TLC GUEST BLOGGER: Carmen Richardson, MSW, RSW, RCAT, REAT
Come shop for the just right ingredients for “Resilience Soup” this July at the TLC Summer Assembly. Whether you attend a full-day Level 1 or 2 training or a half-day training focused on PTSD & eating disorders or animal assisted therapy, you will find a variety of ingredients to create your own special soup for you and your clients.
While traumatic happenings are part of life, so is resilience. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from stressful and traumatic experiences. Trauma can be experienced by devastating events such as child abuse, car accidents and natural disasters and by seemingly ordinary events such as falling off a bike, dental procedures and medical interventions. However, we can find ways to build up a child’s confidence and teach skills that help to mitigate the effects of a traumatic experience.
Peter Levine and Maggie Kline wrote, “Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience” (2008). They believe that parents can support their children in specific ways in order to reduce the impact that a traumatic event can have on their child. While feeling identification, boundaries and body awareness are important skills to learn, one that is less commonly taught is sensory awareness skills. These skills are a key component when strengthening a child’s sense of resilience. I believe it is important as adults, parents or therapists that we take time to really know what sensations are and how they are different from feelings. Further, it is important that we also practice these skills to ensure that we engage with our young clients/children with a calm and reassuring presence. Some exercises that Levine and Kline identify are listed below:
Sensation Vocabulary Box
Together with your child or client, make a list of feelings; then make a list of sensations. Sensations are very different words than feelings. Some sensations include shudder, prickly, full, empty, shaky, wobbly, jittery, still and so on. Continue thinking of more words to describe sensations, and notice where in the body you experience them. Play with moving between feelings and sensations by noticing and identifying each in the body.
Sensation Treasure Chest
The whole family can be involved with making a sensation treasure chest. Gather a variety of objects, and put them in a box. Choose objects with different textures, including fleece material, feathers, sandpaper, peeled grapes, gummy worms and smooth or heavy objects. Without looking and only touching, encourage the child to pick an object from the box and identify what it is. Then experiment with touching it against the skin and describe with words what it feels like. You may compare and contrast different sensations such as weight, texture and temperature.
Levine and Kline offer a variety of rhymes in their book that are used with children and some younger teens. Many include animals and their characteristics in order to help children discover or re-discover their own inner resources. Often, the verses offer grounding and empowering images as well as actions to engage with your client in a playful and curious manner. Drawing images of the animals can also be part of exploring these resources. If interested, it is worth purchasing the book, especially when working with young and vulnerable children who could use support with developing these resources to increase resilience.
Drawing Sensation Maps
There are many variations with this exercise. One that I enjoy teaching uses an eight inch cardboard image of a person. I invite my client to think of an upsetting event, mapping out on one side of the cardboard body their thoughts, feelings and sensations using words, images, and colors. I then invite my client to think of a happy event, and on the other side of the image, map out thoughts, feelings and sensations in the same manner. We then move from one side to another, experiencing both sensations of joy and sadness, which teaches them that they can learn to tolerate their uncomfortable feelings, that their bodies don’t stay upset, and that they are powerful and can change their body experience.
In the course I will be teaching this summer, “Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy: A Sensory-Based Approach to Treatment,” we will be actively involved with engaging in a variety of expressive arts interventions that support the development of these very important skills. There are so many ways to teach and help heal the hurt from trauma experiences, and there will be plenty of exciting workshops at the summer assembly that will give you the ingredients needed to make your own variety of “Resilience Soup.”
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller
In honor of my late cat Mico, who has has taught me the most about what sensory experiences are, how they can support one through the ups and downs of life, and how even the memory of such resources brings a sense of calm and softening in the body. He will be dearly missed.
Carmen Richardson MSW, RSW, RCAT, REAT