Gaye Allen-Cook was in high school when her father had an accident at work that left him paralyzed. During his months of rehabilitation, the rest of the family sought counseling to help him adjust to the changes ahead.
Gaye was only 15, but she realized then what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
“I was so thankful to have someone that I could say anything to and not be judged for it,” she says. “I knew that was something I wanted to do for other people.”
Today, Gaye works in Florence, S.C., where she was born and raised, counseling children and families who have experienced trauma. Through Project BEST, a statewide collaborative, she is trained in a mental health intervention called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Extensive testing shows this evidence-based practice – TF-CBT, for short – helps true healing begin.
Since 2006, Trustees of The Duke Endowment have approved nearly $16 million in grants to make evidence-based intervention and prevention efforts more widely available for children and families in the Carolinas. More than $4.7 million of that funding has gone to Project BEST – and now clinicians in 39 of the 46 South Carolina counties are trained to use TF-CBT in their practices.
In Florence, Gaye sees dozens of clients, from preschoolers to teens. Most have been physically or sexually abused. Some have witnessed brutal violence in their homes. Now in her 13th year of practice, she’s often called on by the court system for her expertise.
It’s painful to face children whose world has been turned upside down. But Gaye encourages them to talk about the experience. She teaches relaxation and coping skills, and ways to understand their feelings. She works with family members, guiding them as they support their children.
Gaye has been on both sides of the healing process. On May 17, 2011, she and her husband gave birth to their first son, Parker Keith Cook. The baby lived just four hours. Now pregnant with her second son, she speaks openly about the anguish that followed their loss.
“One of the hardest things for somebody who does what I do for a living is realizing that you need help yourself,” she says. “I found myself in individual counseling. I found myself in marriage counseling. It reminded me how important it is to be able to give people the tools to put their lives back together.”
Every evening, when the office has fallen quiet, Gaye has a closing ritual that helps her leave her work behind. Before she turns off the lights and locks the door, she says the name of each child she saw that day. And then she prays:
I’ve done all today that I can do. Please give me peace to know that I’ve done my job well. Watch over all of them, and give me the strength to come back tomorrow.
Phillip H. Redmond Jr.
Director of Child Care