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Dreaming of a Trauma Informed Minnesota

In 2008 I completed four years of graduate school coursework in clinical psychology. While I have fond memories of my graduate training and feel I received an excellent education, I graduated with minimal knowledge of psychological trauma and its treatment. I was serving in the Army National Guard during graduate school so I had some opportunity to interact with soldiers and also completed a testing practicum at the West Los Angeles VAMC, an excellent training site. However, when I arrived at Hazelden Foundation for my pre-doctoral internship, I had no idea how ill prepared I was to help people heal from trauma.

My graduate training and supervision was grounded in psychodynamic theory and prepared me to sit with people and bear witness to their process and reflect together on the relationship that formed between us. During my internship orientation, I was told that as many as 75% of the women on the primary treatment units on which I would be working would have a significant exposure to trauma in their past. As I began to work with clients in individual and group sessions, it quickly became evident how true this estimation was.

I found I could work well with men and women struggling to reclaim their lives from addiction and for the first time since starting graduate school felt a sense of certainty that I was right where I was supposed to be and involved in work that felt deeply meaningful and satisfying. I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed working with highly dysregulated clients, finding a good fit between my relatively calm personality and the psychodynamic training which had prepared me to be present with people in whatever state they presented.

However, as much as I could sit and be present to the significant pain and fear of my clients, I was not prepared to explain to clients how trauma impacts their physiology, their relationships, and their neurobiology. I encountered dissociation and realized quickly how little I understood dissociative processes or what to do to help my clients who were prone to persistent, intrusive dissociative experiences. Fortunately, I was receiving wonderful supervision from trauma informed/trained senior clinicians who guided me in my learning and began introducing me to names and theories that have become deeply important to me in the years since.

One of those names was Kathy Steele, a therapist in Atlanta, GA, who had written a book The Haunted Self, about the treatment of dissociation and the fragmentation that affect so many traumatized clients. When I discovered that she was doing a two day workshop in Boston near where one of my dear graduate school friends lived, I jumped at the chance to travel and take my first trauma workshop. This was an immersion into a world I did not even know existed. The workshop was amazing, discussing concepts such as internal phobia, mind flight, mind sight, structural dissociation, integration of self, etc. Just as wonderful was Kathy's breadth of knowledge when it came to models of therapy and theory, as well as that of many of the participants. For the first time I heard about Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems (IFS), Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP), Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB), modern utilization of hypnosis, as well as models with which I was more familiar, including psychodynamic approaches and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It blew my novice mind, but being surrounded by the experienced trauma clinicians in that workshop left me with a resolve to pursue as much training as possible in these models/theories and learn as much as I could that might allow me to better help my clients in their courageous journeys toward healing.

Fast forward a few years and I have had the fortune to complete trainings in each of these models and now work almost exclusively with clients with trauma histories. I am inspired daily by a caseload full of courageous men and women working hard to reclaim their lives from addiction and eating disorders and to heal from the trauma that for most of them underlies these difficulties. I also have the opportunity to do several intakes per week and all too often the tragic stories I hear from these men and women include horrific trauma followed by years of treatment stays and/or therapy without any provider along the way identifying the impact of trauma, helping them understand the role that trauma was playing in their difficulties, or providing them with the skills and experiences for healing to happen.

I realize that most providers have graduate trainings much like mine, minimal education in trauma followed by limited exposure to workshops, trainings, and conferences that would prepare them to help traumatized clients heal. And while many provide excellent therapeutic support, the lack of specialized knowledge and training in the treatment of trauma sadly leaves far too many clients suffering unnecessarily. I have had the good fortune to have access to continuing education support through my employer and the Army National Guard allowing me to travel to attend the workshops and conferences that help me fill this essential training gap. This is generally not the case for most providers.

When I was at Hazelden, after watching another client discharge due to insurance before she was sufficiently stable from the effects of trauma that drove her addiction, I thought perhaps there was a way to gather funding to pay for traumatized clients to have access to trauma informed therapy and treatment. The affordable care act passing has allowed unprecedented access to medical and mental health care for more people than ever before. While it is still a significant struggle to get insurance companies to provide adequate coverage for therapy and treatment services, access to insurance allows many more people the possibility of seeking out mental health support. So, my vision shifted - what if experts from around the country could come to MN to provide workshops and training at increasingly reduced prices, thereby increasing the number of local providers who can provide competent and effective therapy for trauma survivors, hopefully allowing more people to begin or continue the process of healing from trauma.

MN Trauma Project is the fulfillment of that dream. This past year we have organized three workshops and are co-sponsoring and providing logistical support for a fourth workshop. As we plan for workshops into 2016 and 2017, we are strategizing how to further reduce the price for workshops. Beyond the workshops, our aim is to provide practical support for established trauma providers and for providers who are just considering specializing in trauma. Our website is designed to connect providers and clients to local trauma focused trainings, written materials, online resources, and listings for other local non traditional means for healing. Each time I attend a workshop or conference on trauma, I get excited about new ideas that are being discussed and immediately try to find people who are doing that work locally, whether trauma sensitive yoga, neurofeedback, equine therapy, psychodrama, acupuncture, or other means of healing. These local resources are listed on the MN Trauma Project website. We are also excited about creating opportunities for providers to support one another in person, through consultation groups and/or networking events.

The MN Trauma Project Blog is another way for local providers to support one another. In the weeks to come, this blog will feature posts by local trauma providers, sharing their reflections on an array of topics related to trauma, to possibly include: their journey as trauma therapist, their use of a particular model of trauma therapy, the resources they use to help people heal, socio-cultural considerations in the treatment of trauma, and more. I hope that you will take time weekly to read what these local experts have taken the time to share and I hope it encourages and inspires your own work with traumatized clients. Sadly, there is enough trauma in the world to keep our profession consistently busy, I hope the blog, the website, and possibly our upcoming workshops can be a resource in your efforts to help people heal.

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