?
‘I just really like it. Even though these experiences can be very challenging, I’ve always found them so rewarding. I found that I’ve been able to relate to and connect with kids from different cultures and backgrounds very easily. [Helping kids] is what I’m good at, so it’s what I’ve always naturally been drawn to.’
Dani has spent a lot of time and energy helping disadvantaged young people in Australia too, having worked as a mentor for a young Sudanese family and as a residential care shift worker, helping to take care of kids who have been taken away from their parents.
The latter experience, says Dani, was particularly challenging.
‘I was helping these kids — some of whom were pregnant or drug users — to take care of themselves. But at the time I wasn’t even much older than they were.’
But it’s these kinds of experiences that have helped Dani to realise that she wanted to work with children professionally as a psychologist.
So Dani went on to complete her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in psychology, at The University of Melbourne, and then an honours year at Deakin University.
She conducted her honours thesis on a struggle so many parents of teens are dealing with — the impact of social media.
‘I looked at whether people compared themselves to others on Facebook, and how it made them feel. I focussed on people with depressive tendencies, and found that these people were much more likely to compare themselves to others, and were more likely to feel more depressed as a result of it.’
This is a topic that researchers and psychologists around the world are increasingly analysing, but Dani’s study was one of the first to delve into it more than four years ago.
In her postgraduate studies — a Master of Educational and Developmental psychology — Dani’s research focussed on younger children.
‘In a group we created a social and emotional learning program for four to five year olds, focussing on the development of empathy and social skills. The program was implemented in a preschool, and I evaluated its impact on the children.’
‘This was my favourite part of my studies — developing practical skills, working as a psychologist and learning from my experiences.’
So after six years of study, extensive experience working with kids around the world, and 1,000 hours of work placement, Dani joined us at Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services.
‘I work with all types of children from a wide variety of backgrounds… Everyone has things they find easy and things that they’re good at, and everyone has challenges and things that they find difficult. We work together to make those things less difficult.’
But when working with so many different types of kids and different issues, how does she ensure she can help them?
‘The most important thing is to create a safe and secure space where they feel really comfortable. We work on normalising emotions — talking about them, how they make us feel in the body, the relationship between our thoughts and our feelings, helping them to realise it’s okay to feel angry or sad … all these things are hugely beneficial.’
‘I don’t tell them what to do or how they should feel, but with me they have an opportunity they don’t always have: to talk about their feelings, their strengths and weaknesses, and to learn things about themselves. Even though they may be hesitant or cautious at first, they usually realise that they like talking about their feelings as well as learning new skills that help them with everyday challenges in life. And it’s a fun and safe and rewarding environment for them to do that in.’
It’s clear that Dani was destined to work with children, and we couldn’t be happier that she’s doing it here with us.