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


Whenever you are working with traumatized children, there some universal signs that will show up, especially in children. The first thing is trauma equates to some level of terror. There's an element of fear. Even after removed from the traumatic situation that terror and fears are there.

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So with children, you often get the night terrors, and sleep disturbances are intertwined in that. So that's, you know, definitely one sign, another sign or thing to look out for are their eating habits. Sometimes depending on their trauma, you'll have a loss of appetite and sometimes you'll have indulgence. So you have to look at the extremes of that in unit. I kind of put that into perspective as to what may be going on. Then of course it's the inability to self soothe and emotion regulation.

So what you'll see with children a lot of times are excessive mood swings. You see them going to different spectrums of that. Especially with young boys, you'll see more of an occurrence of anger. And it's very quick and not just just anger, even rage. Other signs are that there's a level of disconnect that almost moves into isolation, which then shows up as as depression, whether as major depression or as sadness...a deep sadness. So these are several different signs with children. The other thing is their inability to connect when they're removed out of the traumatic situation and they're in a really loving environment and you find that nothing you do is able to elicit that element of connection and love. That's also a huge sign that something is up.

What we end up seeing, the kind of emotional injuries, wounds and scars that these children carry are shown in many, many different ways. It depends on the child. So in some children, what we might see is that they're very quiet and withdrawn, that they're very fearful. They don't trust people, they're even afraid to speak or make a noise. And it may be difficult to engage them. For other children, what we might see is that they're quiet. But then suddenly they'll have an outburst of anger or even violent behavior in an overreaction to something that occurs. Many of the children will be distracted because thoughts and memories of the traumas may be coming into their minds and occupying their attention and kind of taking them out of their current reality. In many of the children, the stress comes out as physical illness and most common we stomach pains. Also, when the child is having stomach pains, that's because when they're upset or frightened, the muscles of the stomach tighten up and they may have trouble even doing normal functions like going to the bathroom, things like that. Their whole physical system can be very disrupted.

What we see with these kids is usually some combination of emotions that were set off at a time when they were in danger and in that sense, because of course they experienced fear, terror and they also experienced anger because of course, if you see someone hurting your mother, your sister, your father, you're going to feel very angry. But at the time they can't express any of their emotions because they're already in danger. They can't show anger. They have to be very quiet and hide. They can't make a peep they are hoping that, that no one will attack them, so there are all of these very intense, painful feelings that are stuffed down inside that they can't express in the normal, healthy way. I mean these feelings or difficult for adults to manage, let alone children.

Well, there are numerous, so pay attention to and it's important to understand that children have even more sensitive system than adults do, so things that adults might consider traumatic can affect a child and it can affect them in numerous ways. One way is that they may not be able to inhibit behaviors that might be self destructive in some ways, so it's very common. They may do very dangerous things and being in a risky forbidden situation also makes you feel alive if your system has been deadened by being drained by being abused, by being traumatized. So there's a lack of proper inhibition. And the same time the system cannot appropriately activate. It becomes very erratic and it's activation to get things that make us feel good. So it's almost like their autonomic system, their capacity to activate for pleasure, their capacity to inhibit doing things that could lead to being hurt, those parts of their nervous system are not working well and their capacity to soothe themselves and to connect to other people and even their inner selves. Those things are damaged by the trauma and when you are a refugee or a displaced person, you were cut off from that things that gave your life the most meaning to you and the love that you had in your life. So when that is launched, our systems become very disturbed and the stress response system becomes way too overactive. And the soothing, healing bonding system which reduces inflammation in the body, becomes very inactive.


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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