CREATE A SAFE, CONSISTENT AND HEALING ENVIRONMENT
series: emotional wellbeing of children by Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, Richard P. Brown, MD
& Somiari Demm, MA/M.Div, CYT, CTS
One of the most important things in helping children recover is to enable them to shift from being in a mode of danger, of feeling unsafe, to being able to finally feel safe, relaxed, and calm down, and we can provide a variety of ways that can help them to do that. First of all, just having a stable environment, regular meals, very important.
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Regular sleep is very important if the child is going to recover, but also having a regular routine where they know breakfast is going to be a certain time, they know class is going to be a certain time, they know playtime is going to be a certain time so that their world becomes predictable again because for them surprises are bad, so they want to know when they wake up or when they go to sleep. They want to have an idea that what they think is going to happen tomorrow.
That's what is going to happen. So we have to be very consistent ourselves and we always have to tell them what we're going to do before we do it. Because surprises are not not the best thing for these kids. Not at this stage, so we want to tell them what we're going to do. Then we have to do what we say we're going to do. Again, we have to treat them with respect and care.
These children didn't have a choice. Things were just done to them. So, we want to be careful in our tone that it doesn't make them feel that we're ordering them about but that we're inviting them, we're guiding them or helping them at all times.
If possible, it's very helpful to ask the children to tell you the things that they like, whether it's their favorite color or their favorite animal, or if there's a song that they like, something they remember singing at home and to ask the child to teach you their songs and then sing it with them. That shows that you respect and care about their culture and their family and their values. That they can be teachers too. Which is very important because these children feel that they've lost everything. They feel ashamed, they feel inadequate, they feel weak and little. So, if we can show them that they have something to give and something to teach that's very helpful for their self esteem.
Having a peer group is wonderfully healing for these children. So if they can have time to play with their peers and we can games that help them play in a positive way, singing songs together. Remember, these children have been torn from many of the things that they were very attached to and some of them have difficulty becoming reconnected to the new things in their world. So things like a group singing or dancing in a circle. Things where groups bond are very helpful.
You need the right physical and social environment so you need a space that they feel is theirs that they belong to and they cared for. So, you need special adults who can transmit that feeling just by their manner. You know, words may underline it, but just words alone won't do it. It has to be a genuine feeling of giving and caring.
My feeling is when you bring up the need for that, if your intentions are sincere, people will come. It may take time, they may not come exactly when you would hope for right away. It may take awhile, but the environment can form. If your intention is pure and you are centered in your original being, not your everyday head of thinking about things too much.
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