The Science of How Our Minds and Our Bodies Converge in the Healing of Trauma

“When our senses become muffled, we no longer feel fully alive… If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations … you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self.”

The Science of How Our Minds and Our Bodies Converge in the Healing of Trauma

“A purely disembodied human emotion is a nonentity,”William James asserted in his revolutionary 1884 theory of how our bodies affect our feelings. Two generations later, Rilke wrote in a beautiful letter of advice to a young woman“I am not one of those who neglect the body in order to make of it a sacrificial offering for the soul, since my soul would thoroughly dislike being served in such a fashion.” And yet in the century since, we’ve made little progress on making sense — much less making use — of the inextricable dialogue between the physical body and the psychoemotional interior landscape we shorthand as “soul.”

Nowhere is this relationship more essential yet more endangered than in our healing from trauma, and no one has provided a more illuminating, sympathetic, and constructive approach to such healing than Boston-based Dutch psychiatrist and pioneering PTSD researcher Bessel van der Kolk. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (public library), he explores “the extreme disconnection from the body that so many people with histories of trauma and neglect experience” and the most fertile paths to recovery by drawing on his own work and a wealth of other research in three main areas of study: neuroscience, which deals with how mental processes function within the brain; developmental psychopathology, concerned with how painful experiences impact the development of mind and brain; and interpersonal neurobiology, which examines how our own behavior affects the psychoemotional and neurobiological states of those close to us.

Art by Simona Ciraolo from Hug Me

Trauma, Van der Kolk notes, affects not only those who have suffered it but also those who surround them and, especially, those who love them. He writes:

One does not have be a combat soldier, or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.

[…]

It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability.

In trauma survivors, Van der Kolk notes, the parts of the brain that have evolved to monitor for danger remain overactivated and even the slightest sign of danger, real or misperceived, can trigger an acute stress response accompanied by intense unpleasant emotions and overwhelming sensations. Such posttraumatic reactions make it difficult for survivors to connect with other people, since closeness often triggers the sense of danger. And yet the very thing we come to most dread after experiencing trauma — close contact with other people — is also the thing we most need in order to regain psychoemotional solidity and begin healing. Van der Kolk writes:

Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.

This, he points out, is why we’ve evolved a refined mechanism for detecting danger — we’re incredibly attuned to even the subtlest emotional shifts in those around us and, even if we don’t always heed these intuitive readings, we can read another person’s friendliness or hostility on the basis of such imperceptible cues as brow tension, lip curvature, and body angles. But one of the most pernicious effects of trauma is that it disrupts this ability to accurately read others, rendering the trauma survivor either less able to detect danger or more likely to misperceive danger where there is none.

Art by Wolf Erlbruch from Duck, Death and the Tulip

Paradoxically, what normalizes and repairs our ability to read danger and safety correctly is human connection. Van der Kolk writes:

Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love: These are complex and hard-earned capacities. You don’t need a history of trauma to feel self-conscious and even panicked at a party with strangers — but trauma can turn the whole world into a gathering of aliens.

Beginning to adequately address trauma requires a cultural shift away from the disease model on which twentieth-century psychology and psychiatry were built. (That model has seeded a number of cultural deformities, affecting everything from our longtime denial of the robust relationship between stress and physical illness to the way we make sense of our romantic failures.) Trauma and its psychological consequences, Van der Kolk argues, is not a mental disease but an adaptation. He writes:

The brain-disease model overlooks four fundamental truths: (1) our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being; (2) language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know, and finding a common sense of meaning; (3) we have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through such basic activities as breathing, moving, and touching; and (4) we can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.

When we ignore these quintessential dimensions of humanity, we deprive people of ways to heal from trauma and restore their autonomy. Being a patient, rather than a participant in one’s healing process, separates suffering people from their community and alienates them from an inner sense of self.

