NEW ENGLAND SOCIETY FOR THE TREATMENT
OF TRAUMA AND DISSOCIATION
By Meredith Branagan, Member Service Director
With a fascinating program titled Identifying and Treating Internalized Oppression Mark Nickerson LICSW kicked off our 2020-2021 program year on Saturday, October 3. The day included a morning program which included about 100 attendees and an afternoon intensive with a smaller, more intimate audience. The Nickerson program begins what may be the most unique year in NESTTD’s history, as we move to a completely virtual platform for the first time.
While I know that our organization’s primary objective is to deliver to mental health clinicians substantive and affordable training relating to the treatment of trauma and dissociation, in my short tenure as Member Services Director I have witnessed a level of professional networking amongst our members that may be as, or even more, important than the training they receive. The hugs at the registration desk, the heads together at lunch, the heated discussions over coffee during program breaks, and the sincere warmth shared between our board members at our monthly meetings have impressed me as one of the great strengths of our organization. The virtual programs deny us the human presence so vital to our program, and that loss cannot be understated – NESTTD is its people, and the value of networking opportunities we’ve lost to the global pandemic is high.
What then of our 2020-2021 year? Should we bother? Are the virtual programs worth our time and expense? Our program with Mark Nickerson proved that the answer to those questions is most certainly yes! We had strong interest in both parts of the day, evidenced not only by strong attendance but by the active participation in which our registrants engaged. There were numerous provocative and well-thought out questions throughout the day. The smaller size of the afternoon session allowed for meaningful dialogue amongst participants. Our technical support minimized any limitations in technology and allowed for seamless inclusion of multi-media components which augmented and enhanced Mr. Nickerson’s well-researched presentation.
Of course, we all missed the delicious boxed lunches and coffee-break snacks, and all of those wonderful hugs, handshakes and hellos. However, I daresay no one missed the Route 128 traffic, we got to see each other’s faces without masks, and -- best of all -- not one of us was exposed to Covid-19. In my view, we are very fortunate to have this incredible technology available to us so that we can continue our important work during this challenging period in history.
We have much to accomplish this year as we begin on a path of becoming a truly anti-racist organization, now recognizing in a meaningful way the critical importance of addressing the trauma of racism not only within NESTTD but in the deeper context of our clinical work. We hope you’ll join us this year as we move forward with this critical work in the virtual environment.
Letter to Membership
This letter from the President, followed by Action Steps from Incoming and Outgoing Presidents, is one in a series of steps for NESTTD as an organization to begin more clearly stating allegiances, setting intentions and following through after my initial letter regarding the murder one month ago of George Floyd.
First, NESTTD stands in solidarity with Black Lives. I realize our actions have not yet demonstrated that, and there is much work to do to live that solidarity.
Although NESTTD has had goals as a board to diversify our board and committees, racially, ethnically, and age, for instance, there is far to go, and the reasons for that are many.
The organization been too silent, most notably recently, but truly all along. As President, I take responsibility for the silence. The silence also has many contributing roots. It certainly is one of my clearest personal struggles in life, even in areas that matter to me most. For that I apologize, as NESTTD deserves a clear voice all along in this important area.
I say it has other roots though, as I don’t believe the silence is limited to my personal challenges, or any individuals on the board. When I was studying Social Work at Boston University at the end of the last millennium, I read “Exclusion and Emphasis Reframed as a Matter of Ethics” by Jessica Henderson Daniels.
The takeaway as I recall, was that Daniels, the African American author, clearly spoke out to share the pain of what it is like to have read Trauma and Recovery, which included references to several great historical traumas, and not see featured the history and trauma of the African American experience of enslavement and its aftermath.
I am not speaking against anyone at all here, just to describe the history of erasure that our profession, and our particular area “trauma” was, 30 years ago, and is today, too likely to help participate in, just like so many institutions, despite no ill intent. We are embedded in the society that erases and invalidates. Even though we have all the tools to “step back” and see and “validate” trauma and recognize dissociation, we can be too likely to miss entire chapters.
It will be important to find a new way. The voices have been there. In our profession, Daniels wrote this response to one of our foundational documents in 1994.
Despite our embeddedness in a far-reaching system of white supremacy that is not limited to those with prejudice or ill intent, we likely have many skills to begin seeing and caring, should we choose again and again to do so. It will require some vigilance.
