I have recently been giving a presentation on brain research and how it can guide us to what to do in our treatment programs. I will be giving this presentation with my colleague Steve Brown at the Healing the Generations conference at Foxwoods in CT. this week. The following is a summary of some of the main points with questions for programs to consider.
Connections between parts of the brain are necessary for emotional stability and thoughtful decision making. Brains grow and connections are created within relationships that are attuned and emotionally significant.
What actions between people in our environments create attunement?
What happens that strengthens relationships and adds to their significance?
How can we increase this?
Feelings of danger focus a person only on danger and safety. A person cannot form relationships unless they feel safe.
What are the signals of physical and psychological danger in our treatment programs?
What are the signals of safety?
How can we decrease danger and increase safety?
Shame is a major barrier to relationships. The shame-based child is sure that any one who gets to know his horrible inner core will reject him, and hence relationships will only lead to pain. Shame leads to attack, to move away from others. Taking responsibility for ones actions is not possible when to do so means experiencing ones utter worthlessness.
What do we do in our programs that adds to shame?
What can we do to decrease shame?
How can we talk about problems in non-shaming ways?
The antidote to shame is sharing…To tell the secrets- what is shareable is bearable.
Traumatic and neglectful experiences are characterized by the impossibility of effective action. There is nothing the child can do to change the situation and make it better. The child gives up on the possibility of effective action.
What do we do that discourages or prohibits effective action?
How can we give the child practice in effective action, to heal relationships, correct mistakes, and accomplish goals.
Feelings management skills are the key to managing life’s ups and downs. They are learned in consistent, attuned care taking relationships which our children did not have.
What do we do that discourages feeling awareness and communication?
How can we actively teach and encourage the use of feelings management skills?
When something bad happens and a child has no reliable attachments internally or externally to turn to for help; when a child is already hyper aroused and feeling in danger; when a child feels worthless, hopeless and scared; and when a child does not know how to recognize or sooth their feelings; a child is left with action. The action makes them feel better in the moment even if it has long term negative consequences. These actions that we call symptoms are adaptive for the child.
What things that we do make this pattern worse, by leaving the child with less connection, more shame or more fear?
Which of our responses help break this cycle through understanding the symptom and helping the child the skills she needs?
To do this difficult work and remain hopeful and healthy we need to take care of each other and ourselves.
What do we do in our programs that decreases the opportunity and encouragement for self care?
What can we do to take good care of each other and ourselves?