One of Salvador Dalí’s illustrations for the essays of Montaigne

The most essential aspect of healing, Van der Kolk asserts, is learning to fully inhabit that inner sense of self in all of its dimensions — not only emotional and psychological, but bodily — which are inseparable from one another. He explains:

The natural state of mammals is to be somewhat on guard. However, in order to feel emotionally close to another human being, our defensive system must temporarily shut down. In order to play, mate, and nurture our young, the brain needs to turn off its natural vigilance.

Many traumatized individuals are too hypervigilant to enjoy the ordinary pleasures that life has to offer, while others are too numb to absorb new experiences — or to be alert to signs of real danger.

[…]

Many people feel safe as long as they can limit their social contact to superficial conversations, but actual physical contact can trigger intense reactions. However … achieving any sort of deep intimacy — a close embrace, sleeping with a mate, and sex — requires allowing oneself to experience immobilization without fear. It is especially challenging for traumatized people to discern when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger. This requires having experiences that can restore the sense of physical safety.

One place where our culture fails, Van der Kolk argues, is in integrating this physical aspect with the psychoemotional infrastructure of experience — a failure spanning from our clinical methods of treating trauma to our education system. (More than half a century ago, Aldous Huxley wrote beautifully about the need for an integrated mind-body system of education.) Education, Van der Kolk notes, tends to engage the cognitive capacities of the mind rather than the bodily-emotional engagement system, which makes for an ultimately incomplete model of human experience. In a sobering passage that should be etched onto the wall of every Department of Education the world over, he writes:

Despite the well-documented effects of anger, fear, and anxiety on the ability to reason, many programs continue to ignore the need to engage the safety system of the brain before trying to promote new ways of thinking. The last things that should be cut from school schedules are chorus, physical education, recess, and anything else involving movement, play, and joyful engagement. When children are oppositional, defensive, numbed out, or enraged, it’s also important to recognize that such “bad behavior” may repeat action patterns that were established to survive serious threats, even if they are intensely upsetting or off-putting.

Illustration by Peter Brown from My Teacher Is a Monster

With an eye to heartening counterpoints like a karate program for rape survivors and a theater program in Boston’s inner-city schools, he considers the reasons and the urgency for engaging the body in healing:

The body keeps the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.

Drawing on his work with patients who have survived a variety of traumatic experiences — from plane crashes to rape to torture — Van der Kolk considers the great challenge of those of us living with trauma:

When our senses become muffled, we no longer feel fully alive.

[…]

In response to the trauma itself, and in coping with the dread that persisted long afterward, these patients had learned to shut down the brain areas that transmit the visceral feelings and emotions that accompany and define terror. Yet in everyday life, those same brain areas are responsible for registering the entire range of emotions and sensations that form the foundation of our self-awareness, our sense of who we are. What we witnessed here was a tragic adaptation: In an effort to shut off terrifying sensations, they also deadened their capacity to feel fully alive.

Art by Oliver Jeffers from The Heart and the Bottle, a tender illustrated parable of what happens when we deny our difficult emotions

While this dissociation from the body is an adaptive response to trauma, the troublesome day-to-day anguish comes from the retriggering of this remembered response by stimuli that don’t remotely warrant it. Van der Kolk examines the interior machinery at play:

The elementary self system in the brain stem and limbic system is massively activated when people are faced with the threat of annihilation, which results in an overwhelming sense of fear and terror accompanied by intense physiological arousal. To people who are reliving a trauma, nothing makes sense; they are trapped in a life-or-death situation, a state of paralyzing fear or blind rage. Mind and body are constantly aroused, as if they are in imminent danger. They startle in response to the slightest noises and are frustrated by small irritations. Their sleep is chronically disturbed, and food often loses its sensual pleasures. This in turn can trigger desperate attempts to shut those feelings down by freezing and dissociation.

In a passage that calls to mind philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s excellent subsequent writings on the nuanced relationship between agency and victimhood, Van der Kolk adds:

Agency starts with what scientists call interoception, our awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings: the greater that awareness, the greater our potential to control our lives. Knowing what we feel is the first step to knowing why we feel that way. If we are aware of the constant changes in our inner and outer environment, we can mobilize to manage them.