This embeddedness has come at a painful cost to some of our very own membership, and past participants.
I invite all the membership forward in the journey of continuing NESTTD’s important mission and doing so in a way that is fully aware of movement toward becoming a full and equitable community.
What are the steps? a Action Plan Statement from the Incoming and Outgoing Presidents
We have had discussions as a board, and have received suggestions from members of color and white members who are also passionate for change. Only a few of the potential detailed plans are included here, and instead are listed our broad outlines.
- We had planned to send a survey of membership out this week, and have just done so. We will use information from the survey in addition to the suggestions we have already received.
- We had planned to hire outside consultation to help us as a board work on areas of race and ethnicity, as doing some work on our own has not been successful. We have chosen a consultant, and are scheduling with her for our summer retreat. One of her stipulations is that ongoing work continue. We will continue. The plans we see today are likely to be affected by the work we do in consultation.
- We expect part of the work to include revisiting the mission statement of NESTTD.
- Our Racial Equity Committee has been formed and currently includes myself, incoming President Deborah Hughes, LICSW, current Secretary Carol Lambert, LICSW, and former President Barbara Phillips, PhD .
- We have added the Racism and Trauma tab to the website and have begun adding resources. More resources as well as organization of what is there is upcoming.
- We plan renewed dedication to looking at ways for our programming to reflect not only the needs of all clinicians in their work with clients of color, but also discern which presenters most clearly meet the needs of our membership and participants of color. We have made some past efforts in this regard for exciting speakers and are looking into the obstacles we encountered so we can address them and update.
- We have received dozens of suggestions regarding racial equity, all of which are helpful, and many of which could be acted upon. A couple of small things could be completed immediately, for instance add a race and ethnicity question to the survey to better discern needs. Most suggestions are more involved, and we will continue growing a plan which matches the resources of the organization, and the additional wisdom we gain through consultation and growth.
- We will report back on progress. The first report back will be from our incoming President Deborah Hughes, LICSW, sometime in early fall, when we will have had time to begin acting on learnings from our summer retreat. She will share what we have learned, how it has informed and refined our action items, and when to expect the next update from there.
As outgoing President and incoming Presidents (the terms change on July 1st) in making the actions item list above, we look forward in working with the NESTTD community in this important area of healing and growth.
Carolinda Sterczala, LICSW
Deborah Hughes, LICSW
President Elect, NESTTD
It is with many painful emotions that I write likely one of my last messages as President of NESTTD. More than once in my opening remarks I have mentioned the connection between our mission, related to trauma and dissociation, and noting (understatement) the trauma associated with racism in our country is profound, and the systematic dissociation involved with purposefully or casually “not knowing about it” among those with white privilege perpetuates the harm.
This week we all know about it. As a series of events unfold on camera, there is no hiding from the truth of how Ahmaud Arbery was hunted, of how Christian Cooper was swatted while birdwatching, and how George Floyd was killed while his killer looked squarely into the camera.
I write as a white female President of a largely white organization, and I may get some things wrong since I do not represent well enough our smaller contingent of therapists of color. I do intend to be speaking rather than silent, and would rather get it wrong than not get it at all. I care that you all are here with us, included, and cared for, although I primarily speak for myself here.
The camera offers us all horror, and makes it harder for white America as a whole to do what is so often done, to invalidate the story of the oppressed or murdered. Nevertheless the effort at invalidation continues unabated. What angle can be found by those in power to make the horrific events ok? High blood pressure? Trespassing? We know as trauma therapists all about the role of invalidation. Trauma itself is profound invalidation (and much more) and then is cemented into place by persistently invalidating environments. That white society often tries to tell black individuals how to understand their own stories, big or small, made it necessary long ago for Twitter for instance to have #believeBlackwomen and other hashtags of validating communities. This week, as in times past, the protests are focused on police brutality, and rightfully drawing our attention to one area that must be addressed consistently across our country. But we have been hearing, if we listen, to many additional areas of systemic inequity that must be addressed.
We have heard the outrage before about the gross injustice.
