- I spent a few days this past week at The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children Childhood Trauma Practitioners Assembly held near Detroit, Michigan. As an art therapist working in trauma intervention with youth and families, attending this annual conference has become important in my professional development and keeping up to date about what’s happening in trauma informed care.
Here’s an overview of my experience this year:
Tuesday’s assembly kicked off with an all day program focusing on supporting children of deployed military parents. The morning session featured a panel of veterans and military spouses who provided attendees with their experiences and insights about living as a military family and reflections to consider to help families and children cope with the challenges of multiple deployments and other issues this population faces. The panel also included specialists and therapists working on and off base with military families. Read more about the panelists via this blog post from TLC: Supporting Children of Deployed Parents: Voices of Experience Teach Valuable Lessons.
There were many lessons presented to attendees about what these veterans and their family experienced during service and post-service. Here’s a brief summary from some of my notes about considerations when working with military families:
- The impact of a parent’s deployment, or very often multiple deployments. The cycle of being deployed affects the entire family system, including the relationship between spouses, with children, and how the overall family unit functions. Multiple deployments away from home and longer periods of time that the parent at home is left to function as a single parent also prompts new roles, responsibilities, and expectations. The hardest part voiced by many on the panel was having to re-adjust and shift gears from military life to civilian life when on leave or returning from a deployment. These challenges included adjusting from the hyper aroused state instilled and needed for military work, that was no longer needed when returning back to family life. Re-integrating into a family routine, structure, and roles that includes both parents was another adjustment to balance and for children to also become adjusted to.
- When a parent is impacted emotionally or physically with signature combat injuries such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI), this also affects the whole family. The returning parent may not be as they were before their deployment. Families need resources and services to help cope with these life altering changes.
- Worries of military families and their children- Often there are worries about the cycle of deployment, the risks and increased fears associated with each time the parent is away he/she will be injured, hurt, or killed. Children in military families may not openly express their worries, concerns, or feelings to protect the military parent, parent running the household alone, or have a hesitation about who to safely talk to and trust that will understand military culture.
What trauma specialists can do to help was also highlighted during this panel:
- If working with children of military families and their parents, learn more about military culture and language/terminology
- Family care plans- A plan of action detailing who will take care of the child(ren) is important for deployed parents, especially around situations with chronic moving and possibly being far away from extended family;
- A need to expand PTSD services for not just veterans, but also to families and their children to help cope as well;
- Do not assume that if a child lives on a military base with services that he/she is receiving services. More resources are becoming available, but families sometimes do not access these and a child/family in need may need referring or advocating for;
- Groups for youth can focus on creating a safe place and addressing themes around worry, sadness, hurt, anger. Art and creative interventions are non-threatening ways to promote self-expression and coping around these topics.
TLC Founder Dr. Bill Steele and faculty Dr. Cathy Malchiodi facilitated an afternoon session where we each given a mini rubber duck and encouraged to create a safe environment for our duck using art supplies such as tissue paper, magazine photo collage, oil pastels, markers, pipecleaners, stickers, and more. This is an intervention that they facilitated with children of military families as a way to address themes around worry, safety, and other feelings. It also provides opportunities for storytelling, which may bring out some of the child’s own experiences and narrative.
The next day I spent my time in two different TLC workshops: WRITE OUT LOUD: A Journal Experience for Families in the Military facilitated by Dr. Linda Peterson- St.Pierre and Trauma Group for Mothers facilitated by Louise Tamblyn and Val Millson.
In WRITE OUT LOUD!, we focused on a series of writing exercises that could help decrease stress and promote coping skills. As introduced by Peterson-St.Pierre, expression through words and/or art helps with body regulation and encouraging healthy mind/body functioning. We learned about and spent time writing sentence stems, sprints, character sketches, as well as reviewed cluster writing, writing about memories and making lists of life’s stepping stones, roads not taken, and recapturing lost opportunities. If you’re interested in learning more, Peterson-St. Pierre has published the book WRITE OUT LOUD! Helping Military Spouses and Children Cope with Life.
Another great resource presented was Operation Homecoming, Writing the Wartime Experience. This DVD and book is ”a unique documentary that explores the firsthand accounts of American servicemen and women through their own words. The film is built upon a project created by the National Endowment for the Arts to gather the writing of servicemen and women and their families who have participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”. I was also thrilled to see The Combat Paper Project mentioned to the workshop group as another example of how creative self expression is helping veterans with healing and coping. Everyone even received a sheet of Combat Paper to use for doodling or for writing during our various exercises.
My afternoon workshop session Trauma Group for Mothers focused on a facilitating a structured group using TLC’s Adults and Parents Workbook and an overview of how the facilitators conducted the group from intake/beginning to evaluation/end. The group included addressing areas such as, but not limited to introducing concepts of trauma to the women, trauma reactions, secondary wounding, relaxation techniques, victim/survivor thinking, as well as identifying worries, strengthening coping, and de-briefing on the trauma that happened through a series of seven drawings. The information and ideas from this workshop I can incorporate into my group work with women who have experienced domestic violence. To learn more about this TLC Intervention Program, check out the Adults and Parents in Trauma: Learning to Survive.
Another noteworthy mention and new addition at this year’s Assembly was the display of art work featuring children’s drawings and paintings from the work of Cathy Malchiodi related to topics that can impact youth such as grief, loss, family issues, separation, self-esteem, and the impact of traumatic events such as 9/11.
And finally, my attendance at the this year’s Assembly really inspired and energized me to take my own experiences and work related to trauma intervention to the next level and to start thinking about the next steps for completing my Level 3- Certified Trauma Consultant Supervisor credential. Cannot wait to attend again next year!