But one of the most pernicious effects of trauma, Van der Kolk notes, is that it disrupts our ability to know what we feel — that is, to trust our gut feelings — and this mistrust makes us misperceive threat where there is none. This, in turn, creates an antagonistic relationship with our own bodies. He explains:

If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations — if you can trust them to give you accurate information — you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self.

However, traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.

The more people try to push away and ignore internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ashamed. People who cannot comfortably notice what is going on inside become vulnerable to respond to any sensory shift either by shutting down or by going into a panic — they develop a fear of fear itself.

[…]

The experience of fear derives from primitive responses to threat where escape is thwarted in some way. People’s lives will be held hostage to fear until that visceral experience changes… Self-regulation depends on having a friendly relationship with your body. Without it you have to rely on external regulation — from medication, drugs like alcohol, constant reassurance, or compulsive compliance with the wishes of others.

In its extreme, this lack of internal regulation leads to retraumatizing experiences:

Because traumatized people often have trouble sensing what is going on in their bodies, they lack a nuanced response to frustration. They either react to stress by becoming “spaced out” or with excessive anger. Whatever their response, they often can’t tell what is upsetting them. This failure to be in touch with their bodies contributes to their well-documented lack of self-protection and high rates of revictimization and also to their remarkable difficulties feeling pleasure, sensuality, and having a sense of meaning.

[…]

One step further down on the ladder to self-oblivion is depersonalization — losing your sense of yourself.

What, then, can we do to regain agency in our very selves? Pointing to decades of research with trauma survivors, Van der Kolk argues that it begins with befriending our bodies and their sensory interiority:

Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.

In a sentiment that calls to mind Schopenhauer’s porcupine dilemma, Van der Kolk writes:

The most natural way for human beings to calm themselves when they are upset is by clinging to another person. This means that patients who have been physically or sexually violated face a dilemma: They desperately crave touch while simultaneously being terrified of body contact. The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch. Individuals who lack emotional awareness are able, with practice, to connect their physical sensations to psychological events. Then they can slowly reconnect with themselves.

How we respond to trauma, Van der Kolk asserts, is to a large extent conditioned by our formative relationships with our caretakers, whose task is to help us establish a secure base. Essential to this is the notion of attunement between parent and child, mediated by the body — those subtlest of physical interactions in which the caretaker mirrors and meets the baby’s needs, making the infant feel attended to and understood.

Art by Isol from The Menino
Art by Isol from The Menino

Attunement is the foundation of secure attachment, which is in turn the scaffolding of psychoemotional health later in life. Van der Kolk writes:

A secure attachment combined with the cultivation of competency builds an internal locus of control, the key factor in healthy coping throughout life. Securely attached children learn what makes them feel good; they discover what makes them (and others) feel bad, and they acquire a sense of agency: that their actions can change how they feel and how others respond. Securely attached kids learn the difference between situations they can control and situations where they need help. They learn that they can play an active role when faced with difficult situations. In contrast, children with histories of abuse and neglect learn that their terror, pleading, and crying do not register with their caregiver. Nothing they can do or say stops the beating or brings attention and help. In effect they’re being conditioned to give up when they face challenges later in life.

With an eye to the immensely influential work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, who pioneered the study of attachment and the notion that attunement between mother and infant lays the foundation for the child’s sense of self later in life, Van der Kolk summarizes these foundational findings:

If a mother cannot meet her baby’s impulses and needs, “the baby learns to become the mother’s idea of what the baby is.” Having to discount its inner sensations, and trying to adjust to its caregiver’s needs, means the child perceives that “something is wrong” with the way it is. Children who lack physical attunement are vulnerable to shutting down the direct feedback from their bodies, the seat of pleasure, purpose, and direction.

[…]

The need for attachment never lessens. Most human beings simply cannot tolerate being disengaged from others for any length of time. People who cannot connect through work, friendships, or family usually find other ways of bonding, as through illnesses, lawsuits, or family feuds. Anything is preferable to that godforsaken sense of irrelevance and alienation.