Some ask what can be done. While I personally don’t have all the answers (I offer this: link for one of many helpful lists intended for white people to learn more about what to do), I know that the first step is to fully validate the problem and to believe the people affected, just as we do in all our trauma work. By this I mean people in power, generally power structures set up and perpetuating white people’s safety, wealth and comfort at the expense of others. And for the people benefiting from that power structure to open their eyes as well. I mean people like myself need to fully believe the stories we hear, even when there is not a video camera, and take it as the real problem that it is.
What would be the sign we were doing that as a society?
We see how the country responded to the COVID 19 crisis, and in a period of weeks changed the way we did absolutely everything, because the stakes were high. Although we argue about whether we acted fast enough, and some argue about balancing high health stakes against high economic stakes, nearly everyone is taking the problem seriously right away because something about it threatened everyone. We validated the importance of action, whether with the shut-downs, or later with the importance of closing down streets so that restaurants could re-open with outdoor seating. This is what things look like when a society takes a problem seriously, and quickly. Not 400 years later.
Even with this, the knowledge of how COVID affects our people of color does not translate into the same level of emergency action. So while our overall response to COVID shows that society can change things when we find something important, there will still be a racial way in which that plays out, both on the health side and the economics side. Will this elicit an emergency response? We have seen the answer thus far.
So our society does know how to turn on a dime and address huge problems with it decides to open its eyes and see what is happening, and validate its importance. With the pandemic it required people to believe charts of exponential math, that 2 instances of disease were going to turn into hundreds of thousands in no time, difficult for many to comprehend. With racism we just need to believe the actual stories that people have been telling us all along, and reclaim the history that has been dissociated and “not known” in service of preserving power.
By Debbie Hughes, NESTTD President-Elect
I am not a blogger. Truth be told, the first time I used the term, I called it” Blotting” for which I was quickly corrected by my nearly 30 year old daughter, (with a kind but stern voice that sounded so much like my own!). “Mom, it is called “BloGGing and it is a great way to connect with people.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, our lives have changed dramatically. We all have had to alter our way of connecting in hopes to stop the spread of this terrible virus and to literally save lives.
To that end, it was no easy task for me, a “C-“ at best tech savvy person, to find new and creative ways to stay connected to my family, friends, patients, colleagues, etc. I have had to literally push myself to that edge of “The Window of Tolerance” in hopes that through Zoom, doxy.me or some other form of ethernet or cloud based system, I would be able to lessen my fears and anxieties.
And sure enough, through these pressured-filled weeks of confinement and restrictions but with much support from my “A+” tech savvy daughter, I have been able to not only “imagine” the welcome of a handshake and the comfort of a hug but to actually "feel" the connection with people. This felt connection was especially true for me yesterday after I attended NESTTD’s "drop-in" Coffee Times.
This being NESTTD’s very first virtual Coffee Times, my intent was to literally “drop-in” for a minute or two, say hello to only the few people I thought would be attending on a beautiful Saturday morning and leave myself enough time to “rush off” to another scheduled NESTTD Zoom meeting.
Well, that didn’t happen! Within minutes the number of participants located at the bottom of the Zoom screen went from 2-3 to over 20! Faces, some I knew, but most I had only “known” as I was checking their name off on a sign-in sheet at an "in person" NESTTD program, were neatly popping up on the side of my screen. Colleagues from agencies, private practices, newly “minted” and“seasoned” veterans came from near and far to Connect. And sure enough, we did!
In the time I was “there” (nearly an hour and from which I hated to leave) we shared resources, frustrations, personal fears and clinical uncertainties and triumphs. There was much laughter and yes, some tears.
I don’t know if/when I will BloT, oops, I mean BloG again but I do know, for me, yesterday's Coffee Times was a time of meaningful Connection. I will cherish the warm and comforting feelings it has given me at a time of so much distress. For this (and so much more) I am so appreciative of my colleagues on the Membership Committee of NESTTD to have made possible this means of Connecting .
Debbie Hughes, LICSW
by Carolinda Sterczala, MSW, LICSW, BCN
Letter from the President
The 2019-2020 season has been busy behind the scenes at NESTTD, so we’d like to take a moment to say hello to our membership and community.
Check out our New Website!
Good news… we have a new website! NESTTD now has a cleaner look responsive (mobile friendly) site. The board had fun voting on color palettes and font choices that are on the site and will more and more be reflected in our email and marketing materials. We partnered with Molly Dee LLC who likes working with non-profits in a way that promotes good stewardship of precious resources while still providing a high quality product and we couldn’t be more grateful.
