Echo Parenting & Education rides the trauma wave

Changing the Paradigm keynote speakers Dr. Janina Fisher and Ruth Beaglehole, Founder of Echo Parenting & Education

Sometimes we don’t notice when history is being made. We ride a wave of logical progression and don’t even notice when it peaks – that snapshot moment when we are lifted, arms outstretched, into the waiting air and remain suspended for one glorious second before the wave breaks and pushes powerfully to shore.

What the heck am I talking about? Our Changing the Paradigm conference. Last month, 120 participants, 22 speakers and a slew of volunteers gathered at The California Endowment for our two-day conference on developmental trauma. Everything went off perfectly. The evaluations were glowing (apart from the person who wanted avocado on the lunchtime sandwiches – I guess you can’t please everyone). But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some of the speakers had to say:

“It was a deep honor and a pleasure to be part of such a wonderful and inspiring exchange of hearts, minds

and souls. You gave me and so many of us the opportunity to increase understanding about the critical topic of trauma, especially as it relates to children and nonviolence. The conference really called on its attendees to take bold action, and I hope that we, as speakers provided some tools to continue the work of healing trauma and ending the cycle of violence that perpetrates and perpetuates developmental trauma.” — Melissa Susman, therapist.

Echo staff member Jessica LeTarte greets speakers Peggie Reyna and Laura Ripplinger, Peace Over Violence.

“Congratulations to your amazing team! We learned, we cried, we healed, we cheered, and left inspired by the community of people at the center of this movement! Thank you for letting us be a part of it. We are already looking forward to next year!” — Olivia Piacenza, A Window Between Worlds.

“I have presented at many, many… maybe too many (!) conferences over the years, and NEVER have I felt so well taken care of… from beginning to end. While I hadn’t much of a clue, when first invited to present, about the audience and what Echo Parenting was about, I do now and it is a fabulously meaningful and worthwhile effort that you have undertaken. I applaud you and admire all that you represent. Thank you for asking me to be one cog in a magnificent wheel for change for children and for their parents.” — Beth Kalish, LAISPS – Infant, Early Childhood, & Parent Psychotherapy Program.

Registration. Volunteer Gentre Thomsen, Echo’s David Gomez, volunteer James Encinas and volunteer Ariane Simard

And the history-making part? I guess I didn’t realize that until we attended The California Endowment conference on resilience  on March 17. Bob Ross, president and chief executive officer of the California Endowment, reaffirmed our belief that trauma was an issue whose time had come, an issue that underlies all other aspects of public health. The other speakers reiterated themes we had explored in depth at the Changing the Paradigm conference two weeks prior: neurobiology of trauma (check), the CDC’s ACE Study (been there, done that in 2013 with our keynote speaker, Dr. Vincent Felitti, one of the co-founders of the study), the need for trauma-informed schools (we actually provide ongoing trainings for teachers) and the importance of a safe, stable nurturing caregiver in the home (exactly!). Clearly we’re ahead of the curve here.

One of the presenters talked about the benefit of transcendental meditation. I practice yoga, a moving meditation, and wholly agree that self-regulation of any kind is important to create resilience. Only the video of all these traumatized people with their eyes closed, finding an oasis of calm, had the opposite effect on me: I started to fidget in my seat. You see, I get worried when the discussion about resilience supersedes the discussion about prevention. A member of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office sitting next to me whispered: “What about the children you have to send back into an abusive home?”

“Yeah!” I replied. “Meditate your way out of that!”

So I’m saying we made history because, to the best of our knowledge, the Changing the Paradigm conference was the first attempt to assemble experts on developmental trauma with the purpose of bringing  knowledge to practitioners – family service providers, domestic violence shelter workers, and mental health professionals.

Where we stand out from many other trauma waves that are currently building momentum is that we are not content to guard against retraumatization or to focus on repairing trauma damage; we dare to believe we can actually impact some of the root causes. And if you look at the ACE Study, those root causes are occurring within the context of the primary caregiving relationship.

Nonviolent child raising is not just about not hitting children. We believe violence to be anything that harms the mind, body or emotions of a child. So if a child is craving connection and he is sent to the ‘naughty chair’ or is put in time out, that too is violence. Nonviolent child raising can create the safe, stable, nurturing relationship children need for optimal development, providing not only tools for grounding and regulation, but also the tools for empathic connection – not something that many of us inherited from our own upbringing. And when we have that kind of child raising happening, we are safeguarding children from the most harmful part of developmental trauma – disrupted attachment.

No, we can’t stop natural disasters or even the violence that surrounds us from sometimes invading our homes and our families, but we can create the kind of relationships with children that will help them navigate future traumas because they know what it is to feel safe and to feel loved.

“Life can only be understood backwards,” said the famous philosopher, Soren Kierkegard. So, too, is history in the making. And the folks at Echo hope you will join us in riding our particular history-making wave all the way to the shore.

Diana Ayala and Louise Godbold, co-executive directors, Echo Parenting & Education)



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