Although we can’t prevent most traumatic experiences from happening, having a solid formative foundation can make healing much easier. But what are those of us unblessed with secure attachment to do? Pointing to his mindfulness-based work with trauma survivors, Van der Kolk offers an assuring direction:

Nobody can “treat” a war, or abuse, rape, molestation, or any other horrendous event, for that matter; what has happened cannot be undone. But what can be dealt with are the imprints of the trauma on body, mind, and soul: the crushing sensations in your chest that you may label as anxiety or depression; the fear of losing control; always being on alert for danger or rejection; the self-loathing; the nightmares and flashbacks; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and from engaging fully in what you are doing; being unable to fully open your heart to another human being.

The crucial point is that trauma robs us of what Van der Kolk terms “self-leadership” — the sense of having agency over ourselves and being in charge of our own experience. The path to recovery is therefore paved with the active rebuilding of that sense. He writes:

The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind — of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most people this involves (1) finding a way to become calm and focused, (2) learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, or physical sensations that remind you of the past, (3) finding a way to be fully alive in the present and engaged with the people around you, (4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you have managed to survive.

Art by Giselle Potter from Tell Me What to Dream About

One of the paradoxical necessities of the recovery process is the need to revisit the trauma without becoming so overwhelmed by sensations as to be retraumatized. The way to accomplish this, Van der Kolk argues, is by learning to be present with these overwhelming emotions and their sensorial counterparts in the body. He writes:

Traumatized people live with seemingly unbearable sensations: They feel heartbroken and suffer from intolerable sensations in the pit of their stomach or tightness in their chest. Yet avoiding feeling these sensations in our bodies increases our vulnerability to being overwhelmed by them.

[…]

Traumatized people are often afraid of feeling. It is not so much the perpetrators (who, hopefully, are no longer around to hurt them) but their own physical sensations that now are the enemy. Apprehension about being hijacked by uncomfortable sensations keeps the body frozen and the mind shut. Even though the trauma is a thing of the past, the emotional brain keeps generating sensations that make the sufferer feel scared and helpless. It’s not surprising that so many trauma survivors are compulsive eaters and drinkers, fear making love, and avoid many social activities: Their sensory world is largely off limits.

Another paradox of healing is that although contact and connection are often terrifying to the traumatized, social support and a sense of community are the foundation upon which a health relationship with our own feelings and sensations is built. Half a century after Dorothy Day’s memorable assertion that “we have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community,” Van der Kolk writes:

All of us, but especially children, need … confidence that others will know, affirm, and cherish us. Without that we can’t develop a sense of agency that will enable us to assert: “This is what I believe in; this is what I stand for; this is what I will devote myself to.” As long as we feel safely held in the hearts and minds of the people who love us, we will climb mountains and cross deserts and stay up all night to finish projects. Children and adults will do anything for people they trust and whose opinion they value. But if we feel abandoned, worthless, or invisible, nothing seems to matter. Fear destroys curiosity and playfulness. In order to have a healthy society we must raise children who can safely play and learn. There can be no growth without curiosity and no adaptability without being able to explore, through trial and error, who you are and what matters to you.

The pathways, both practical and psychological, to doing that is what Van der Kolk goes on to explore in the remainder of the revelatory, redemptive, and immensely helpful The Body Keeps the Score.

Original link here.

Austerity to blame for 130,000 ‘preventable’ UK deaths – report

More than 130,000 deaths in the UK since 2012 could have been prevented if improvements in public health policy had not stalled as a direct result of austerity cuts, according to a hard-hitting analysis to be published this week.

The study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank finds that, after two decades in which preventable diseases were reduced as a result of spending on better education and prevention, there has been a seven-year “perfect storm” in which state provision has been pared back because of budget cuts, while harmful behaviours among people of all ages have increased.

Had progress been maintained at pre-2013 rates, around 131,000 lives could have been saved, the IPPR concludes. Despite promises made during the NHS’s 70th birthday celebrations last year to prioritise prevention, the UK is now only halfway up a table of OECD countries on its record for tackling preventable diseases.