Sooo Much of a Good Thing…
An extremely popular event brought new challenges, and new learning opportunities. The Dr. Janina Fisher workshop was attended by approximately 200 people even though there is parking for 140 at the museum, and lunch space for 150.
I need to thank our tireless volunteers, and our dedicated Member Services Director, for the absolute rush of work that went into pulling off that event, which went very smoothly! But for sure we were at capacity in some important ways that will help us plan for the future.
There is More to Do Regarding the Traumas and Dissociations around Racism and Sociocultural Contexts in our Organization
Our morning program with Dr. Usha Tummala-Narra on “Sociocultural Context and Traumatic Stress” was well attended, and is the second program in which the program committee directly answers our call for each committee to note that issues of racial and ethnic diversity need to be more actively addressed. We recognize that the traumas and dissociations around racism have often gone under-recognized and under-addressed in curriculums and practices and would like to counter that here. We recognize that while we have this aspiration, we are still an organization with a largely white audience and volunteer base, and the board continues to do its own work and look for opportunities for important structural changes. I am mentioning racial trauma specifically and on purpose, but the organization is aware of the intersectional aspects of identity and how care needs to be taken to respond to this in unfolding ways.
35 Years of NESTTD means 35 Years of Dedicated Volunteers
What NESTTD does in providing 35 years of training for the identification and treatment of complex trauma and dissociation is not possible without the dedicated work of many volunteers. Opportunities are available, from helping out on a one time basis to ongoing ways to ensure this work continues. Please see our About Us Page which has a list of committee chairs if you have any interest in finding out more. You are always more than welcome to contact me, our Committee Chairs, or our Nomination Chair.
Help Us Get the Word Out!!!
Please check our website for the upcoming schedule of events including ways to spread the word. Are your colleagues less familiar with Complex Trauma? Share this Fundamentals Registration Page about our annual event, this year on March 14th. We look forward to seeing you for our final All-Day Saturday event with Toni Herbine-Blank MS, RN on April 4th, and our Friday Afternoon Series event with Joanne Twombly, LICSW on Friday April 24th.
Thank you for your continued interest in and support of NESTTD!
by Gail Hardenbergh, LICSW
I was so settled in my ways. I knew pretty much everything I ever needed to know about being an effective therapist, didn’t I?
That’s what I thought 15 years ago when my dear friend filled my head with Modern Trauma Therapy Models during a walk around Walden Pond. “I’m good,” I said. I don’t need to learn anything new.
Fast forward to diving into the deep end of the pool - taking the IFS trainings, all 3 of them. I suppose I might have taken EMDR or Sensory Motor, but I stumbled upon IFS.
So what was it like being 50 and learning something new? AWKWARD!
I didn’t find the trainings too awkward, although some very shy people did. For me they turned into an unexpected pleasure. I moved pretty quickly from “I HAVE to" take a 6 weekend training to learn this to “I GET to” take a 6 weekend training.
Initially, bringing it back to the office, to existing clients, was awkward. I’d try something with them, box myself into a corner and then switch right back to my tried and true approach. Grrr. But over time and with consultation, that resolved.
Here’s what I discovered:
These modern trauma trainings embody their teachings. I was invited to process my experiences during the training to help me learn - both to see how to help my clients and to have a better life myself. Those are quite intertwined.
Modern trauma therapy clarifies diagnoses and also makes them less pathological, much less frightening. DID feels overwhelming and terrifying if I have no idea how to interact with someone who has it. These therapies teach a way into healing being allied with clients. Most of these models use the concept of Parts to bring to discussions with clients. It begins to feel natural, even friendly.
And that same notion of Parts applies to me too. Having Parts became normalized, not pathologized. We all have them. That’s just who we all are.
What an unexpected gift.
by Carolinda Sterczala, MSW
“You’re right!”… “I can see how you would feel that way”… As trauma therapists we soon learn that these are just starting points in validation. Some therapists make a study of validation. Linehan in “Validation and Psychotherapy” (1997) describes six kinds of validation including the two above so we can remind people they have a right to their own emotions, and they even make sense. I believe that I have become great at recognizing core emotions, validating them, and helping others hear the signal through the static of their own inner guidance.
