The IIRP presents a special Summer Symposium, which is open to everyone and also provides the in-person experience for a hybrid graduate course, RP 540. This summer, Frida Rundell, Ph.D., is organizing A Restorative Journey: Transforming Relational Harm, July 17-19, 2017 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA. The Symposium will explore perspectives and tools of Trauma-Informed Care (TIC).
“When it comes to dealing with trauma and adversity, we have to understand the nature of the person and how the brain develops due to stimuli,” says Dr. Rundell. “The brain has a complex structure.”
Several sessions will examine how the brain processes traumatic events, and also the means to transform trauma and restore hope.
Dr. Rundell explains that traumatic memories are stored as much in the body as the mind. “Talking doesn’t always help. We often have to recognize body sensations before we get to having the conversations that bring healing.”
Sessions will explore an array of practical alternative approaches for accessing and transforming traumatic experiences and sensations, including body movement, art, music and animal therapy. The Symposium will also highlight how compassion, engagement and hope can help people heal from trauma. Another important theme throughout will be self-care for professionals affected by the intense emotional circumstances of their work.
The centerpiece of the first day will be a video stream presentation, including a question and answer session, with Kaethe Weingarten, Ph.D. She is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard University, and the author of Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day – How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal.
Dr. Weingarten concurs with Dr. Rundell’s view that there is a physical as well as a psychological aspect to trauma. Professionals dealing with trauma need to understand how to regulate the emotional responses it evokes.
“One of the ongoing experiences people who have experienced trauma have is that the past is not really in the past,” Dr. Weingarten explains. “They experience their trauma as a lived, present experience. There is a disconnect between what is actual and what our bodies cue us into.”
Trauma inhibits higher order thought processes, adds Dr. Weingarten. She stresses that processes must be found, including the cultivation of what she calls “reasonable hope,” to calm the emotions and restore “higher order cortical processing.”
Dr. Weingarten says one of the best ways to increase hope is for people to support each other and deepen their connections. Like cyclists who ride in a line to reduce wind resistance, she says people can “draft” on the hopefulness of others.
She also warns about thinking in an either/or manner about hope and despair. People in despair can also maintain hope, she says. “Through time immemorial, people have written of hope in situations where they also feel despair. Even in conflict and post-conflict environments, there are pockets of hope, moments of hope, strands of hope.”
Dr. Weingarten has written extensively about “compassionate witnessing,” a process for actively engaging with people who have experienced violence, trauma and adversity.
Before Dr. Weingarten speaks, Dr. Rundell will discuss and demonstrate compassionate witnessing, working with a woman who has struggled with the trauma of the death of her daughter.
Dr. Weingarten comments, “In the practice of compassionate witnessing, there is an interplay and flow that happens between people that induces an experience of reasonable hope. It is a profoundly connecting experience with another person or groups.”
The Symposium will feature more than a dozen presenters over three days, six of whom are IIRP alumni. Kameelah Rashad, Fellow for Spirituality, Wellness and Social Justice at the University of Pennsylvania, will discuss how she helps people who have experienced racial trauma and religious bigotry. Lynnette Reed, a licensed social worker, will describe how she employs therapy animals to create a safe environment, transforming trauma for her clients.
Dr. Rundell concludes, “I’m really excited that we can bring in alternative methods and show that safety can be an active process of using mindfulness, music, art — engaging people with the right brain so that the left brain is then free to be able to talk.”
Learn more about the Summer Symposium.