Support Andrus

What Can Success Look Like for a Clinician?

May 25, 2018

I began with “Charlie” in 2009 when we opened our first school-based clinic in Yonkers.  He was a pre-teen, and had a history of aggressive outbursts, mood lability and suicidal ideation and gestures.  He was very slow to open up and to trust, which seemed connected to his long history of trauma.   Charlie had witnessed significant domestic violence: his mother had survived abuse by family members and intimate partners, and during our course of treatment, she also was involved in another abusive relationship. Charlie had inconsistent contact with his biological father, who had been incarcerated.  Additionally, there was a strong family history of mood disorders and ADHD.

After many months we strengthened our alliance, and treatment continued for almost 5 years. Our individual therapy focused on processing his trauma history and strengthening his ability to identify and appropriately express emotions.  Over time, Charlie was able to express his feelings both in treatment and with his family, although the relationship between him and his mother needed significant intervention around psychoeducation & normalized adolescent behaviors.  Safety planning was also central to treatment, because Charlie’s moods were often labile and he engaged in self-injurious behaviors, experienced suicidal ideation, and presented with at least two manic episodes and unsafe behaviors (i.e. skydiving, paranoid ideation).  Charlie was hospitalized several times after episodes of significant depression.  Case management and advocacy was a piece of treatment as well, including referrals to various community-based services. Psychiatric care was also important to stabilize safety and functioning for his diagnosis.

In 2014 we made the plan to transition him to external Mental Health services because he would continue to work with his Intensive Case Manager and not experience another loss.  Charlie’s mom invited the extended family to his goodbye party, and everyone laughed, cried, and reflected on the intensive work we had done together.  When Charlie and I said our last goodbye, this 17-year-old hugged me tightly, sobbed, and said that he did not think he could ever trust anyone else because I was leaving him.  He then walked out of the clinic.

I often thought about Charlie and the impact we had on each other.  In June 2016 his mother reached out to me and asked if I would attend his high school graduation.  He was no longer in therapy or taking medication and had completed high school.  I was beaming as I watched Charlie walk across the lawn and receive his diploma.  After the ceremony he was surprised to see me – his mom had kept it a secret – and he ran to me and hugged me tightly.  He thanked me for all of the work we had done as he was able to trust again.  He believed in his teachers and his family and was in a long-term stable romantic relationship. 

On Monday, May 14, 2018, there was a knock on my office door.  Charlie’s honorary aunt, asked to speak with me about her daughter who is in treatment at ANDRUS.  She chose ANDRUS because of the connection and progress she saw in Charlie.   Before she left, she asked if she could show me a picture.  It was of Charlie, who is about to successfully graduate from his two-year vocational college.  His mother and siblings have moved out of state, where they began anew away from some of the trauma triggers. 

His mother is working, the children are doing well in school, and they are happy. Charlie will join them there soon. And I left for the day smiling and beaming just like them in their family photos.


By Danni Lapin Zou, LCSW-R

Danni Lapin Zou is the Supervising Psychotherapist and Clinic Manager of ANDRUS’ 35 Dock Street location in downtown Yonkers, NY. Click here to view all of our clinic locations.