By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
For 20 years TJJD psychologist Kathryn Hallmark has been assessing and counseling young people who became entangled in the juvenile justice system. She has worked with hundreds of youths, committing thousands of hours to puzzling over how they ended up at TJJD and how they can find their way onto a safer, healthier path.
It’s high-intensity work filled with heartbreaking setbacks, re-routes, repairs and rewards -- and amazing breakthroughs and glorious victories.
How does she keep up the pace?
“It’s a fascinating job. There are some things that are tiring, the paperwork, but meeting the kids and the parents and figuring out how they ended up on the developmental highway they did (with a detour to TJJD) is just fascinating to me.”
“I like to analyze the situation,” Hallmark said, to find the patterns and connections that led a youth astray and help them identify their mistakes and emotional triggers so they can take better control of their life.”
“I like to see the kid recognize that he’s not a bad person but that he got stuck and can get unstuck,” she said.
That reward “seeing the lights go off” never gets old, and has sustained her through posts as a treatment services manager at the Mart and Giddings campuses, followed by a decade as a psychologist leading violent offender and sexual abuse treatment programs at Giddings State School.
“ Kathryn has aided in the healing and therapeutic journey of countless youth,” said Dr. Evan Norton, director of Integrated Treatment and Support. “She brings a multitude of skillsets to the table and isn’t afraid to meet a kid where they’re at, to increase their likelihood of success. I have many fond memories seeing the unorthodox and creative ways she’s gotten kids out of their shells.”
With her training in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and TBRI (Trust-based Relational Intervention), Hallmark is a frequent “expert consultant” and a respected member of the treatment team, Norton said.
She’s also an expert in conducting group therapy for capital offenders. Known colloquially as COG (Capital Offender Group) and developed at Giddings, the program has been recently updated to be more trauma informed. It is a structured approach to helping youth unravel the hurts they’ve endured to better understand the harm they’ve done.
As important as her degrees and certificates are the personal gifts Hallmark brings to the work – compassion, patience, and dedication. These qualities keep her grounded and motivated as she weekly pores over the files of the youth she treats, absorbing their history and connecting to their stories to help them find answers.
“I have to be familiar with their patterns, life history and criminal history. . . I look at the feelings they had when they were children and some of the traumatic situations they went through and I can just feel how they ended up here,” Hallmark said, speaking from her corner office famously painted a startling pink and provisioned with cushiony seating. “I have a lot of empathy for them.”
“Once they hear that I can see goodness in them, then they perk up.”
She cements these connections to the youth by keeping the mood light, a technique known as “playful engagement” that seems to come naturally to the high-energy therapist. “If you’re playful and supportive of the kids, they can be playful with you and then when it is time to get serious, you have a connection.”
Having such a high-demand job (and a degree in psychology), Hallmark knows that she must take care of the caregiver. On Saturdays you can find her at home practicing yoga, sipping herbal tea, or curled up with a science fiction book by Orson Scott Card or Isaac Asimov, or maybe a novel with a spiritual bent like “The Shack.”