Kristi Broussard never intended on having a career in social work. When she was a third-year Biology major in college, her intention was to become an occupational therapist until her mother recommended she take a social work class for an elective course she needed.
“My mom thought I would enjoy the class, but I wasn’t sure at that time,” recalled Kristi. “I signed up for it anyway, and before the semester was up, I found myself in the department head’s office having declared Social Work as my new major and asking to take a heavy class load to complete the degree in a year’s time, so I could move on to graduate school ASAP. From the beginning, my favorite areas of interest have always been chronic mental illness and trauma.”
As a social worker at Children’s Hospital New Orleans (CHNOLA), Kristi is embedded at a school-based health center in a local high school in New Orleans and spends a great deal of time counseling students throughout the day in private, one-on-one sessions to evaluate their needs, and develop strategies to help them cope more effectively.
“I counsel many students who are dealing with anxiety and depression brought on by traumatic events such as physical/sexual abuse, natural disasters, and the death of a loved one,” said Kristi. “I also work with students who are dealing with general stress due to the academic and social pressures of school, the impact of COVID-19 and the effects of social isolation and virtual learning over the last two years, and issues related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I also provide support to students who are struggling with family conflict and other stressors.”
Kristi meets with students, either referred or as walk-ins, who are interested in therapy that is offered at their school-based health center. During a one-on-one session, Kristi evaluates the students closely and measures their symptoms of anxiety and/or depression to formulate an individualized treatment plan where they set goals to focus on during their time in therapy. Kristi collaborates with the entire treatment team, including psychiatrists, nurses, and nurse practitioners to help address the needs of students who are utilizing the health center’s services.
“We also have several on-going groups that cater to student needs, such as practicing social skills and improving organization skills,” said Kristi. “As I work with students, I track the data of the behavioral health aspect of our program to keep a precise, on-going record of those we serve, while observing patterns in treatment. I also meet with psychiatrists on the treatment team regularly to discuss and appropriately plan for our caseload. I am in continuous dialogue with school staff in regard to students we work with and the services we offer in our school-based health center. I am consistently connecting with parents of students to discuss the therapeutic process as well as any potential referrals to either our psychiatry team or outside resources.”
On the behavioral health side of treatment, the school-based health center collaborates with behavioral health experts at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. If students are experiencing suicidal or homicidal ideations, they will be assessed accordingly and referred to CHNOLA for psychiatric evaluation. If a student reports recent sexual abuse and/or assault, they may be referred to CHNOLA’s Audrey Hepburn Children’s At-Risk Evaluation (CARE) Center, a comprehensive child abuse center providing pediatric forensic medicine evaluations. Or if a student is processing trauma or grief, they will be referred to our new Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center. The TAG center focuses on Identifying and addressing trauma and grief as early as possible to help kids lead healthy, happy lives and promoting resiliency over the longer term.
When counseling students, Kristi enjoys taking a holistic approach to treatment that helps her understand all aspects of a person’s well-being (physical, social, emotional and spiritual).
“It is great to observe the empowering validation others experience when they are allowed to tell their story and truly feel heard,” said Kristi. “And when they start to make the connection with how the facets of that story influence the makeup of their mental health, they typically start to honor the therapeutic investment they’re making in themselves. This is when our work can really begin in processing those thoughts and feelings they are struggling with, and I’m grateful to be a source of support for that.”
Click here to learn more about diagnosing and treating mental health struggles in children, and to learn more about the Behavioral Health Center at Children's Hospital.