The Art of Resiliency

July 18, 2009

This past week I was in Detroit, Michigan attending the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC) Childhood Trauma Practitioner’s Assembly to work towards my next level of trauma certification.  This year’s Assembly theme was about fostering resiliency and the effects of childhood trauma in today’s world. Each day included a lot of valuable information and practical tools focused on sensory-based interventions when working with traumatized children and adolescents that I found energizing, validating, and inspiring for my own practice.

Offerings I took throughout the week ranged from learning more about resiliency approaches and relational strategies when working with traumatic stress in children and adolescents from invited speaker John Micsak, hearing more about research connected to trauma’s impact on the brain, nervous system, and the body’s response in managing and regulating activation from TLC faculty David Grill, as well as the use of art and play when working with traumatized youth from Cathy Malchiodi, one of TLC’s co-founders and faculty. If you are interested in reading more about the conference, Cathy wrote earlier in the week from the Assembly on topics such as Resilience Matters in Traumatized Children’s Lives–and Sensory Activities Make the Difference and Helping Children Draw Out Their Traumas as seen on her Healing Arts blog for Psychology Today.

On Thursday I spent all day in Cathy’s TLC class about using drawing, art, and play with traumatized children which of course connected well and reinforced my work with youth impacted by domestic violence, grief, and loss.  The day explored the importance and value of art and creative interventions in helping provide a voice and make meaning of the child’s trauma,  research connected to art, the brain, and memory, as well as art activities that reinforced different stages of intervention related to establishing safety, empowering self-soothing behaviors, relaxation, re-connection, and resiliency.

Below is a drawing that I did from this day connected to an intervention helping to honor, celebrate, and recognize the survivor self and support posttraumatic growth.  The task was to create a tree that represented ourself and within the roots of the tree label positive self-characteristics and around the branches, identify our achievements. I thought of qualities that have helped me through challenging and difficult life changing events in my own life and some of the positive outcomes that I have been able to achieve.

"Me Tree"

"Me Tree"

We were then introduced to a list developed by Dean of Research and Professor of Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Dennis Charney M.D., Ph.D., of 10 psychological characteristics that people can work toward to increase resilience and encouraged to compare if any of these 10 qualities were included on our tree.   Resilient characteristics such as optimism and altruism seen in the form of passion, active coping through creative problem solving and skill, and connecting to others through cultivating community, despite my independent nature were some of the qualities identifed on Charney’s list that emerged from my tree.

The last session I attended before leaving the Assembly was completely focused on resiliency and the helper facilitated by Roger Klein— tools and tips to help manage the difficult work that comes with working with trauma.  Topics around stress responses, burnout, and interventions were presented with practical applications and solution-based interventions.  A key component to this session was reminding us (“the helpers” ) that our thinking impacts how our body responds– that there’s a reaction in our bodies to every thought that we have (positive and negative!).  Important information that we use with those we work with, but can have trouble practicing ourselves.

Some tips from this workshop that I found helpful to remember and supports/produces CD4 cells (Helper T cells that mediate immune response):

1. Our thoughts are very powerful and practice an awareness of what you are thinking –> directly influences our body response

2. We have the power to change our thinking

3. Attitude: life is how you take it, not so much what you make it

4. Avoid negative words and watching, listening, and reading negative stories broadcasted and published from the media (Produces CD 8 cells, which are Suppressor T cells and contribute to a higher reaction level of stress)

5. Visualize success

6. Relaxation through guided imagery, focusing on an object, listening to music, doing art, relaxation CDs

7. Humor-  laughing, using humor to help cope

I am looking forward to hopefully attending the TLC Assembly again next year, as I always find the information, instructors, and applications offered helpful and the interventions presented are so effective to use with the children and adolescents that I work with.  I enjoyed the theme of resiliency and how each offering I attended explored this topic in a unique and different way, whether it was through neurophysiological considerations, mind/body connections, art expression, or how to manage our own responses as professionals.

For more about TLC, their training and certification program, on-line courses, resource articles and much more, visit:


2 Responses to “The Art of Resiliency”

  1. Trini Says:

    Thanks for sharing all this Gretchen, I love your blog… it’s always a good resource for learning and inspiration!

  2. […] with traumatized and grieving youth.  Check out these past posts from the Assembly in 2010 and 2009 to read more about my […]

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