Healing Mila’s Heart

A visitor to Mila’s high school during lunchtime would have seen a sad, anxious girl sitting alone, hunched over her food. Mila’s childhood had been heartbreakingly difficult. “I had no hope for the future,” Mila remembers. She didn’t know help would come from Wayfinder.

As a child, Mila witnessed domestic violence between her biological parents. After her father, Gerry, left, her mother had a new boyfriend every few weeks. One of the men sexually abused Mila, but she was afraid to tell anyone. Mila’s mom used drugs, and she neglected Mila and her two older sisters.

Child welfare workers removed Mila, age 10, and her sisters from their home and placed them in foster care. Instead of a healing environment, the foster home was turbulent and cold. When Gerry learned where his daughters were, he vowed to get them out of the system. For a year, Gerry went to therapy, attended parenting classes and complied with all court requests.

When Mila was 11, she and her sisters went to live with their father and his new wife. Mila maintained straight A’s in school, but the past tormented her. She had post-traumatic stress disorder from the sexual abuse she experienced. By the time she entered high school, she was avoiding social situations. “I would make up an excuse to avoid dinner at a restaurant with my family,” Mila recalls.

The pandemic stay-at-home orders and online school were a relief to Mila. She no longer had to interact with anyone. When in-person school resumed, Gerry could see that Mila’s social withdrawal was debilitating. He approached a school counselor, who arranged a referral for Mila to Wayfinder’s community mental health services.

Wayfinder therapist Rachel met weekly in person with Mila at school. Over eight months, Rachel led Mila through visualizations of interactions with people. “I would role-play as a teacher or student and have Mila practice talking to me,” Rachel says. With Mila’s permission, Gerry was very involved in her treatment.

Mila made tremendous progress in therapy. Her trauma and social anxiety diminished. “Mila didn’t miss significant events her senior year,” says Rachel. “She attended homecoming, prom and grad night.” Mila applied and was accepted to three universities. She entered college this fall.

The day of her last therapy appointment, teary- eyed Mila gave Rachel a heart-shaped note that read, “Thank you for everything you have done for me.”

Rachel was touched beyond words. “A moment like this is why I am a therapist,” she says. “Mila was so brave. She really opened up to me. I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.”


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March 30, 2023