Whether you are brand-new to the world of podcasts or have been tuning in for years, reFRAMED is one that’s definitely worth checking out. The Gladney Center for Adoption’s reFRAMED Podcast is educational and informative while being completely relatable. With episodes on many adoption-related topics, these podcasts are a wonderful resource for parents and professionals alike.
In Season 2: Episode 3, show host Emily Morehead, LPC, speaks with family and play therapist Marshall Lyles, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S. As a professional with 15 years of experience, Lyles has learned quite a bit about attachment trauma and is happy to share his findings with the world. He has also adopted two children from foster care, which qualifies him even more. With a focus on trauma therapies, this podcast is especially helpful for those who would like to promote healing within their families. Many children endure some form of trauma, and in the world of adoption, this is seen quite frequently. Children who have been adopted internationally or through the foster care system may have experienced trauma from an early age. This can make it difficult to bond with and trust others, even their caregivers. When a family is trying their best to show love, create a routine, and doing all that they can to help a child, it can be difficult to understand why their child is still struggling. This podcast offers some insight into the causes and the solutions to trauma.
As stated by Lyles, trauma isn’t necessarily about the actual event that occurred, but about how the brain and body process that event. When the memory of an event begins to interfere with a person’s everyday life and his ability to function, it can be considered trauma. What may be traumatic for one child may not be a big deal to another. Many factors can contribute to what traumatizes a child: genetics, healing factors, and patterns of care given over the years. The Child Traumatic Stress Network states, “If the person perceived it to be traumatic, we listen and believe them.” It is important not to dismiss a child’s perception of trauma just because it may be different than your own. Acknowledging that the trauma occurred and seeking proper care are excellent steps on the road to healing.
Trauma can be incredibly varied. It can’t be grouped into one category because there are so many different types. Each type may affect each person differently. Some trauma is pervasive and ongoing. It affects a person’s everyday life. For a child, this could be something like neglect. Another trauma is categorized by big events such as abuse, the death of a loved one, or an accident such as a car crash or a fire. Big events can create triggers that cue the body’s fight-or-flight response. Pervasive or complex trauma can affect the way a person views herself and her life. This trauma often occurs at the hands of trusted caregivers or other loved ones. For children especially, it can affect their sense of identity and personal development. The age at which the trauma occurred can also determine the consequences it has on a person’s life. When a child has a natural need to be close to his caregiver, even though that caregiver is failing him, developmental trauma can occur. Children’s instinct is to love their parents, so when the parents mistreat them, children may believe that they are at fault. This can deeply impact their sense of self-worth. A child may end up thinking that she is inherently bad or unworthy of love and care, though nothing could be further from the truth.
Many people know that traumatic experiences can affect the emotions of an individual, but an interesting point shared by this podcast is that trauma affects the body as well. Trauma is stored in the body. The human nervous system plays a huge role in a person’s well-being. It’s essentially what tells the brain that he or she is safe. Trauma creates bodily responses (such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, rushes of adrenaline, etc.). When people sense a similar situation, their body will respond in the way it has trained itself to do. While this is a good thing because it protects you, it can also cause post-traumatic symptoms even when there is no real harm.
When the brain’s emotions and the body’s functions are overly connected, this can cause hyperarousal in children. These kids may be hyperactive, disruptive in the classroom, highly emotional, and unable to sit still. They could be dealing with anxiety and impulsive behavior. They may even become aggressive. This type of behavior can often be easy to see. On the opposite end of that spectrum is hyperarousal where there is a disconnect between the brain and the body. These children may be seen as quiet and well-behaved, even though there is so much going on beneath the surface. Unfortunately, children who experience hypoarousal may not get the help they deserve because it can be more difficult to see the signs of trauma in them. They may suffer silently for a long time.
According to Stephen Porges Polyvagal Theory, the best treatment in therapy is safety. That’s the ultimate goal. When adopting children from a situation where they may have experienced loss, been neglected, or abused, their life experiences may have taught them that they are not safe, even with those who are meant to care for them. Because of the brain and body’s response to these events, it can be incredibly difficult for them to trust and bond with new caregivers even if they are doing all that they know-how to be good parents. What’s important is consistency. Children may not have that sense of security at first, however, if they are consistently shown that they are in a safe place and that they are being cared for properly, their brains and bodies will pick up on those cues. It probably won’t be a quick process, but with intentionality by the caregivers and the help of trauma therapy, healing is very possible.