The report is concerned with preventable diseases or disorders such as heart disease, lung cancer or liver problems, which can be caused by unhealthy lifestyles and habits, formed often at a young age. It finds evidence of disturbing reductions in physical activity in schools and chronic underfunding of health visitors.

The lead researcher and author, Dean Hochlaf, said: “We have seen progress in reducing preventable disease flatline since 2012. At the same time, local authorities have seen significant cuts to their public health budgets, which has severely impacted the capacity of preventative services.

“Social conditions for many have failed to improve since the economic crisis, creating a perfect storm that encourages harmful health behaviours. This health challenge will only continue to worsen.”

The IPPR calls for a “radical new prevention strategy” involving a renewed and increased commitment to the state’s role in preventing disease.

“No longer can we place the burden of responsibility exclusively upon the individual, while turning a blind eye to a social environment which makes healthy lifestyles difficult to achieve. This means investing in public health and ensuring the government takes a greater responsibility to create a healthy environment.”

On cuts to physical education in school, it says: “PE has been reduced in schools across England, with a 5% reduction at key stage 3 and a 21% reduction across key stage 4 reported between 2011 and 2017. This is despite the noted benefits of physical education – not simply on physical development, but also through promoting healthier lifestyles and helping to enhance people’s cognitive and social skills.”

The report adds: “Funding for physical education – supposedly coming from the sugar tax revenues – was reduced in 2017 from £415m to £100m, to part fund an increase in the core school budget. The lost funding should be replenished, potentially funded by an expansion of the sugar levy to other drinks and confectionery with high sugar content.”

Five compulsory health visits should be made to every child during their early life, with an additional visit six months before a child starts nursery school, the IPPR says. “These should be carried out by a trained professional. Health visitors should be provided with additional training to collect vital information on key health indicators and be prepared to offer support and guidance to encourage breastfeeding based on clinical evidence and ensuring that parents are vaccinating their children.”

Researchers found the system of health visits creaking under the strain.

“An estimated two in five (44%) of health visitors reported caseloads in excess of 400 children, well above the recommended level of 250 per visitor needed to deliver a safe service.” The report recommends another 5,100 training places for health visitors.

In a statement, the Local Government Association said the government urgently needed to reverse the £700m reduction in public health funding since 2015 and plug a £3.6bn gap in funding for adult social care by 2025.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/01/perfect-storm-austerity-behind-130000-deaths-uk-ippr-report?fbclid=IwAR1jtfCMnoAnOhrOZgANguI3lqgIjssNh4GA678NlNQOisoV2Y6P3K_ZAU8

Which Is Better, Rewards or Punishments? Neither

Rewards and punishments are conditional, but our love and positive regard for our kids should be unconditional. Here’s how to change the conversation and the behavior.

“I feel a sense of dread as bedtime rolls around. Here we go again.”

A dad said this in our family therapy office one day, describing his son’s pre-bed antics. The child would go wild as bedtime approached, stubbornly ignoring his parents’ directions and melting down at the mention of pajamas. The parents felt frustrated and stumped.

They asked us a question we hear a lot: Should they sternly send him to time out and take away his screen time when he acted this way (punishments)? Or set up a system to entice him with stickers and prizes for good behavior (rewards)?

Many parents grew up with punishments, and it’s understandable that they rely on them. But punishments tend to escalate conflict and shut down learning. They elicit a fight or flight response, which means that sophisticated thinking in the frontal cortex goes dark and basic defense mechanisms kick in. Punishments make us either rebel, feel shamed or angry, repress our feelings, or figure out how not to get caught. In this case, full-fledged 4-year-old resistance would be at its peak.

So rewards are the positive choice then, right?

Not so fast. Rewards are more like punishment’s sneaky twin. Families find them alluring (understandably), because rewards can control a child momentarily. But the effect can wear off, or even backfire: “How much do I get?” a client told us her daughter said one day when asked to pick up her room.

