What is gang counseling all about?

Gang violence is a critical social issue. It takes a high toll on general public as well as the business community. The World Health Organization has highlighted that youth violence, including street gang membership, is a global public health problem that requires an immediate international response.

Gang involvement can have several negative outcomes for the individual including dropping out of school, unemployment, lack of opportunities to succeed, involvement in alcohol and drugs, and more. Many lose connection with their family, friends, community, and school.

Gang members are responsible for a large proportion of crime in communities. Effectively tackling gang involvement and related criminal activities can help in reduction of crime in affected neighborhoods.

Research is now beginning to expose the high burden of mental illness faced by gang-involved youth. Gang members often are at high risk of a wide range of mental health conditions such as anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder, drug and alcohol dependence, and post traumatic stress disorder. Also, the link between poor mental health and gang-affiliation works both ways. Some people with certain mental health issues are drawn to gang affiliation and some who are involved with gangs tend to develop mental health issues. In short, the negative consequences of gang-involvement can be many, and that it is essential to intervene in the lives of gang members.

One effective approach to gang intervention is counseling. Counseling is a broad term we use to define the practice of providing psychological help to gang-involved or at-risk youth. Gang counseling is primarily targeted at addressing the inherent issues in the behavior and cognition of gang members. It also aims to support prosocial growth and wellness in gang-involved youth.

Counselors use different theories of therapy as intervention strategies to help gang members with their issues. Individual counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, family counseling, and other modalities and theories of counseling are used to address criminal risk factors such as mental illness, anger, self-esteem issues, trauma, and more.

Alcohol, drug, and other types of addiction counseling is also a type of intervention that is aimed to address the damage caused by drug and alcohol abuse in gang-involved youth. This type of counseling is aimed at equipping youth with the right techniques and skills they need to overcome their addiction.

For a counselor, dealing with a gang-involved person requires a completely different approach and skills. Moreover, there is no one-size-fits-all or the right approach to counseling a gang member. A tailor-made approach to counsel a gang member and develop a trusting professional rapport with them, is needed.

Gang Expert, Lisa Taylor-Austin, NCC, LPC, LMHC, CFMHE, CFBA, has decades of experience in successfully counseling gang members. She has been able to establish a great professional rapport with her clients and assist them with attaining their personal goals. From calming tension after gang-related violence and helping gang members squelch their need for revenge, to assisting victims of school shooting deal with post-traumatic stress, she has done it all. Ms. Taylor-Austin has worked closely with gang involved youth for over 23 years in Connecticut and also maintains a private practice, where she counsels adolescents and adults with general mental health issues.