Children have shared with me experiences of real-life monsters, and yet at the same time, a yearning to be loved and the courage to change. I have been inspired by how children recovered from emotional, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, losses, and abandonments. I also witnessed how many children remained mired in the nightmares of their lives and often acted out their greatest fears on others or themselves. Dangerous behaviors led to referrals to child welfare services or mental health treatment. My job as a psychologist was to engage these children and come to understand what had happened and what could be done to help them. From these children, their caregivers, and my colleagues, I learned what helped, what didn’t help, and what could be done. Rather than viewing these children as helpless victims or frightening aggressors, I learned how their stories of trauma and recovery could inspire all of us. Each child and family I have worked with has taught me a lesson of how ordinary people can rise up to surmount tragedies. Working with children and families who have experienced traumas has broadened my understanding of what is possible for everyone.
Wounded Angels (Routledge, expected publication date 7/16) is a book about what we can learn from children who have moved beyond tragedies to fight for what they, their siblings, and their parents need. Their stories highlight the role that courage and caring can play for people of all ages and circumstances- and the rich forces in our lives that have the potential to promote healing for all of us. The children, caregivers, and practitioners I have met led me to develop Real Life Heroes, a resiliency-focused treatment program for traumatic stress.
Real Life Heroes® (RLH) is a practitioner-developed and evidence-supported treatment program that has been successfully implemented in a wide range of child and family service, educational, and mental health treatment programs for over 15 years. RLH provides practitioners with easy-to-use tools including a life storybook, practitioner’s manual, multi-sensory creative arts activities, and psycho education resources to engage children and caregivers in evidence-supported trauma treatment. RLH helps practitioners reframe referrals based on pathologies and blame into a shared ‘journey,’ a ‘pathway’ to healing and recovery.
The Real Life Heroes Practitioner’s Manual (Routledge, 2007) and the Real Life Heroes Toolkit for Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Families (Routledge, expected 7/16) include assessment, service and session planning guidelines that promote integrated treatment and team work focused on restoring (or building) emotionally supportive and enduring relationships and promoting development of affect regulation skills for children and caregivers. Creative arts, movement activities, and shared life story work provide a means for children and caregivers to develop the safety and attunement needed for re-integration of traumatic memories.
The Real Life Heroes Life Storybook (Routledge, 2004, 2007) engages children and caregivers with therapeutic activities which promote self and co-regulation, trauma and resiliency psycho-education, increased mind-body awareness, and trauma memory integration. The 3rd Edition of the Real Life Heroes Life Storybook (Routledge, expected 7/16) includes three new chapters, a revised chapter organization, and revised workbook activities based on research findings, suggestions from children and caregivers, and recommendations from practitioners. Used together, the Real Life Heroes Life Storybook and the Real Life Heroes Toolkit for Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Families facilitate implementation of recommended ‘best practice’ components of treatment for traumatic stress and Complex Trauma. Rebuilding Attachments for Traumatized Children (Routledge, 2004) provides the research and theoretical foundation for these books and a compendium of practical strategies and tips for strengthening or building emotionally supportive relationships for children in child and family service programs. Families in Perpetual Crisis (Norton, 1989) co-authored with Shirley Schlosberg is a well-recognized guide to strength-based family services and engaging hard-to-reach families. Turmoil to Turning Points (Norton, 1996) uses case stories of children in crisis placements to guide practitioners on how to utilize crises as opportunities for healing. All of these books highlight how practitioners and treatment programs can successfully engage and assist children and families with traumatic stress to transform their lives. For more information about my work or Real Life Heroes books, research, and training programs, please see: www.reallifeheroes.net.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
Treatment of traumatic stress and Complex Trauma
Child and family services, behavioral health programs, and education services for children and families
Stories of children and families overcoming adversity