Counseling On Demand

Counseling On Demand, our behavior change model, has two essential parts, the counseling framework, philosophy and skills and the service delivery system methodology.

Our program is based on the concept that most, if not all negative behaviors and habits can be traced back to a lack of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love. People in recovery programs refer to this lack as "that empty hole inside of me that I attempted to fill with ... [their particular addictive behavior]". Our approach is two-pronged; we assist, support, teach how and encourage youth to change their negative behaviors and, at the same time, teach them effective ways to increase their self-confidence, self-esteem and self-love. Without the latter, the behavior changes will be temporary or they will find a new negative behavior. People who feel good about and love themselves do not do things that put themselves in harm's way by doing irresponsible things such as substance and tobacco abuse, criminal activities, unsafe and risky actions including unsafe sexual activities.

Another characteristic of most at-risk youth is that they lack many of the life-skills (social, work, relationship-wise and, even domestic) that are necessary to support a healthy, responsible lifestyle. This is especially true for those who come from dysfunctional families and those who started substance abuse at an early age. Therefore, even if they gain more self-esteem and change to more positive behaviors, there is still a good chance of failure unless they also learn essential life-skills.

We have developed methodologies for enhancing both self-esteem and life-skills that are easily taught to new counseling staff and are compatible with the Counseling On Demand (COD)service delivery system as described below. Substance abuse plays such a large art in the lives of most of our population and is a leading cause of temporary slips from safe sex practices with youth who usually play safely. For this reason our counseling staff is well schooled in intervention techniques and in 12-step and other treatment methods for those who do not need residential treatment. For those who do, we regularly refer to local programs. For youth that are under 18years old, our aim is to get them in a non-exploitive, stable living situation. We work very closely with the Department of Children and Family Services' Runaway Adolescent Program (RAP) and regularly refer youth to them for placement in group and foster homes.

Our counseling staff are either licensed, or supervised by licensed, mental health professionals, although we see their role as being much more than just a therapist. In earlier times, when youth lived in extended families and close-knit communities, there was usually a family member (an aunt, uncle, grandparent) or community elder, who served as a non-punitive, alternate parent. Since these people were not involved in discipline and had demonstrated unconditional love for the youth, they could be turned to for guidance, comfort, and mentoring, with the knowledge that the youth would always get an honest evaluation of his/her actions. Because we feel it is important for our counselors to be able to act in this "elder"/role model role, we look for candidates who have been successful in their personal and professional lives. Counselors like this can teach their young clients the necessary life-skiffs lesions with the conviction of knowing they work. For at-risk youth on their own, having a counselor who they can bond to, look up to and emulate, is a key ingredient to counter the multiple levels of negative influences - personal, cultural, and social - which regularly undermine efforts to positively change one's life.

We are working in the Hollywood/West Hollywood area, with essentially two different populations:

The first are mostly homeless gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender males, 13 to 24 years old, who engage in survival sex on Santa Monica Blvd for their living needs. They usually live in $35 a night motels. Most of them are not living with their parents due to the parents' attitudes regarding their sexual orientation. Included in this population are local teens who live with parents or family members. For these youths, the streets are their playground. They will also, on occasion, engage in prostitution for spending money. Unfortunately, the lure of lots of easy money gets many of these teens to become uninterested in low paying entry level jobs and with enough money to hve in motels and shop at high class stores, they stop living at home and going to school. We work with this population, on the street, in the Santa Monica and La Brea area of Hollywood/West Hollywood, CA.

The second are primarily gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender youths who are in semi-stable to stable living situations and are either working or going to school. They congregate in the coffee houses and underage discos of West Hollywood. Even if homeless and unemployed, clients from this group usually choose to sleep on friends' couches rather than resorting to survival sex on the streets. Included in this group are youths who live at home and are in the early stages of coming out. Although they are in stable living conditions, they are still at high risk for substance abuse and addictions, HIV/AIDS and suicide. We work with this population in and around the coffee houses in West Hollywood.

We also worked with both populations at Eagles Center, a LA Unified School District continuation high school that provides a hassle-free environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. A year of experience there showed that the COD model also worked well in a school environment. Due to a lack of funding, on April 1, 1996 we temporarily suspended our work there. Our goal is to once again provide this valuable support when we can secure funding for the addidtional staff.

Since 40-70% (depending on the location) of our population is Hispanic and close to 20% of those that we work with in and around the West Hollywood coffeehouses are Asian Pacific and most are gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning, we strive to find staff that are both linguistically and culturally compatible.

Our future plans also include working with the first-generation Russian immigrant youth that congregate in and around the Plummer Park area. Because many of them act as translators for their parents, both linguistically and culturally, it puts them in a one-up position so that their parents are not able to effectively control and guide them. Consequently, they are also high risk youth and are becoming a problem to the local community. Other than an athletic program run by the City of West Hollywood, there are no social services that are targeted to them.

The fundamental elements of Counseling On Demand (COD) service delivery system, regardless of the setting where it is located are:

This is a model that has evolved, over the years, through a trial and error process. We view the program as a dynamic, constantly evolving one where only those tools that work are kept. We subscribe to the principle that there is no such person as a resistant client, there are just counselors, therapists and programs that are not flexible enough to adapt to the individual needs of their clients. For this reason, we regularly solicit feedback from our clients, both in writing through feedback boxes, questionnaires and verbally soliciting comments and by keenly observing their responses to our methodologies. These observations are most important because of the nature of the Counseling On Demand process. Because it is so casual and conversational in appearance, many of the clients, especially early on, have not enough awareness of the process to comment on it.

Comments to: Jason Wittman, MPS, Executive Director
Back to The Youth Rescue Fund Page

Copyright 1996 Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Revised January 28, 2010