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The Avodah Blog

The Power of Relationships: Work as a Community Health Therapist

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Avodah Chicago Justice Fellowship alumna Molly Schneider on her experience as a mental health professional.

For years, Molly Schneider (Avodah Justice Fellowship, 2018-2019) has spent her days listening to the stories of youth who have experienced trauma. She works as an outpatient therapist, specializing in both individual and family therapy. It’s important to her to be there for her clients, who often have no one else to turn to. 

Molly works in the community mental health sector, meaning she primarily serves low-income individuals of marginalized identities. The clinic is located within DePaul University in Chicago, providing children and adolescents who have experienced trauma with a support system. In addition to working with clients who have experienced childhood abuse and sexual abuse, Molly notes that many are scarred by the traumas of society’s broader systems — racism, police brutality, and deportation. Advances in telehealth have allowed her to continue the practice in Chicago, even while she’s made a move to Boston.

“I see it as a privilege and honor to be let into someone’s life. The relationships really inspire and motivate me. I am able to provide support to a child, who, because of whatever reason, has not been able to have some type of stable, loving adult in their life or space for themselves where they’re able to understand who they are. For an adolescent to figure themselves out is very meaningful for them and for me. It’s such an honor.”

While many of her self-proclaimed “kiddos” stick with her, one young woman in particular helped prove to Molly the power of human strength and resiliency.

“There was a young woman who had such grit and strength it never left me. It was early in my career. She had experienced sexual abuse for a number of years. When this young woman  came to me, she was completely numb. As depressed as she was, as hard as it was for her to get up every day, she did and she came to therapy. In the face of abuse, she was able to confront all these feelings and continue to grow. We would see each other twice a week… There are moments in therapy when you just connect. It’s not every time, but I felt those moments of change and the power of the therapeutic relationship. I believe in that more than any of the other theories about therapy.”

Molly goes on to describe, “We would just sit and read Maya Angelou, little by little, and process her trauma. I was always struck by how conflicted she felt about all of it. She was open to wrestling with it, to understanding it, ultimately to forgiveness. She ended up going off to college by herself. I was just struck by her resilience. Especially me, as a white and middle upper class person with very involved parents. I could never dream of making a transition like that by myself. We spoke a few times in college about connecting her with resources there.” 

When asked how individuals can support others on their mental health journeys, Molly emphasizes the importance of listening. “It is important to remember that we, as friends, family members and partners, are not there to save a person. We cannot be everything to one person. It’s not healthy to us, to our relationships. We have to do what we can and honor and respect those boundaries. We need to know when it’s time to get someone else involved — a coach, a teacher, a parent, a therapist. We don’t often let others into the deep conflicted turmoil that we’re in. If someone does reach out to you, it matters.” 

Chicago-based resources for children who have experienced trauma: Resilience, Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center (CCAC), and YWCA of Metro Chicago. RAINN also has a national sexual assault hotline, 1-800-656-4673.

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