We hit the ground running today and after a lovely music presentation, with Bessel Van Der Kolk who was the first keynote presentation. He launched into his concern regarding the US Senate Hearing on foster care about the dopamine blocking drugs given to children and young people that literally turns them into a zombie and kills their souls. Trauma is rampant and he made reference to ACE’s being more costly than cancer and the greatest health scandal. Unfortunately I was  unable to take many notes. Bessel used a a fair bit of video, spoke quite quickly and moved around subjects in what felt like a chaotic way for my brain. In fact I would go so far as to say that he mumbled (I feel like I’ve sinned saying that as I adore him but it’s true).

Next up we had a keynote from Gabor Mate. I was hoping and praying that he was a good speaker and could convey his work in a meaningful way.

As his background is as a physician, he starts off by stating that everything a GP sees, it all relates to childhood trauma. Cancer, ADHD, depression, ALS, Diabetes, etc. Something happens to us when we lose some aspect of what human beings need. For example 9 x greater than average for breast cancer where there was isolation.  In US, the more racism a black woman experiences the greater her risk of asthma. Black men have much rate of having prostrate cancer. The word trauma is not even mentioned in US training to be a physician. Western medical approach only sees separation, rather than unity. Despite all the research about how mind body and spirit is connected, we still don’t embrace because the Western mind tears everything apart , where we think in fragmentation.

The problem is when an early coping mechanism that should be a temporary state and it become a constant state/trait… this is not a disease, it is a coping mechanism in response to trauma. If the mother is suffering the baby suffers too. REFLECTION That moment when the weight of my own children’s trauma comes and sits on my lap and holds my hand and says, it’s ok, we’ve got this.

Ed Tronick Presentation

Relationships are not this serve and return model, they are messy and complex and mismatching… ongoing chronic interactions. So the question is, how do we make meaning as an infant. Looking at different cultural approaches to parenting, like the Efe people who live in the rain forest in the Congo, where a baby is with the mother for about 40% of the time and with other members of the community the rest of the time. And then in the Quechua people, the baby is wrapped in a cocoon like way continuously straddled on the back. There are high altitudes and high temperatures but the movement of the mother, soothes so the baby sleeps a lot which helps them grow and develop resistance to the stresses in the hills in South America.

So meaning making is central. When you do make sense of the world, there is a sense of pleasure, there is self regulation and there is connection. So meaning making is really crucial for us. So when we see a failure to make meaning is that the world becomes threatening, we can’t connect, we can’t trust the other person, we can’t repair the interaction. You begin to feel stuck if you can’t come out to make meaning. When there is a repair, a reparation, we can come back together, we can learn to understand that we can change our feelings (rather than being stuck in those feelings) .

Interactions are not heavily attuned they are mainly attuned. Neurosomatic meaning making; that is more powerful than cognitive understanding. The problem of mismatching is a problem for adults, not just infants. Mental health are co created when repairs and meanings go awry. This is not a trauma model… this is moment by moment interactions; moment by moment chronic experiences of matching, mismatching and reparation. In the first year there are 15,536,000 micro second by second exchanges and more than 63,000 chances to repair. Small reparatory effects accumulate over time, we are talking micro-seconds – many many opportunities for both, so you can really screw up and really get a lot of chances to do well again! This is how we can build trust over time. REFLECTION that’s a relief! Ha!

This is where I found myself by lunchtime…

So it was right and proper that I ended up in a room with Judy Atkinson where I knew I would find some resonance. Judy shared her work with indigenous women in prison.  The Power of Story…”We live shared stories. We organise experience into stories as we share life interactively with others. Stories live through us. We are born into stories, those of our families, nations, religions and culture.” (Lewis Mehl-Madrona).

Young women, having their babies in their heartbreak. Painful understanding that babies are entering the world via a prison.

Judy proceeded to show the art work that was completed with the women such as the violence/non violence tree which was a collection of words, developing articulation of experience. But the negative words had to be expressed first before any positive words could be added to the tree. REFECTION Maybe we need to do this first to move through pain and often there is an expectation that the negatives don’t need to be expressed first. Without doing that first, can we really move on?

All the women had an ACE score of between 8 and 10.

Anger vs violence. Anger is a natural feeling that arises in response to frustration. Violence is the invasion of someone’s boundary (often carried out when the woman was dissociated)
Grief reactions vs trauma reactions…. grief generally known to the public and professionals. Trauma reactions are largely unknown (especially in children). In grief, reactions generally not destructive, in trauma the reactions are generally destructive. The bereaved feels loss. The victim feels like a loser. The bereaved feels sad. The victim feels humiliated. The services are just not responding and so they are re-victimised.

Judy used art for healing. To name and know our stories of pain – why we do the things we do. The ability of trees that talk to each other under the ground, that the dying trees feed the other trees that are growing. Very analogous. How do we get all the systems to work together? REFLECTION this is how we need to move forward with all the services and all the stakeholders in each system.

Culturally informed trauma integrated services… What is  you spiritual sense of who you are? Is you environment healthy? What are you doing to make your environment a good place to be. In your relationships, are they healthy? Is there a power dynamic that is not ok here?  Are they relationships that put you down or lift you up? Emotions…  physical health, sexuality… and breathe. What is your life purpose…?

Prisons – so much separation between mothers and babies. We need to stop building prisons.

I urge you to read Trauma Trails which I discovered when I was here last time. She talks from her heart. To my heart. To your heart.


And finally, the panel which I was invited to join. I was honoured. I asked the question raised above about congruence and the burden mothers are asked to carry. Only two people offered to explore this with me and the audience, Peter Fonaghy and Gabor Mate which tells me that the mountain we have to climb might be a great deal larger than we thought.

Until tomorrow! Day Five.

Welcome Day – Childhood Trauma Conference
Day One – Childhood Trauma Conference
Day Two – Childhood Trauma Conference
Day Three – Childhood Trauma Conference

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