Crisis Counseling: One Girl’s Path From Trauma to Self-Sufficiency

By Michelle Watts

When I was 21 years old I lost my 18 year old brother in a tragic car accident. It was a very traumatic experience for my family and me, but especially for my mother. Our brother was her only son and her youngest child. I watched as over the years her grief became complicated and hardened her heart. She no longer had the capacity to express joy and empathy for herself or others. At the time I thought that if I ever had the opportunity to support a person with managing and healing from their grief, it would be a humbling honor.


Michelle Watts

In 2011, the opportunity presented itself to me. Through the Catholic Charities of the East Bay’s Crisis Response and Support Network, I began providing trauma counseling to the families’ impacted by the chronic violence and trauma in their communities. I found my passion, working with individuals impacted by poverty, violence and untreated complex trauma. We help by supporting families in the initial stages of their raw and visceral grief and loss. We intervene days and sometimes hours after a homicide or shooting takes place in the community. We provide therapeutic treatment for grief and complex trauma and case management services to support families with housing and employment to achieve one of our core missions at CCEB, “Fostering Self-Sufficiency.”

In early 2011, I had the distinct privilege of working with a young woman whose father was shot and killed in front of their house. Though she attempted to provide CPR to her father it was devastating when he died in her arms. She lived a challenging early childhood. Her parents were both involved heavily in substance abuse. As a result, she suffered profoundly from neglect. When I met her, she had not completed high school, had no job skills or experience and had a three month old child to take care. She was estranged from her mother and involved in an unhealthy relationship where her partner victimized her through relational aggression.

She was open to therapy and open to healing circles for her family. She carried the torch of hope for the positive future for herself and her family. She worked hard in therapy to heal. She was proactive in finding stable housing. Together we developed a Life Plan and she followed it with determination and courage. Since 2011, she has obtained her GED, taken “Positive Parenting” classes and taken four full semesters of college, achieving a 3.0 GPA and above. She is currently employed and financially stable. She has also reengaged in a relationship with her mother and is currently her primary caretaker. She is bravely and compassionately supporting her two older siblings in developing a Life Plan. She has managed to extract herself from the domestic violence relationship and has moved on to find love and support in her life. I still meet with her once a month to support her continued healing and to maintain the positive and supportive relationship we built.

Now, this is a remarkable story of healing, courage and resilience. This young lady has not only taken steps to survive and heal, she is beginning the process of thriving. Unfortunately, not all our clients’ possess the capacity to address their grief and healing. Their mere survival is a daily struggle. And still I hold hope and believe in the power of the human spirit to heal.

Working for Catholic Charities of the East Bay has served to support the “wounded healer” in me. I found my way of understanding my grief. My work has provided me with the tools to support others in a meaningful way. I began to realize that a more expansive and empowered part of myself was born as a result of my work. I remain excited, humble and feel so grateful to continue to care for and support others in their healing process.

I encourage you to come and see how crisis response team are “Healing Trauma” and transforming lives by providing immediate and sustained support to those who suffer. Our Transforming Lives Tours are on the second and third Thursday of every month at our main office located on 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland. Please contact Debra Gunn at 510-768-3142 or