This guest blog post was written by Ava Stetson Ward, a 15-year-old sophomore student who volunteered at the 2018 International Neurosequential Model Symposium, held June 12–14, 2018 in Banff, Alberta.
The sun is setting over the majestic Canadian Rockies on the last day of the International Neurosequential Model Symposium. The closing ceremony marks the end of three days of schedules packed with meetings and lectures, but, unlike your usual conference, the attendees part with a bittersweet air rather than the subdued relief usually present after completing three days of notes and discourse. Phone numbers are exchanged, meetups are planned, and chatter already bubbles with anticipation for the next symposium to roll around.
“This symposium is meant to inspire and restore all of us working to improve the lives of children and their families,” ChildTrauma Academy Executive Director Jana Rosenfelt said. First occurring in 2014, the biennial International Neurosequential Model Symposium spans numerous disciplines, including mental and public health, neuroscience, and juvenile justice. The fields unite under the umbrella of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, a “developmentally sensitive, neurobiology-informed approach to clinical problem solving” according to the ChildTrauma Academy. The three days spent nestled in the majestic peaks of Banff, Alberta, allow professionals from all around the world to play both student and teacher in the interest of leaving better equipped to spread successful practices in their own domains.
One of the finest traits that distinguishes the conference is just how much the delegates enjoy the time they spend at the symposium. “It’s nothing like your ordinary conference,” Rosenfelt comments on the amount of fun that permeates the event. Between seminars, attendees had the opportunity to view the spectacular scenery of the Alberta region, attend a yoga class, or even try their hand at rhythmic drumming. Despite hailing from all corners of the globe (visitors included people from Scandinavia, Australia, and South Africa), the attendees made dynamic connections. Language barriers and cultural differences were no match for their shared passion to better the lives of those affected by trauma.
Not only geographically diverse, the symposium also boasted a wide age range. The 12 NMT Student Ambassadors, ranging in age from 12 to 23, helped direct delegates to their workshops, cleaned conference rooms, and set up various events. Their primary task was to give a spoken introduction of each NMT Luminary Speaker. The job allowed the adolescents to dip their feet into the work of the ChildTrauma Academy. As kin of either operatives or attendees of the event, many already had a budding interest in clinical problem-solving.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” praised 16-year-old Sheridan Feucht, who has not only been a student ambassador for all three symposiums but has also produced artwork to accompany the event.
The student ambassadors even had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Bruce D. Perry, Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy and adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Author of the mental health staples The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Born of Love; Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered, the expertise and humor granted by Dr. Perry magnified the event.
A pivotal performance on the final day of the symposium was that of Jimmy Greene. A Grammy award nominee, Greene’s saxophone piece Beautiful Life celebrated his six-year-old daughter Ana Marquez Greene, who was killed on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. Delegates had the opportunity to listen to Greene perform work from his second album, Flowers, another collection honoring his daughter. The artist’s passion and raw emotion produced such an impact that there was not a dry eye in the room.
Greene’s performance is a beacon to the purpose of the conference. Delegates head for the hills of Canada not for desires of self-promotion or the center’s superior buffet (although the latter was certainly a mouthwatering benefit), but rather for the chance to make a change in society. The best minds of mental health unite for three days to navigate pathways in healing trauma and improving psychological function. In a divided world, the third International Neurosequential Model Symposium proved that our differences can only serve as an advantage when the common goal is supporting others.