Trauma Talks

Grafton hosted our first annual symposium at The National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia on October 21, 2014.  The theme of the symposium, “Trauma Talks:  Let’s Listen and Learn” generated a robust list of presenters and a wide spectrum of topics.

Trauma-informed practice encompasses principles of safety/trustworthiness, choice/collaboration/empowerment, and a strengths-based approach.  It emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and individuals who have experienced trauma…it creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. (Hooper, Bassuk & Olivet, 2010)

When keynote speaker, Dr. Janice LeBel shared, “Because we will never know someone’s full life experience, it makes sense to presume everyone in our care has a history of trauma and adopt a ‘universal precautions’ approach”, it reminded me about the critical role that we play in people’s lives.  We really do have a unique opportunity to help “heal” the individual and build a relationship that is safe, comforting and trustworthy.  An important point comes from Dr. Sandra Bloom (and reiterated by Dr. LeBel) who developed The Sanctuary Method that was implemented in hospitals, residential treatment centers and shelters.  Dr. Bloom contends the focus of questioning and thinking should be on “What happened to you instead of what’s wrong with you?”  This simple shift in paradigm generated a powerful dialogue amongst the information shared by all presenters during the symposium.

Dr. Karin Spencer, Early Childhood Educator at Shepherd University provided a compelling case study that enabled participants to reflect on protective factors, risk factors, unique strengths as well as developmental factors that influenced behavior and development.  She also discussed concrete and replicable strategies that could be used by educators to ensure success within the classroom setting.

It is heartwarming to know that the growing knowledge about how trauma affects people is now being used to inform changes in policies and practices to ensure that we as treatment professionals support recovery and resilience and to avoid interventions that inadvertently do more harm than good.  So how do we know if we are moving in the right direction with respect to trauma informed practice?  We start by initiating a dialogue so that we pay attention to understanding not only the work we are doing, but also the work we would like to do.  It is about highlighting practices and shining a flashlight on a systems perspective and incorporating a holistic, bio-psychosocial perspective for all those in need.

Jason Craig, Director of ABA Services provided an overview of Applied Behavior Analysis using a trauma informed approach.  A trauma informed approach is both a proactive and reactive approach to the treatment of individuals and takes into account traumatic effects and incorporates these when devising treatment interventions.

During her “Yes Practice” presentation, Shamsi Sadeghzadeh, Director of Behavioral Consultation reminded us that “Crisis is not the most opportune time to teach and that all behaviors serve one of the following four functions:  attention, escape, avoidance or tangible items.    Shamsi reminded us that trauma informed practice involves focusing on a plan before the crisis and developing strategies, interventions and methods and to create a positive environment that may mitigate stress and triggers.  She also emphasized the importance of monitoring these practices and changing them over time as needed.

The symposium also provided a forum for participants to experience an alternative form of therapy, music therapy, through a guided drum circle.   Although most participants seemed a little reluctant at first to “join the circle”, this experiential activity facilitated by Bronwen Landless, Music Therapist following lunch was the perfect medium to energize and build connectedness and collaboration amongst participants.

Bonnie Zampino’s creative learning module, “Experience Autism,” was an interactive presentation that allowed us to appreciate some of the sensory experiences an individual with Autism may experience and the accompanying frustration when those experiences prevent accessible and rewarding interactions with the environment.

The closing speaker at the symposium, Nicole Hiles, Assistant Education Administrator discussed the importance of treatment integrity (adherence, quality, exposure and program differentiation), its duration as well as the barriers involved in increasing treatment integrity.

As clinicians, educators, social workers, psychologists and administrators, we often feel disempowered within the myriad of systems within which we work.  By sharing information and resources that are readily available, however, we are strengthening the dialogue about practices that support a trauma informed milieu.  There is a plethora of resources and tools available for professionals and organizations.  (see links below)

It is our hope that the symposium has provided some food for thought for initiating this dialogue.  Grafton’s new “trauma informed” consultation and training services, Ukeru Systems, Inc will be coming soon.  Contact for more information.



National Center Trauma Informed Care provides training for staff, consumers, and others to facilitate trauma-informed care in a range of service systems. A useful list of national hotlines, referral resources, and support services can be found here.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network 
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network aims to improve access to care, treatment, and services for traumatized children and teens. Its site offers a wealth of information geared toward children, including numerous webinars.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network 
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network aims to improve access to care, treatment, and services for traumatized children and teens. Its site offers a wealth of information geared toward children, including numerous webinars.

 Collaborative Problem Solving