Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Greetings from the Traumatic Stress Institute of Klingberg Family Centers!

We wish you a joyful holiday season rich with connections!

2009 was a very full year for the staff of the Traumatic Stress Institute. We wanted to share some of our 2009 highlights and look forward to working with you in 2010.

Through our sister organization the Trauma Education Research and Training Institute (TREATI) we completedseven Risking Connection® trainings, including teaching in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and California, and five Train the Trainer trainings, as well as two Restorative Approach trainings. We added over a hundred new RC Associate Trainers. Over thirty Risking Connection® trainers were recertified after having been trainers for two years.

A major project was training staff from all Extended Day Treatment programs in Connecticut, as well as training many Extended Day RC Trainers. Our thanks go out to Marilyn Cloud of DCF for all her hard work and excellent coordination for this effort.

We did numerous presentations at conferences including: Healing the Generations Trauma Conference (CT), Child Welfare League of America (Washington DC), Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (TX), Third Annual Peace It Up Violence Prevention and Intervention Conference (CT); Massachusetts Adolescent Sex Offender Conference (MASOC); and Massachusetts Association for Private (MAPPS). Pat Wilcox taught two courses at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work in their continuing education department.

The Klingberg Traumatic Stress Institute and the Foster Care Department launched an exciting new training initiative entitled: Trauma Informed Foster Care- Why are These Kids Doing These Crazy Things and How Can I Help Them while Preserving My Sanity? This is a six session monthly training program based on ideas from the Risking Connection® curriculum and the Restorative Approach®.

We especially enjoy the events where (through TREATI) we can gather our Risking Connection community together. At this year’s Fourth Annual Day of Learning and Sharing, keynote speaker Lynn Sanford, LCSW, spoke in depth about shame. Lynn is a marvelous speaker, warm and human, very knowledgeable about residential populations, and so respectful of both the clients and treaters.

Looking ahead, The Traumatic Stress Institute is co-sponsoring a conference with Devereux MA in February in Worchester MA called From Strategy to Reality: The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ of Implementing Trauma-Informed Care in Child and Adolescent Settings. The date is February 9, 2010 from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.

We wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year, and look forward to working with you in 2010. As Margaret Mead famously said. "Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has."

Happy holidays,
Pat, Steve and Megan

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Why is validation so hard?

Corey was screaming in the main hall. It was hard to even understand why he was so upset, but it seemed to have something to do with not being allowed to call his mentor, Bob. Laura, a unit staff, was with him and was speaking in a calm and soothing voice. But what was she saying? "Corey you have already left him 13 messages and you have called him many times. I’m sure he will call you when he can."

What was she not saying? "Corey it must be so upsetting when Bob doesn’t call. I know you are very worried because you haven’t heard from him in a while. I know it is hard for you."
We do understand how painful and scary it is for Corey when his only human contact outside this agency seems to have disappeared. It’s even frustrating for us when someone doesn’t respond to our calls, and we have much less at stake than Corey does.

Yet what makes it hard for us to make validating statements to kids? Why do we move so quickly to rational explaining and giving advice?

1. Laura knows that Corey may be driving Bob further away with his many frantic calls and messages. She feels desperate to preserve this relationship for Corey and wants to change his behavior before Bob gives up.

2. When we validate kids’ complaints we think we are agreeing with them and strengthening their beliefs. Suppose a kid says: "I hate all the staff. They are so unfair." If a staff responds: "right now you hate all the staff here and think they are all unfair" is that person saying that they themselves think the staff are unfair? No. They are saying that they understand how the child is feeling at this time.

3.We think that if we do not explain away the problem and offer fixes the child will feel worse... and act worse. We are frightened by that possibility.

This, I think, is the most important:

4. Giving advice, fixing the problem, feels better to us. To validate you have to feel the child’s pain. And stay with it. And the pain is so intense. We feel so helpless. We under-estimate the value and efficacy of the gift we give through listening and understanding.

So if Laura says "Corey that must be so hard" she has to stop for a moment and feel Corey’s life. What will it be like if in fact he has lost his only outside contact? What does it feel like to be thirteen years old and have no reliable adults in your life? He blames himself. He has no one. That is so sad- and we feel a strong urge to fix it or lessen the impact for him.

Yet time and time again we have seen the power of validation to soothe, to de-escalate, to strengthen relationships, and to promote healing. By validating we are lessening the impact- because we offer Corey the experience of an adult who understands, a new version of the possibilities of relationship.

And we have only to consider times we ourselves have shared a painful experience with a friend to remember what helped us. Did we want our friend to tell us this wasn’t such a big deal? Did we want her to immediately give us advice? Or did we want her to simply acknowledge how bad we were feeling and to understand?

So let’s pass a law saying you must make five validating statements before you give advice to children.

And I know a lot of wives who would like the law to also apply to their husbands.