Early Career Psychologist Column

Spotlight on early career psychologists within the field of child maltreatment

The ECP column spotlights early career psychologists within the field of child maltreatment. Our current ECP is a great role model for members interested in a career within a direct care setting working with trauma-exposed youth.

Cerissa Desrosiers, PsyDCerissa Desrosiers, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Endurance Behavioral Health, which provides mental health treatment for adolescents in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire. Endurance offers two programs: a six-hour Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and a three-hour Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). These programs represent intermediate-level treatment options for adolescents whose needs are too complex for outpatient therapy but do not reach the threshold for inpatient hospitalization.

Through her work at Endurance, Desrosiers is involved in the lives of many trauma-exposed youth. Not only does her practice include children already in group placement or the foster care system, but often times it is during therapy and treatment sessions that the adolescents first disclose their maltreatment histories. Desrosiers notes that “often people believe that for these youth because their trauma is in the past, it isn't relevant any more, but what I see is that the effects of the trauma are still flaring up years later.” As a result, many of the clients at Endurance are dealing with a range of mental health issues, such as anxiety and panic disorders, depression and suicidality, PTSD, mood instability, substance use and behavioral issues at home and school.

When asked about her work, Desrosiers states that she never intended to be a psychologist. In fact, after graduating with a BA in education from the College of the Atlantic in Maine, she worked as a sailing and rock climbing instructor for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School. She intended to remain in this line of work. However, in the aftermath of 9/11, few parents were willing to send their children away from home, therefore many of the outdoor education programs were cancelled. At that point, Desrosiers decided to transition to disaster relief work and became a certified fire fighter and EMT. It was during her time in Florida in the fall of 2004, after four major hurricanes during which she was a Red Cross Disaster Action Team member, that she met a psychologist who strongly encouraged her to consider a career in clinical psychology. She returned home from Florida inspired to start a new path and enrolled in a PsyD program at Antioch University, New England, where she obtained her degree and license in 2013. In the months following completion of her degree, Desrosiers co-founded Endurance Behavioral Health.

Providing direct care to trauma-exposed youth can be an incredibly challenging and rewarding job. Desrosiers also notes that, for her, it is a job that requires a high level of emotional investment. She encourages those in the field or those considering a career in direct care to be mindful and prioritize self-care. As she states, “It's like on an airplane—you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping your children to put on theirs.” It's important to have a self-care plan for how to cope with the emotional toll, to ask for help and support from colleagues and to have a realistic mindset. As Desrosiers puts it, she cannot be responsible for what happens to a child before they come into her life, nor can she be responsible for what happens to a child after they move out of her care. All she can do is take responsibility for her direct interactions with the child to make sure that there is a net positive—that she leaves the child in a better situation than they were when she first encountered them.

Desrosiers feels that one of the greatest challenges in working with trauma-exposed youth is that there are so many forces in the lives of these adolescents, so as a therapist or counselor one has limited control, which can be extremely difficult to cope with at times. However, she also feels that direct care is one of the few areas where we can really help change the trajectory of the adolescents' lives. Providing an adolescent with at least one positive adult relationship can help them be resilient in the face of trauma. Overall, she feels privileged to have her degree and to be able to do the work that she does. This privilege humbles her and helps her focus on doing the most good that she can so that she does not squander her opportunities. Ultimately, she is not afraid of the messiness and chaos that comes with these youth. Instead, she feels blessed to be able to contribute positively to their lives in whatever way she can.

In addition to her work at Endurance, Desrosiers is also actively involved in the larger community of service providers. She has served on the Ethics Board for the New Hampshire Psychological Association since September 2015 and was recently elected to the NHPA Board of Directors as a member-at-large. Her ultimate goal is to secure more resources in New Hampshire for serving at-risk and trauma-exposed youth and their families.

Desrosiers has already made remarkable contributions to the field of child maltreatment via direct care and community involvement. She is passionate about her work and has improved the lives of many vulnerable youth. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors and thank her for her insights to our students and ECPs.