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Heal the Healers Profile: Irma Seilicovich
Since co-founding The Village Family Services in 1997, Irma Seilicovich, LMFT, has served as the organization's Chief Operating Officer. During that time, her staff has grown to more than 100 professional therapists and case managers—but the need for services has grown too.
Reunion: What made or inspired you to go into this field?
Irma Seilicovich: I moved and lived in different cities and countries as a child, including three years in a country where there was danger and war around the corner. When I was 15 years old, my father had a neurological incident that left him paralyzed. Our life changed dramatically. Having specialized support at that time would have been wonderful, the ability to speak with all the feeling and impact of such experiences. I always remember how difficult experiences have shaped me, and I wanted to be able to help other children in need.
Reunion: How did you come to be involved with The Village Family Services?
IS: I came to the United States 23 years ago and met my friend and partner in business, Hugo Villa. We were both working in the community as social workers and felt that we could make a difference if we opened our own agency. We thought we could serve those children in need in a comprehensive way and therefore co-founded The Village Family Services in 1997.
Reunion: What do you find the most challenging about this kind of work?
IS: There are two things that come to mind. The first is the ability to obtain private funding, which has proven to be very difficult as we navigate through the economic difficulties of the country and cuts that are coming from the state. On a clinical level it is always challenge—the exposure to so much pain and trauma while keeping staff aware of their limitations and prevention of burnout behaviors.
Reunion: What is the most rewarding thing you have ever experienced or watched somebody experience in your time doing this work?
IS: When you see that a child and their family are able to live in a secure environment without fear of abuse or violence. When a child goes home and is able to feel happy again and have the support of a caring adult. I had some clients that years later contacted us to let us know how their lives have changed for the better and how they’ve attended college and are successful. It is my hope that any child that has suffered abuse can build up on their resiliency and define themselves more as survivors than victims. We want to empower the children to utilize their very difficult experiences in ways that hopefully make changes for the better.
Reunion: What are you most proud of in your work?
IS: Our success in engaging families and helping them to transition from suffering and distress to a more stable place. If we can help our clients to envision a better life, a better future, a better outcome, then that is what I am proud of.
Reunion: Do you think this work has affected you personally? How so?
IS: The line of work we have chosen always affects us. You are reminded every day of what violence and pain can do. Personally, it keeps me grounded and mindful of how grateful we should be in everyday life.
Reunion: Do you have a regular self-care OR wellness practice? If so, what is it?
IS: I try to completely disengage from work on weekends, read as much as I can, take walks under the sun, spend time with family and friends. I am mindful of my needs and try to eat healthy and keep well.
Reunion: At what point did you realize the importance of self-care?
IS: I’ve always been aware of the importance of self-care and have tried to increase awareness of self-care to all our staff. For the last two years we have brought in a team once a month to help educate staff about nutrition, mindfulness, healthy ways of communication, etc. A couple years ago, I joined Joyful Heart on a three-day retreat and I still listen to the music and practice the yoga poses we learned when I feel the need to de-stress and stay calm. Many of our staff have been very happy for the opportunity to participate in Joyful Heart retreats and everyone has been positively impacted by the experience.
Reunion: This work can be hard on the people who do it. Has your organization established any mechanisms to deal with burnout and vicarious trauma or to nurture an environment that promotes self-care?
IS: Yes, in addition to the monthly sessions I discussed, our staff has also attended a one-day Joyful Heart program to become more mindful of ourselves. We are aware that we can’t take care of our clients if we are not taking care of ourselves. We need to be connected and grounded so that we can have a strong range of motion.