Celebrating Students ’13: Mark Nakhla

Expression is an integral part of behavioral health treatment. The doctors at Westchester Medical Center struggled to get the children there to express their ideas and feelings across; some were physically unable to do so, while others were unwilling. I worked in the Behavioral Health Center at this hospital, and after deliberating with my boss, I started an expressive therapies class every Tuesday.  There was only one slight catch – there was very little talking allowed.  The class was in American Sign Language. I worked with young children between the ages of 4 and 13, none of whom were deaf or had known any sign language previously. The idea was that if they weren’t willing to vocalize their feelings, maybe they would sign them instead.

The idea seemed really interesting to me, but I was unsure how successful it would be.  Luckily, it worked much better than I could have imagined. After I spent a day teaching the kids different signs, we’d have a group session and they would sign to me what they were feeling that day.  Then they would talk about it if they felt comfortable enough doing so. It wasn’t always easy for them, but using sign to break the perceived communication barrier really helped facilitate the discussions.

Eventually, the kids really looked forward to seeing me; I wasn’t just a psychiatry intern with a fancy badge on the medical team – I was a friendly face that they could joke around with and share ideas and feelings with. The comfort the kids felt allowed me to help them in ways that the psychiatrists and therapists could not. They now had a skill that they could revert to whenever they felt like they couldn’t talk to any of the people around them.

Sign Language gave these kids the gift of expression. It’s also given me the same gift for one of my hobbies now is signing songs. I perform songs in ASL in schools around Connecticut and record videos and put them on YouTube for both deaf and hearing people to enjoy. It’s quickly become a passion of mine. Expression is key. It’s helped the kids at the hospital get their feelings out, and helps me portray music to people who cannot hear.

Note:  Check out Mark’s YouTube at www.youtube.com/pacersfan191.  –D.B.