Jacob (Moshe) Weinger
Queens Hospital Center, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
In his clinical psychology internship at Queens Hospital Center’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Department, Jacob (more commonly known as Moshe) Weinger worked with elementary school children who had challenging psychological issues. “Kids came with a range of disorders spanning ADHD to PTSD, but the common denominator among them was that they all had some type of learning or behavioral disorder…We had children who are on the autism spectrum and those who just needed a little help getting ahead in school.” Most of them, he adds, were from low-income homes in Queens. “Some had sustained repeated abuse and neglect, and at least one (if not more) lived in a homeless shelter,” he said.
Weinger’s job was twofold. For four hours a week, he’d tutor these children in academic areas they were weak in, using specialized techniques and exercises taught to him by the psychologists on staff. After that, the children were split into two groups—one consisting of the younger elementary school children; the other, seventh and eighth graders. Weinger and his colleague would then conduct group therapy sessions using a psychologist-approved curriculum and materials to teach the children coping mechanisms, strategies for positive interaction; and general social skills. “We’d deal with social and emotional issues - how to share, how to deal with emotions like stress and anger, and how to resolve a conflict without engaging in dangerous behavior. All of our activities were play-oriented, but had a specific goal.”
In one session, Weinger and his colleagues taught the children a breathing exercise to deal with stress. “We showed them how to put their hands on their belly, taught them a cute rhyme, and then demonstrated how to take a couple of deep breaths, in and out, several times. The idea was to teach the kids that breathing deeply is an appropriate and healthy way to calm down and deal with frustration or anxiety, instead of hitting, cursing, or punching. As facilitators, if we ever saw conflict outside of the session, we would do the breathing exercise outside of the session to teach them that it should be a regular tactic they could take home with them.”
They also did role-play scenarios to teach the children how to resolve conflict. “We’d have two kids act out getting into an argument; one would be a “stubborn” character called Rockbrain and the other would be ‘Superflex’ (as in, ‘super flexible in dealing with situations where you’re not getting your way’). For example, the kids would be in a playground and they’d be fighting over one swing. Rockbrain would shout, Get off the swing! but Superflex would, hopefully, offer a more appropriate response such as ‘How about I push you for 10 minutes and then it could be my turn?’ Sometimes we’d suggest the right answers for them if they didn’t have ideas.”
Other activities, such as building a tower out of spaghetti and marshmallows, would help build the children’s teamwork skills. “We’d try to teach them how to coordinate and work with groups, and have positive interactions while performing a task. We’d specifically tell the older children to lead the younger ones so that both can work on their team-building strengths.”
The program organizers made sure to select externs who've had extensive experience with children in different settings, said Weinger…who fit the bill, and more: He’s currently an NCSY advisor in Queens and spent time mentoring special-needs children through Yachad and Keshet throughout high school. Several years ago, he was a first-grade counselor at Camp Dora Golding in Pennsylvania.
During the group therapy sessions, Weinger said his lessons in Developmental Psychology with Dr. Miodownik's were “very relevant” as he interacted with many of the children, “especially when they had developmental delays,” he said.
Most importantly, he found that working with this population --- children from low-income families in need of “profound intervention” was both “enlightening and rewarding,” he said. “Seeing what can go wrong has left me emboldened to try to find ways to make things right. It's interesting seeing and employing the types of strategies professionals utilize to try to manage and help children in need. I am excited to try to figure out even more ways to help.”