Critical training to better protect, support, and heal vulnerable children



series: emotional wellbeing of children by Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, Richard P. Brown, MD
& Somiari Demm, MA/M.Div, CYT, CTS


Children are very much affected by displacement upheaval and exposure to violence. So when we think about particularly child refugees, we have to remember that not only may they have been driven from their homeland, but even before they left, they might have been living under very frightening and stressful conditions and their whole family may have been under stress...

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and living in fear for a long time by the time they're forced to flee their country at that point, that may happen because the government has sanctioned violence against them or some other group is attacking them or there's a war.So there are all kinds of events that can cause a mass exodus, and refugee population. We know that these children have experienced very frightening and sometimes painful events due to the conditions that they are running away from. They may have seen or even experienced themselves either people that they care about and know or it may have happened to them.

They might themselves be the victims of violence, abuse, torture, even sexual abuse. So they've been very much effected physiologically, psychologically. And their bodies also carry the memories of these terrible experiences when they escape and reach some sort of safe haven, even there, life is still very stressful for them, particularly if they've lost their parents, their caregivers, the anchors for their world. They may be there without parents or with parents who themselves are injured or traumatized. And the conditions in these camps are not like a normal environment by any means. The conditions are very harsh. There may not be very much food or water, they don't have a regular house to themselves. They're often many people who have to sleep in an open room. So it's always noisy. There's always movement. And so there are many disturbing aspects, not to mention the fact that they live in uncertainty because sometimes they don't know if they're going to be sent back into danger or whether they're going to be received and, uh, helped to adjust to their new environment.

So the life of a refugee child is very uncertain. And we know that for children to grow and thrive and to develop in healthy ways, we know what they need, they need love, they need care, they need security, and they need a regular schedule. All of these things are disrupted and as consequence, if they're in that situation for a long period of time, it can have lifelong effects on their minds and on their bodies.

So displacement, upheaval, or violence, any kind of exposure to that causes trauma in children. And what do we say when we say trauma? For me, trauma is anything, any kind of experience that alters your emotional, mental, and also your identity in many ways. And so for a lot of these children, if their identity isn't solid to begin with, whatever foundation was there is completely dismantled. So even though it's a physical displacement, or even if the violence is physical, it's felt emotionally and it's felt neurologically as well.


Dr. Patricia Gerbarg

Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor in Psychiatry, New York Medical College. Dr. Gerbarg has lectured and taught about a wide range of topics in psychiatry, psychoanalysis, women’s issues, trauma, neurobiology, natural treatments (herbs, nutrients), and the integration...

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of mind-body practices in psychotherapy for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Meetings and many other conferences, academic centers, and community organizations.She serves on the APA Caucus on Complementary and Integrative Psychiatry and is a board member of the American Botanical Council.

Dr. Gerbarg practices Integrative Psychiatry, combining standard and complementary treatments. Her research focuses on mind-body practices for reducing the effects of stress and trauma, particularly in survivors of mass disasters, including the Southeast Asia Tsunami, 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, war in Sudan, Gulf Horizon Oil Spill, veterans, and stress-related medical illnesses.


Dr. Richard P. Brown

Dr. Richard P. Brown is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where he obtained his medical degree 1977. The recipient of numerous awards, he has authored over 100 scientific articles,...

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books, and book chapters on pharmacological treatments, clinical studies, and complementary and integrative treatments in psychiatry.

Dr. Brown developed a comprehensive neurophysiological theory of the effects of breathing exercises on the mind and body, particularly its benefits in anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Brown gives over 100 lectures and courses every year. Since 1998, he has taught full-day courses on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as well as Mind-Body trainings for the American Psychiatric Association, other national and international conferences, veterans, and community service programs.


Somiari Demm, MA/M.Div, CYT, CTS

Somiari is a certified trauma specialist, a certified yoga teacher, and a certified breath body and mind teacher. Her areas of concentration include children and adolescents, trauma, mindfulness, and spirituality. She is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the...

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field of clinical psychology who has divided her time betweenclinical practice, training, workshops, and consulting. As a mental health practitioner, she uses mindfulness cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) and other evidence-based practices to help adolescent and adult clients with a wide range of emotional, and behavioral issues.

Somiari has received extensive training in the treatment of addiction, mental illnesses, affect regulation, and trauma. In her consulting work, she has provided bullying, violence, and trauma training for elementary and residential schools. In addition to clinical practice, for 3 years she worked as a consultant counseling Chibok girls that escaped Boko Haram.Somiari has been interviewed by 60-Minutes, CNN, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, BBC, and Aljareeza.

As a trauma thriver, her life experiences have fostered her love of, and dedication to the mental health field. Following the words of Gandhi, she believes that “purity of life is the highest and truest art.” Somiari also believes she is here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. Through her work, she is enriching the world through love, healing, and peace


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