Over decades, psychologists have suggested that rewards can decrease our natural motivation and enjoyment. For example, kids who like to draw and are, under experimental conditions, paid to do so, draw less than those who aren’t paid. Kids who are rewarded for sharing do so less, and so forth. This is what psychologists call the “overjustification effect” — the external reward overshadows the child’s internal motivation.

Rewards have also been associated with lowering creativity. In one classic series of studies, people were given a set of materials (a box of thumbtacks, a candle and book of matches) and asked to figure out how to attach the candle to the wall. The solution requires innovative thinking — seeing the materials in a way unrelated to their purpose (the box as a candle holder). People who were told they’d be rewarded to solve this dilemma took longer, on average, to figure it out. Rewards narrow our field of view. Our brains stop puzzling freely. We stop thinking deeply and seeing the possibilities.

The whole concept of punishments and rewards is based on negative assumptions about children — that they need to be controlled and shaped by us, and that they don’t have good intentions. But we can flip this around to see kids as capable, wired for empathy, cooperation, team spirit and hard work. That perspective changes how we talk to children in powerful ways.

Rewards and punishments are conditional, but our love and positive regard for our kids should be unconditional. In fact, when we lead with empathy and truly listen to our kids, they’re more likely to listen to us. Following are suggestions for how to change the conversation and change the behavior.

Kids don’t hit their siblings, ignore their parents or have tantrums in the grocery store for no reason. When we address what’s really going on, our help is meaningful and longer lasting. Even trying to see what’s underneath makes kids less defensive, more open to listening to limits and rules, and more creative in solving problems.

Instead of saying: Be nice to your friend and share, or no screen time later.

Say: Hmm, you’re still working on sharing your new building set. I get it. Sharing is hard at first, and you’re feeling a little angry. Can you think of a plan for how to play with them together? Let me know if you need help.

Crying, resistance and physical aggression may be the tip of the iceberg. Underneath could be hunger, sleep deprivation, overstimulation, having big feelings, working on a developmental skill or being in a new environment. If you think this way, it makes you a partner there to guide, rather than an adversary there to control.

Motivation is great, when it has the underlying message: “I trust you and believe you want to cooperate and help. We are a team.” This is a subtle difference from dangling rewards, but it’s a powerful one.

Instead of saying: If you clean your room we can go to the park. You better do it, though, or no park.

Say: When your room is clean, we’ll go to the park. I can’t wait. Let me know if you need some help.

The idea of a punishment conveys the message: “I need to make you suffer for what you did.” Many parents don’t really want to communicate this, but they also don’t want to come off as permissive. The good news is that you can hold limits and guide children, without punishments.

Instead of saying: You’re not playing nicely on this slide so you’re going to time out. How many times do I have to tell you?

Say: You’re feeling kind of wild, I can see that! I’m going to lift you off this slide because it’s not safe to play this way. Let’s calm down somewhere.

Say: Wow, you’re really angry. I hear that. It’s not O.K. with me that you use those words. We’re putting your phone away for now so you can have some space in your mind. When you’re ready, tell me more about what’s bothering you. We’ll figure out what to do together.

Humans are not naturally lazy (it’s not an adaptive trait), and especially not kids. We like to work hard, if we feel like we’re part of a team. Little kids want to be capable members of the family, and they like to help if they know their contribution matters and isn’t just for show. Let them help in a real way from the time they are toddlers, rather than assuming they need to be otherwise distracted while we do the work.

Have a family meeting to brainstorm all the daily tasks the family needs to get done. Ask for ideas from each family member. Make a chart for the kids (or have them make their own), with a place to note when tasks are completed.

In the case of the bedtime-averse child, when the parents looked under the surface, they made progress. It turned out that he was overtired, so they let go of some scheduled activities and protected more wind-down time in the evenings. When he started to get wound up, his mom wrapped him in his bath towel and said he was her favorite burrito. She acknowledged that it was hard for him when she had to work late: “Maybe you’ve felt sad I missed bedtime the last few weeks — I know I have. Hey, can we read our favorite book tonight?” They made a chart listing each step of his routine and asked for his input. Over time, he stopped resisting, and the tone at bedtime went from dread to true connection and enjoyment.

