Juvenile psychologist helps kids grow up

For 13 years, Carson City resident Bruno Bielat has been helping adolescents in Douglas County grow up - and their parents get through those teenage years.

As a psychologist with the Douglas County Juvenile Probation Office, Bielat focuses on prevention. As a counselor at the China Spring youth detention facility, he works on changing set behavior patterns with juvenile offenders.

He's a busy man.

On Tuesday, Bielat saw 21 families at JPO. He gives all his attention to the person sitting in front of him.

"Most of the work is done on a preventative basis," he said. "When there is a concern by the parents or concerns they have themselves, if they see potential problem spots and contact a probation officer, they don't have to necessarily be on formal probation."

He spends about a day and a half every week at the JPO office. Two hours are spent in group counseling sessions. A girls' group meets Wednesday afternoons for an hour and an impulse control group for boys meets for an hour Tuesday afternoons.

A visit to the girls' group reveals an informal group in which the girls lead, but Bielat guides.

The girls ask hard questions and require each other to explain their actions. The conversation is surprisingly honest.

"It's a very open format. It's nice to have the other girls to collectively problem-solve and to deal with issues in their lives. It's a combined approach of having peers and at the same time someone checking them and asking them questions. They run the group well without me," he said.

The group is open to any girl and a recent meeting included a 11-year-old and a pregnant teen.

One participant was complaining about an irrational person she lives with.

"Do we ever expect people to be perfect?" Bielat asked after the conversation seemed to be a little out of control. "No, because people slip up," he said. "When we build up that tolerance, we build up that strength."

Bielat said he tries to get the kids to use good judgment.

"People who use reasonable judgment to protect themselves, good things happen to those people," he said.

Boys are placed in the impulse control group by the probation department. It is more structured, Bielat said, and the boys continue to attend until they meet goals they set for themselves.

Some goals include completing all assigned school work or maintaining a specific grade, finishing chores, getting a job or arriving home on time.

"They have to bring in proof that they have done those things before they can leave. For this person (who committed to doing chores), he has to bring his parents. For the ones who commit to do their school work, they must bring in a progress report with details of the percentages in each class," Bielat said.

Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Scott Cook said Bielat takes a lot of the load off the JPO officers.

"In his therapy with the kids, he really does concentrate on their actions and help them think through their actions. When we ask them why they did something, a lot say, 'I don't know, I wasn't thinking,' and they don't even have an answer," Cook said. "So, he really takes those cases that used to bog us down and keeps them from escalating in the system and focuses on changing their behavior instead of just waiting until they do something, then putting them in detention."

Cook said Bielat has been a help in cases that involve parent-child conflict. In those cases, he said, officers usually just end up in the middle, but Bielat is able to work with the family and change behavior.

"In those cases where the parent and kid are fighting, we try to get them working with Bruno first, and, generally, he's able to help them work whatever it is out," Cook said.

Bielat has always worked with teen-agers, even before he became a psychologist. He taught social studies in public school until 1972 when he left to teach college at Purdue University. He also taught at Indiana University and was the school psychologist for the Douglas County School District when he moved out West in 1987.

In between working with the students at JPO and China Spring, Bielat operates a practice from his Carson City home with the help of his wife, Linda.

n Parents' group. For one night Bielat will turn his focus to helping parents.

"An Evening with Bruno" parenting class with Bielat will be held March 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Douglas County Law Enforcement Center Sheriff's training room, 1625 Eighth St.

"It came about because I see so many parents and I thought it would be a good time to get together and do a little networking," he said.

Cook said a lot of parents have asked juvenile probation if they could spend time with Bielat alone to ask him questions.

"He'll explain his technique and how it fits in with what we do and what they can do as parents," Cook explained.

Bielat said he wants the parents to have their questions answered about parenting problems with the help of other parents.

"I'm hoping other parents will be able to talk about what has worked for them. It will be like a little conference," he said.

The free event is open to the public. For information, call 782-9813.


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