Internationally renowned child trauma expert Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., is nothing if not passionate about his work. During two half-day symposiums, held April 12, 2017 at the PPA Event Center in Denver, Colo., capacity crowds totaling 300-plus child advocates listened intently to his remarks. Mount Saint Vincent organized and hosted the event.
Perry noted that as scientists have learned more about how the brain works, it has become increasingly clear that many traditional trauma treatment approaches that are highly verbal are not particularly effective when a person is disregulated, anxious, or overwhelmed.
“Trauma alters the systems in the lower parts of the brain that mediate the stress response,” Perry said. “These systems are much more likely to be responsive to things we refer to as somatosensory.” Perry noted that Mount Saint Vincent is stepping ahead of the traditional treatment model by focusing on activities that target the part of the brain impacted by trauma. Actions such as grooming a dog, going for a walk, dancing, or molding modeling clay can be beneficial. “Things that seem nontherapeutic in the conventional sense actually have tremendous therapeutic power when it comes to treating trauma,” he said.
Perry believes that the more “relational wealth” a child has in his or her life — recurring, positive interactions with family members, teachers, coaches, after-school care providers and others — the more likely the child is to recover. “Relational interactions make all the difference,” he said. “It’s the nature and the number of positive relational interactions you have that both protect you from present stressors and help you heal from past trauma.”
Perry is hopeful that the database of statistics his organization is compiling will be instrumental in affecting policy change. The ChildTrauma Academy’s massive database includes data from literally hundreds of clinical child trauma cases from organizations like Mount Saint Vincent worldwide. He believes the strength of being part of an international learning network is to accumulate data much more quickly and conduct research that will be crucial for changing public systems. “By being part of this network,” Perry said, “Mount Saint Vincent is part of a learning organization that’s transforming policy in countries all over the world.”