Healing Trauma Conference Provides Information, Hope

With sold-out attendance on both days, the Healing Trauma, Healthy Communities conference Sept. 27 and 28 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee tackled questions of how to understand trauma and its effects and how to create and maintain healthy communities. The conference was hosted by SaintA and sponsored by SWIM, Scaling Wellness in Milwaukee, a multi-disciplinary group dedicated to inspiring collaboration to help Milwaukee heal.

A Who’s Who of Trauma Topics

The conference drew 1,325 attendees from 17 states literally from coast to coast including New York and Washington. The event featured keynote speeches from some of the nation’s most renowned leaders on trauma and brain science.

Those included L. Song Richardson, dean of the University of California-Irvine’s law school, speaking about implicit bias; Dr. Bruce Perry, MD, PhD., senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy, and an internationally known neuroscientist and researcher, on the importance of relationships when working with traumatized and maltreated children; Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MSed, an adolescent medicine specialist, on the importance of resilience in dealing with trauma on Day 1.

Day 2 keynotes included ACES pioneer Rob Anda, MD, and Laura Porter, co-founder of ACE Interface, who has worked extensively with ACES and combating trauma in Washington State; and Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, founding president of the Child Mind Institute, a nationally known psychiatrist with expertise in adolescent trauma.

Our keynote presenters have provided downloadable presentation materials here. 

Strong Presence of Local Expertise

Attendees had their choice of more than 50 breakout sessions, covering virtually everything related to trauma from sexually exploited children and how to build resiliency, to how immigration policies cause and perpetuate stress and the need for cultural sensitivity.

Many breakout sessions were hands-on, like this one by Ho-Chunk Nation.

The importance of creating physical environments and schools that are trauma-sensitive was examined, as was creating community partnerships to help ensure success. And there also was a session on  equine therapy, or how working with horses can relieve stress and trauma.

“We were beyond pleased to offer such a wide array of breakout session presenters,” said SaintA President and CEO Ann Leinfelder Grove. “We put the word out, and experts from across behavioral health, law enforcement, education, and community advocacy answered the call, eager to share their skills and knowledge.”

“The conference feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and we are convinced that this event will result in better practices and services for children and families and help our overall community.”

Many breakout session presenters have provided downloadable materials here. 

We Need Connectivity – Especially Youth

Why was such a conference necessary? “We need to completely change the way we live and work,” to ensure mental health and stability, said Dr. Perry, stressing the absolute need for more connectivity and human relationships. It’s “oppression,” he said to create spots in human lives that are chaotic and lack relationships.

Dr. Ginsburg seconded that, stressing that resilience comes from relationships within families and community.

Dr. Ginsburg of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Covenant House Pennsylvania.

“When the community believes in protecting the child, the child rises,” he said. “And success can only be achieved by including people with collaborative experiences and diversity.” His research has shown that adolescents really want diversity as well as shared power, he added.

Children are deserving of focused attention and additional protective forces, he said. A different kind of credential, Dr. Ginsburg, said is having a “protector’s brain,” through which you help create calm settings in which kids feel safe.” That is not always easy, he said, as kids who need the most attention are often those who push others away. “

You need to tell them why you are on their side … this is why I believe in you … We do our greatest good by giving kids a wide range of coping strategies.”

An ACE Score is Just a Start

Understanding ACES, adverse childhood experiences, and a person’s ACE score, “gives us the opportunity to see the story of our lives and to do something about it, to create a different path with hope and meaning,” Dr. Anda said.

The power of the ACE study, he said, is that it provides a common language and conceptual framework and offers a better understanding of neuroscience and epigenetics. In other words, how trauma affects genes and how negative characteristics are passed down through subsequent generations.

Laura Porter stressed that scientists need to go beyond the pattern of surveying, then just moving.

“Actions change patterns … Everyone who wants to help is a leader and each leader has their own sphere of influence,” she said. 

“Conversations are needed to build social networks that promote health and safety,” she said. “New lines of communication, peer support systems, self-organizing networks and communities of practice can augment formal service-delivery systems.”

It Takes (An Efficient) Village  

Speaking on how to care for children, Dr. Koplewicz said it is essential to protect and care for yourself. When kids feel powerless and adults are unable to help, they get demoralized and feel depressed.

An important way to protect kids, he said, is for adults to find and praise positive behavior and ignore insignificant “bad” behavior. Reassuring children and helping them express their feelings is essential.

“If adults change the way they behave, different kinds of conversations and behaviors will result,” he said.

Dr. Koplewicz stressed the need for what he called “collective efficacy,” where adults play roles in other people’s children’s lives.

“It takes an efficient village,” he said, broken down by communities, neighborhoods, churches, etc., to produce numerous anchors to help children feel safer.

“There are never enough people in the world to love your children,” he said.

A Conscious Look at Implicit Bias

A very interesting keynote with a different tone was that offered by L. Song Richardson, who examined implicit bias. She said that being mixed-race herself, Korean and African American, has provided her with an enhanced appreciation and understanding of implicit bias – including her own.

She offered a humorous tale of being in a restaurant and abruptly summoning the only other Asian person in the place to bring her a box for her food. When the man came over and told her, “I’m not a waiter,” she was mortified, realizing her own incorrect assumption of the man’s role based on his appearance.

“Your unconscious mind can influence your behaviors, and most of us have unconscious racial bias,” she said.

Bias affects our expectations, perceptions and behaviors. And society underscores them in many ways, from the way racial minorities are depicted in television shows and movies, and how families talk about people of other races.

She recently did a simple Google search with the words, “Does Islam …” and Google filled in “permit terrorism. “Are Jews . . .” was filled in with the word “evil.”

Research has shown that, in education, implicit bias affects, among other things, academic expectations, disciplinary reactions, and assignments to gifted programs, unless the teacher is black. Police are slower to shoot an armed white man than an armed black man and are more likely to shoot an unarmed black man.

In hiring, resumes with so-called black names are ignored more than those with white names, and if an interview is scheduled, the interviewer most often experiences racial anxiety with someone of a different race. On jobs, racial minorities often receive less mentoring and less critical feedback.

How to combat this? The first steps, she said, are to be aware that implicit bias is real, to accept it and commit to working on it. Pay attention, she said. Remember that implicit bias is increased by stress, time pressures, multi-tasking or ambiguous criteria.

Good intentions are not enough, she said. “Before making a decision, doubt your objectivity, slow down and improve the conditions of your decision-making.”

Ms. Richardson’s keynote address was reminiscent of the tone of the conference kick-off, which was held at the Fiserv Forum the evening of Sept. 26. Read about the Community Gathering on Race and Trauma, also hosted by SaintA and sponsored by SWIM, Scaling Wellness in Milwaukee. 

Learn more about SWIM

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