No matter how irrational or difficult a moment might seem, we can respond in a way that says: “I see you. I’m here to understand and help. I’m on your side. We’ll figure this out together.”

Heather Turgeon is a psychotherapist and co-author, with Julie Wright, of the new book “Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma.”

‘It’s time to recognise the contribution arts can make to health and wellbeing’

Arts and Mind, an arts and mental health charity, has been running weekly art workshops for people experiencing depression, stress or anxiety in Cambridgeshire for the past seven years. Led by an artist and counsellor, its Arts on Prescription project offers a chance to work with a range of materials and techniques, including printmaking and sculpture. The impact has been outstanding.

An evaluation revealed a 71% decrease in feelings of anxiety and a 73% fall in depression; 76% of participants said their wellbeing increased and 69% felt more socially included. As one participant says: “I feel so much better having had the time and space to do some art. It makes such a difference.”

Gavin Clayton, executive director of the charity and one of the founders of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, says: “Our evidence shows that taking part in creative activities has a positive impact on people’s mental health.

“The arts are important for wellbeing because beauty has a role in our lives. If we don’t listen to that, or pay attention, then that can cause problems.”

Cambridgeshire’s success has been mirrored across the UK and the findings are supported by the conclusions of a report by an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) – Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing.

The report, published in July, which followed a two–year inquiry, found that the arts can help keep us well, aid recovery and support longer lives, better lived. The arts also help meet challenges in health and social care associated with ageing, loneliness, long-term conditions and mental health. Crucially they can also help save the care sector money.

Lord Howarth of Newport, co-chair of the APPG on arts, health and wellbeing, says: “The time has come to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to our health and wellbeing.”

So why can the arts be so beneficial? “The arts are a way of forming, shaping and holding in front of your eyes something you feel internally,” says Phil George, chair of Arts Council Wales, who last November called on the government to fund the arts to improve health.

“It’s about storytelling,” he says. “It helps people develop a narrative of their lives and relate to their own experience in a new way. I’m convinced from the evidence that investment in the arts for health would pay off. It would be beneficial, not just in terms of wellbeing, but in terms of the pressures and costs that mental illness puts on the system.”

Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the health select committee, agrees. Speaking at the launch of the APPG’s report, she said: “If social prescribing were a drug, people would be outraged that it wasn’t available to everyone.”

Karen Allen: ‘Being in a room where you’ve got the space and time to be yourself, really helps’

Karen Allen
 Karen Allen at the Denbigh Carriageworks Project. Photograph: Mark Waugh/Mark Waugh Manchester Press Photography Ltd

A couple of years ago, Karen Allen from Denbigh, north Wales, began to have flashbacks of the abuse she had experienced in childhood.

Allen, who had grown up in care, says: “It was a culmination of factors, but ultimately everything I had run away from since childhood came back. I had worked my socks off to get a really good job as a press officer in a local authority and am a single mother to two children. In the end, it got too much. Something had to give and that was me.”

She was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and signed off work, before later being dismissed on medical grounds. Allen turned first to a specialist counselling service in Wrexham and then joined the arts and friendship group at the Denbigh Carriageworks Project.

Each week, an artist visits the project to teach participants a new skill, such as sculpture, ceramics or painting. “What’s lovely about it, is that if you’re feeling depressed, the simple act of being in a room with other people – where you’ve got the space and time to just be yourself – really helps to improve your mood,” Allen says. “There’s such a feeling of camaraderie and friendship.

“The art is almost a happy bonus to that connection. While you’re mindfully doing the art, it frees up your personality that had maybe been buried. It takes you away from whatever is bothering you, just for a couple of hours.”

https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2017/oct/11/contribution-arts-make-health-wellbeing?fbclid=IwAR2JiUxLw5E4BaAvivbN4h9FfVgNguPOcQjbHAgcqQOgfA9F00rdAE5_P6g

Introducing Leanne…

“I’m Leanne, and I’m a Trainer in the Let’s Talk Training team at Harmless. I first came across Harmless in 2016, when I volunteered here for six weeks on a Training Internship. This was during the second year of my degree in Special and Inclusive Education, which I studied at Nottingham Trent University.

