Trauma happens when an experience produces psychological injury or pain. Complex trauma is a type of trauma that happens cumulatively over time, within specific relationships or contexts. That context may be war, chronic illness, or abuse, either physical or sexual. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is the result of a single traumatic event, for example a terrorist attack, a tornado, hurricane or other natural disaster. On the other hand, Developmental Trauma is a form of complex trauma that specifically affects young children, even unborn children, although the symptoms often do not manifest until many years later. This type of trauma can include abuse and neglect at the hands of a trusted caregiver, neglect in a foreign orphanage, in utero exposure, or even premature birth or illness where medical healing touch can not be distinguished from abuse by a baby or toddler.
Babies learn emotional regulation from attuning to the face of their Mother or primary caregiver. When this relationship is disrupted, a child may develop trauma. A core belief of those suffering from developmental trauma is that the world is an unsafe place. Symptoms of children with developmental trauma include affect and psychological dysregulation, and attentional and behavioral dysregulation. These dysregulations can present as emotional rages, sensory processing disorders, hypervigilance, self harming behaviors, risk taking behaviors, lack of empathy, hypersexuality, acting as the parent, lack of trust, and aggression.
June 22nd - June 24th, I had the opportunity to attend the 5th annual Developmental Trauma Conference at Change Academy at Lake of the Ozarks, CALO. Dr. Joseph Spinazzola, of the Justice Resource Institute, educated us on the history of developmental trauma as well as how to attune effectively. Steve Sawyer, Clinical Director and Cofounder of New Visions Wilderness Therapy, taught us techniques to regulate a dysregulated nervous system, including, breathing techniques, neurobiofeedback, brainspotting, and heart math.
Calo is a residential treatment center which is a relationship based treatment model designed to heal developmental trauma. Calo's relationship based model is known as CASA, which stands for Commitment, Acceptance, Security, and Attunement. These four pillars leads to the ultimate goal of Joy, which is the experience through co-regulation. CALO offers therapy, family therapy, adventure based therapy, neurobiofeedback, and is well known for its canine therapy program. CALO uses Golden Retrievers to help students learn to empathize, trust and receive unconditional love. Students work with their Goldens on a daily basis. They learn and practice safe and healthy attachment with their canine with the ultimate goal of transferring that attachment to their families.
Thank you CALO for a wonderful conference and facility tour!
I spent years trying to have children. I longed for nothing more than to hold a baby, with the fresh baby smell, in my arms. I was poked, prodded, charted, and then disappointed. I suffered through surgical procedures. Now years later, how could I now consider turning over the much longed for child to strangers to help him heal emotionally? Aren’t I, the Mom, supposed to be capable of helping my own child?
I felt like a failure as a parent. I was isolated from friends. I lost friends. My now teen aged son was “that kid”. My son, and by proxy myself, was the kid whose behaviors were contagious. He was the one whom good families avoided. We felt blamed and judged as parents. We knew our son was a sweet, gentle little boy on the inside which didn’t match what was happening on the outside. We sought out therapists, psychiatrists, academics and other experts in their fields and still our son’s issue became worse.
We were faced with a choice and a decision that no parents wants to consider. We were advised to send our son to treatment in a residential setting for the underlying emotional and mental health issues.
Even then, we still could not wrap our head around what this meant or even looked like. How could we send our strangers? He would not open up emotionally to therapists he had known for years, so how was this going to happen with strangers? I had a million questions swirling around in my head. When would be the right time to do this? What type of treatment did he really need? Would we find a therapist who really understood what was going on with him? Would this even work? What would people think? Would this fuel his bad boy reputation? And more importantly how in the world were we going to fund this! There was so much swirling around in my mind and so many things to work through all while managing increasing behaviors and crisis at home. How were we supposed to make a decision?
If you ask any parent whose child is in a residential program, almost all would say they should have enrolled their child sooner. That was certainly our case. And yet, I could not answer the question how does a parent know when the time is right to seek treatment outside the home?
First and foremost is there an issue of safety? Is your child safe away from your watchful eye? Included in the umbrella of safety is an increasing drug or alcohol use. Also included would be suicide ideation, suicide attempts, and other self-harming behaviors.
Another facet of safety is the safety of others in the home. Are your child’s moods volatile? Are they aggressive towards you or their siblings? Do you have internal door locks or a safety plan? Are there holes in the walls or is property regularly destroyed? Are you constantly looking for a medical miracle and not finding it. Then it may be time to consider an intensive therapeutic environment.
Therapeutic environments are not just for children who are explosive. A therapeutic environment is a healing environment for those children who turn their emotions inward. Does your child have refusal behaviors? They may refuse to go to parental visitation. Do they refuse to shower or have good hygiene? Do they refuse to go to doctor appointments or see the therapist? They may even have school refusal behaviors refusing to attend school.
There are some commonalities that all children have with level of need. The first is the inability for us to be effective parents. My own child and I had a very strong and connected relationship. And yet, his own internal turmoil would not allow me to parent him.
Many kiddos also make a lot of promises to their parents. Everything from I will go to school to I won’t do it again. Because of that inner turmoil they just don’t have the coping skills to follow through. That leaves parents with broken trust. Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, and purveyor of The Collaborative Problem Solving Method strongly believes that a child will do well if they can do well. Our complicated children want to do well, but they don’t know how to do well. Doing well is a skill is needed to be learned. A therapeutic environment helps teach them the skills they need to be able to do well.
The therapeutic programs of today have evolved from the boot camp style programs of the past. Today you may find a large, lovely home sitting on acres of land. There may be horses or other therapy animals around the property. Or you may find a large sprawling complex in a more suburban area. The homes are bright and airy and clean. Students and staff are engaged. Mentors and staff are always available to work through struggles in the moment that they occur.
So how do you find this wonderful environment to help your family heal? Look to add an Independent Educational Consultant to your team. Why an Educational Consultant? An Educational Consultant is a professional who spends a significant amount of time traveling from program to program. This gives them the opportunity to know the staff, and the environment. Traveling allows a professional to be your eyes and ears. It makes it possible to find the best fit for your family. An Educational Consultant also spends time learning, attending Conferences, webinar trainings, and immersing themselves in a variety of diagnostic disorders. And most importantly, an Educational Consultant who is independent does not take any funds from programs they recommend but are paid for services by the family. You may find an Education Consultant at either Independent Educational Consultants Association, at www.iecaonline.com or listed as Associate Members of National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs www.natsap.com And educational consultant does not have to be close to you geographically. Most educational consultants have clients from all over the world. I too have clients everywhere and prefer a boutique practice in order to better serve my clients.
How has all of this served me personally. Now, years later, after all the struggles, trying to find appropriate help, turning over my child to strangers, having an extended stay in a treatment program, I can hold my child in my arms again. He is no longer that baby with fresh baby smell. He is 6’1”. He smells like fresh shower, and old spice deodorant. He has insight, is resilient, and has coping skills. And like most other parents who have been through this process, I wish we would have done this sooner.