I have just returned from presenting at the 2011 National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) Annual Conference in Tucson, Arizona. NATSAP was created in January of 1999 to serve as a national resource for programs and professionals assisting young people beleaguered by emotional and behavioral difficulties. Their members include therapeutic schools, residential treatment programs, wilderness programs, outdoor therapeutic programs, young adult programs and home-based residential programs. For me, this is somewhat of a new world. Instead of the child welfare/ mental health world, this is the private school, wilderness program, self pay plus insurance pay world. Yet the children we all treat have remarkably similar symptoms and behaviors, despite some differences in socio-economic backgrounds. Like child welfare programs, the schools and programs within this organization are learning about trauma and adapting their treatment accordingly. And they face familiar difficulties in doing so.
I met many interesting people in the course of these two days, and hope to develop training relationships with some. I also spent time with my friends from Change Academy Lake of the Ozarks (CALO) and enhanced my ongoing respect for what they are doing. Take this opportunity to check out their program at http://caloteens.com and learn about their unique animal assisted attachment based program. They also have an excellent blog, found at http://caloteens.com/blog .
One workshop I attended was The New Brain Science: Can it Make Treatment More Effective? Presented by Linda Zimmerman CEO/President and Kurt Wulfekuhler, Clinical Director Sandhill Child Development Center Los Lunas, New Mexico. The Sandhill program has adopted the teachings of Bruce Perry, and uses The Neurosequential Model to direct their treatment. The presenters reviewed Bruce Perry’s six core principles:
1. The brain is hierarchical.
2. Neurons and neural systems change in a use dependent fashion.
3. Brains develop in sequential fashion.
4. Brains develop most rapidly in early life.
5. Neural systems can be changed, and the more complex (higher) are more easily changed than the lower.
6. The human brain is designed for a different world than the one we now inhabit.
The presenters showed examples of how mapping a child’s experiences and competencies can pinpoint the areas of his brain that most need to grow, and thus suggest therapeutic interventions. A central tenant is that if the lower parts of the brain are damaged, they must heal before the upper parts can change.
Interventions that help the lower parts of the brain heal are sensory motor, not verbal. Examples would be touch, swinging, rocking, swimming, drumming, neurofeedback and music. The presenters also emphasized the importance of intensive aerobic physical exercise as well as good nutrition in promoting brain growth.
Extensive repetition is necessary to change the lower parts of the brain. But the presenters showed brain maps that demonstrated the change that is possible. This was very interesting to me as I would like to incorporate more of the sensory motor learning into our programs. Are any of you using this approach? Please share your experiences by clicking “comment”.
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