Emily Morehead raises the idea that many parents feel frustration when results aren’t seen immediately. They wonder why, even after a certain number of sessions, that they aren’t seeing any progress in their children. The healing process takes time and isn’t always apparent to the casual observer. Morehead and Lyles jokingly, yet poignantly, refer to the effects of trauma as a Sharknado. It’s scary, and spiraling, and spinning out of control. This is made even worse if the caregivers feel out of control as well. While some symptoms and triggers may remain even when seeing a professional, if therapy can help to “arrest the Sharknado,” then the spiraling slows. It may not be completely gone, but it hasn’t gotten any worse. That’s a big accomplishment in and of itself. Another sign of healing is knowing that while a child doesn’t have to talk about his trauma, he feels comfortable doing so if and when he wants to. If a memory arises, he feels capable of sharing it. The child also begins to create a new sense of safety, driven by new memories. He may become more playful and may become more trusting of his caregivers.
Another major area of impact in a child’s healing process is the caregivers’ ability to care for themselves. Children are learning from modeled behavior. When they see adults positively handling their own emotions and problems, they see that it is possible. When caregivers can deal positively with their own frustrations and anxieties, they become better role models for the children in their care. Caregivers also need to realize that the emotions a child is feeling are normal and valid. They need to give the child a safe space to express those feelings and to let her know that it’s okay to feel that way. When a parent knows how to cope with his own emotions, he is much more able to help a child with coping strategies as well. Therapy is very helpful to children, but it can be important for adults to undergo therapy as individuals or as a family as well. When a parent can know what healing feels like in her own life, she is more apt to notice it in the lives of her children as well.
When looking for a family or child therapist, it’s important to find the right fit. Lyles suggests finding a therapist who is well-trained in play therapy. Being able to communicate with children through play, a language they know well, can be much easier than expecting them to communicate their emotions verbally. There is also EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, which is more trauma forward. Patients in this type of therapy recall traumatic events in small doses while a therapist directs their eye movements. By combining these two types of therapy, a child can feel that sense of safety while also making progress. Play therapy is also incredibly helpful for children who are nonverbal. Their memories can’t be expressed in words, but they can still communicate in other ways. Lyles enjoys working with sand and clay as forms of personal expression. Others work with art, or music, or horses. What’s important is finding something children are interested in that gives them a way to express themselves in a safe and comfortable environment. The Association for Play Therapy is a valuable resource for finding these types of therapy in your area. All providers listed on this site have undergone the supervision and the extensive training required to cater to children. The EMDR website is also helpful if you feel that it’s the right modality for your family.
For the healing process to move smoothly, it’s vital to feel a connection with a therapist. If a child or adult doesn’t feel comfortable being open and honest with a professional, even after several visits, there is nothing wrong with finding someone new. It can be helpful to set up a telephone meeting with a therapist beforehand to make sure that the therapist will be a good fit for your family. It can also be helpful to speak with your adoption agency to see if they have any recommendations for therapists who are trained in the areas of adoption.
The amount of information shared in this podcast is amazing. Keeping the conversation going counts for a lot. The reFRAMED Podcast really helps to normalize the events that families are going through. It lets them know that they aren’t alone and offers excellent resources as well as educational information. It’s a good mix of informative content mixed with casual conversation and humor, making it relatable and easy to watch. If you have enjoyed the information shared by the professionals in this episode, feel free to check out the other episodes as well! Each episode features Emily Morehead, LPC, hosting a candid conversation about a variety of topics with a guest who is an expert in her or his field. Building upon the knowledge that she has already gained, Emily asks questions and finds answers that are beneficial to anyone who chooses to tune in. Some topics covered include foster care, play therapy, transracial adoption, and a myriad of other adoption-related topics. You can watch any of the previous episodes on their website, or you can subscribe to the podcasts through your favorite podcast app.
If you appreciate the information given here or if you have information to share with other readers, please feel free to comment below! Has play therapy been beneficial to your family? Have you tried the EMDR modality? Is there a certain episode of this podcast that you would strongly recommend? Are there guests you’d like to see on the show? Are there topics you would love to see covered? We always love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.