Following the internship, I decided to dedicate my university modules to mental health, and I’m very passionate about children’s mental health in particular. Training in the past has personally supported me in helping others, which has allowed me to understand its importance and power. I’m really interested in all aspects of mental health, and my aim as a Trainer is to develop people’s understanding of mental health, empower and equip all individuals with the skill and confidence to respond effectively.

I am really excited to be back with new and exciting challenges ahead!”

A very warm welcome from all the team, its great to have you back!

Introducing Arren…

“I’d like to say I’m ambitious, adventurous and energetic! Others might call me cheeky. My route into counselling started through studying at the University of Nottingham in 2015. I’m passionate about supporting people through a different, ‘outside the box’ counselling technique. I like to try the unknown; something that I was able to do in my last job Counselling at a residential service for looked-after young people. I’m looking forward to supporting people on their journey to recovery, and I’m keen to break the stigma that exists with being a young, male Counsellor.”

A warm welcome to Aaren from all the team.

Introducing Janet…

Janet has recently joined our wonderful Let’s Talk Training team in Nottingham.

“Hi, i’m Janet. I’ve worked in the voluntary sector in Nottinghamshire for many years before coming to Harmless (and even spent some time in Moscow as a nanny!). I spent 10 years at ChildLine as a Counselling Supervisor, including training delivery, at Women’s Aid as a Young People’s Group Facilitator and Supported Housing Worker, and a long time at the Carers’ Federation as a Team Leader and Service Manager.

I care very strongly about people’s rights, justice, and training; learning is my passion. I’m really looking forward to getting out there to deliver training around self harm, suicide, and mental health.”

A very warm welcome from all the team at Harmless.

 

‘Grief belongs to the griever’

Grief Support Tip: You might think your friend’s grief is out of proportion to the situation. It’s tempting to correct their point of view to something you feel is more “realistic.”

Grieving people expend a lot of energy defending their grief instead of feeling supported in their experience of it. Even when you mean well, trying to fix grief is always going to turn out badly.

Remember that grief belongs to the griever. Your opinions about their grief are irrelevant. They get to decide how bad things feel, just as you get to make such decisions about your own life.

Remember, words of comfort that try to erase pain are not a comfort. When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better. You just tell them it’s not OK to talk about their pain.

To feel truly comforted by someone, they need to feel heard in their pain. They need the reality of their loss reflected bad to them–not diminished, not diluted. It seems counterintuitive, but true comfort in grief is in acknowledging the pain, not in trying to make it go away.

Let them share the reality of how much this hurts, how hard this is, without jumping in to clean it up, make it smaller, or make it go away.

As a support person, companionship inside what hurts is what is asked of you. By not offering solutions for what cannot be fixed, you can make things better, even when you can’t make them right.

Creating secure attachment models in our lives

Understanding yourself is a basic mindsight tool for integrating your life. Self-understanding is how you connect your past from memory with your present experience. This is an important step in learning how to have secure attachment models in our lives. When we create a narrative of who we are, we link past and present so we can become the active author of a possible future, too – Dr. Dan. Siegel.

Welcome July!

 

As we welcome the month of July (and fingers crossed to more sun) we wanted to thank everyone who has supported our service in anyway so far.

Over the past six months we have had many wonderful people fundraising for our life saving work including: Sophia’s London Marathon, Mental Health Awareness Ball, Hope’s Bristol half marathon and more. We have seen fundraisers across the country in many creative and exciting forms!

We wanted to extend a further thanks to everyone who has supported us in 2019, be that from fundraising, to donating or to simply sharing our page or speaking about our service. We truly value and appreciate your support.

If you want to join our monthly committed supporters you can sign up here: https://localgiving.org/donation/harmless/monthly

Heres to a further 6 months of growth support and compassion. And hopefully a beautiful British Summer!

The Harmless team x