MIFFLINTOWN - If someone asks Natasha Ufema what her business hours are, she'll say she doesn't have any. That's because she wants her business - Family First Counseling Services - to be available when people need her.
Ufema said she opened the office recently at 2626 William Penn Highway between Mifflintown and Arch Rock because the area is underserved in terms of mental health services. Her goal is to expand services available to residents of Mifflin, Juniata and Huntingdon counties.
While Ufema does focus on family counseling, her philosophy is that "no single family member is responsible for a family's disfunction." She works with parents and children individually to observe behaviors and patterns with the goal of improving communication within the family.
Sentinel photo by KIM HAYES
Licensed Professional Counselor Natasha Ufema has a designated space for children at her practice. She will be certified in play therapy by the end of the year. Her office, called Family First Counseling Services, is located at 2626 William Penn Highway in Mifflintown.
"I've always been fascinated with the internal workings of families - how they solve problems and overcome adversity. Most families navigate the highs and lows of daily life pretty well but sometimes professional help is needed," she said.
By the end of the year, Ufema will be a registered play therapist as well. She looks forward to working with children in an area of her office specially designated just for them.
"The goal (of play therapy) shouldn't be to just give them toys to get them to talk," she said.
Instead, Ufema said she can learn a lot about a child's thoughts and emotions by the way he or she plays. Then, she can tell the child's family about it, although she would speak about children's actions in terms of themes.
"I really do limit personal content," she said. Instead, she might tell parents she notices themes of aggression or good and evil.
"That's how kids communicate," she said. "It's miraculous, really."
Once certified, Ufema will also be able to teach parents about filial therapy and how they can engage their child in play therapy at home. In that situation, the parents are essentially the play therapists and the therapist becomes the parents' coach.
In addition to play therapy, Ufema takes a special interest in healing past and present trauma.
"Ninety percent of the time, psychological issues are about unresolved trauma," she said. When a traumatic situation occurs, Ufema explained the part of the brain responsible for "fight or flight" reactions causes the front part of the brain, which is responsible for logical thought, to shut down. Because of this, individuals are unable to process traumatic events rationally, believing if they think about the event, they will have the same reactions and feelings to it as they did initially.
Ufema said that's a myth. Remembering and talking about an event after a period of time does not trigger the same responses in the brain as actually going through the trauma; however, ignoring the issue entirely permits the fight or flight centers of the brain to continue reacting to the perceived danger of the past event.
Ufema has a bachelor of science in education from Penn State University and a master's degree in counseling psychology. She is a licensed professional counselor, a member of the American Counseling Association, certified through the Bureau of Autism Services and in treating post-traumatic stress disorder in U.S. service members.
Family First Counseling Services currently accepts some insurances. For more information or to make an appointment, call 436-2965. The practice can also be found on Facebook.