Children and teenagers on the SouthCoast are getting the emotional support they need after facing traumatic events through weight lifting, yoga and community outreach.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol County in Fall River and the Center for Trauma and Embodiment at the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) offer services and opportunities to connect for youth survivors of abuse and trauma and their families. Both programs offer various programs to best suit each survivor’s needs.
The CAC is just one of nearly 100 programs that the JRI offers. As the CAC of Bristol County, operating out of Fall River, it serves as emergency response center for child sexual abuse.
The Center for Trauma and Embodiment is dedicated to researching, developing and training providers to help trauma survivors safely “reconnect to their body so that they may engage more fully with their life.”
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Physical healing through movement
The Center for Trauma and Embodiment helps trauma survivors by offering Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY), Trauma Informed Weight Lighting (TIWL) and ReScripted, a practice that utilizes the power of play, theater and movement. David Emerson, Director of the TCTSY and founder of TCTSY works with all ages to incorporate body-centered treatment into the emotional healing of trauma survivors.
By incorporating yoga into recovery, Emerson has found that it opens up old avenues of connecting the mind and the body prior to a traumatic incident. Similar to those who have struggled with addiction, a trauma survivor may neglect their physical health due to the focus on mental recovery. Survivors of trauma face a dynamic of fighting for survival while also shutting down parts of themselves.
“Yoga is very intentional,” Emerson said. “Trauma disconnects the body and mind, an out-of-body experience, shutting down parts of the body to survive. Yoga reconnects parts of yourself.”
His yoga model is an evidence-based treatment for complex trauma and complex PTSD based on research of adults ages 18 and older. Studies for children are in the works, but Emerson began implementing a program in youth in 2006, jumping in with no research, only anecdotal feedback from clients.
“We learned more about trauma and to get good services to people as soon as we can,” Emerson said.
For now, yoga classes are only offered only online. Although the proven research is based on adult survivors of complex trauma — including early life, military and military sexual trauma focused on women — the yoga classes are open to anyone but they tend to focus on that specific population. There is a $12 fee but Emerson said they never turn anyone away and encourage attendees to give what they can.
The weight-lifting program offers a more dynamic approach to physical recovery. It uses explosive movements rather than meditative, and some survivors may prefer this program as it offers “clear choices for people to be in charge of what they do with their body,” Emerson said.
Emerson said that survivors often experience an unclear sense from their body: sometimes, it’s nothing, and other times, an individual may feel overstimulated. He said that weight lifting helps survivors notice and concentrate what they feel in their body, and connect their mind to their muscles.
Through the programs, Emerson has noticed immense improvement, especially in youth. He sees them connect with their body and make a choice of what to do with their body. “That’s what you’re looking for, it’s very satisfying,” he said.
Yoga, weight lifting and performing arts have created a triad of a new approach to healing, one that does not require talking, something that many survivors find difficult.
“We wanted to be careful about this from beginning,” Emerson said. “Do the due diligence, trauma is so severe, and we don’t want to engage in something just because we think it’s good.”
Offering protection, healing, prevention and education to youth
The CAC’s mission has three prongs: protecting, healing, and prevention and education. On a national level, CACs are designed to support survivors without re-traumatizing them by asking what has happened.
When interviewing a child who is abused, a trained forensic interviewer will wear a wire, as a detective, pediatric nurse and other clinical staff watch via live video from another room. Through a series of indirect questions, the child will disclose as much as possible about their trauma without additional pressure from the interviewer. By having only one person speak with the child, it prevents re-traumatizing.
Referrals are received only from law enforcement, Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and the Bristol County District Attorney’s office. Annually, the CAC sees between 600 and 800 cases through referrals for sexual abuse, and the cases are mostly from New Bedford, Fall River, Taunton and Attleboro.
As part of the healing process, children who go through the CAC can be exposed to art therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) training which transitions to psychotherapy.
The CAC’s Fall River office is currently under renovation to accommodate an expanded waiting room and family suites, new forensic interview rooms, special child-focused medical health suites and mental health clinical treatment rooms with Sensory Motor Arousal Regulation Treatment (SMART) boards.
For youth, these renovations also include space for painting and other art forms, a therapeutic dollhouse, yoga balls, balance beams and more sensory objects, Lara Stone, co-executive director of the CAC of Bristol County, said.
“All staff meets the child wherever they are,” Stone said. “Kids have been groomed for so long, breaking through can be difficult.”
The CAC continues to operate while under construction, serving all 20 towns and cities in Bristol County. Currently, the CAC does not accept off-the-street referrals but commits to outreach and prevention to any individuals or organizations.
Stone said some staff members have attended training at Yale University for child and family traumatic stress intervention. In addition, JRI recently received a $500,000 grant to train residential care workers across the country in the trauma informed care.
If you or anyone you know are being harmed or need support, the CAC encourages individuals to call 1-800-792-5200 for assistance.
Standard-Times staff writer Kerri Tallman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @kerri_tallman for links to recent articles.
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