What, in addition to our own emotions, can benefit from validation in the life of a trauma therapist? I can only speak for myself.
Even Janina Fisher Can’t Always Convince Her Settings that Dissociation Exists
It was surprising to me to recognize the validation I experienced when Janina Fisher, in a recent NESTTD workshop, described her past experience of not being taken seriously about witnessing clients’ dissociation at previous professional settings.
I had always imagined in settings where I had worked, if I had had a bit more clout, a different degree, a more forceful voice, then of course people would understand what we were witnessing before our own eyes (i.e. trauma and dissociation, when that fit).
Often in these settings I did have a fair amount of respect in that clients with multiple symptoms and a trauma history were often referred to me, they often improved, and people valued my work. When I would mention something about trauma and dissociation, with a smaller or larger audience, I just could rarely make much of a dent in inspiring others’ curiosity about something seemingly so important.
Who Knew It’s Not Just Me?
Who knew that even if I was Janina Fisher I wouldn’t have been allowed to talk about it?! This is really news to me.
I do imagine there are places where strides have been made, places beyond NESTTD and small specialty group practices where you can talk about what you see, and it adding to the conversation rather than sucking the air out of the room. (Do you know of those places? We would love to hear about them!)
Beyond therapy, I believe we can see the tendencies in society to acknowledge some things, and disavow others. Layers of dissociation, perhaps. Perhaps we as trauma therapists with our own NESTTD community have been working together to move forward anyway, to help make healing possible even when many situations require a bit of courage and special care.
I am certainly grateful for this community, for the learning, and also for the validation!
by Meredith Branagan, MBA
Welcome to our first blog of 2020! In the future, this space will offer insightful pieces about the latest issues and treatment methodologies in the areas of Trauma and Dissociation, but for this first blog, I’d like to tell you about a few of the amazing things I’ve noticed as I’ve completed my first six months as Member Services Director of NESTTD.
I came to NESTTD from Corporate America, where I spent 35 years crunching numbers and worrying about results. In business, most of the time the “mission” is always the same: the bottom line. There are always other pursuits, like innovation and philanthropy, but the most important goal for most corporations is to provide a healthy return to its shareholders. So it is a real treat for me to be working for an organization whose overriding goal is to enhance the careers of mental health professionals. I am thrilled to be working with an organization in which the bottom line is second on the list (or maybe even fourth or fifth). Our goals include:
Providing professionals who treat traumatic stress, complex trauma, and the dissociative disorders with highly collegial, affordable training from professionals at the top of this rapidly expanding field of treatment.
Serving as a networking group in which clinicians can learn from their peers while educating them in their own field of expertise
Offering resources to patients and providers alike, including referrals.
Assisting clinicians in reaching their Continuing Education goals.
Hmmm…maybe that bottom line just fell to fifth or sixth on the list. Or maybe it’s not on the list at all.
When I came to NESTTD, I came from a company with 100,000+ employees to an organization of, well, one employee: me! If you can believe it, the multitude of people who have kept this organization going for 35+ years are volunteers! When you think of volunteers, you might think of the teenagers sloshing suds on cars for band camp, the nice lady who brings you newspapers in the hospital, or maybe the room mothers who ran your child’s school field trips. While those people are all great, our leadership team takes volunteering to a whole new level. Our volunteers:
Identify experts in the fields of Trauma and Dissociation, and convince them to share their knowledge with us
Locate ideal venues and organize audiovisual needs, catering, and even transportation
Drive membership through networking events
Serve as web designers
Manage budgets and accounting statements
Ensure compliance with a host of legal requirements and regulations
….and do a million other things I’ve either forgotten or haven’t seen yet. They do all this while running busy practices, while working in agencies, while providing services in hospitals, and while being parents, caretakers and spouses. Honestly sometimes I get tired just watching them! We are truly fortunate to have such a dedicated group of professionals donating their time and talents to our cause
Anyone who’s visited our website in the past probably has appreciated its modern style, its brief but to the point content, its adaptability to all devices and the ease of navigation, right? Well….maybe not. Maybe not until now that is! If you haven’t had a chance yet, look around our site – on your laptop, on your phone, and on your tablet. What have we done?
Created a more appealing look and feel
Streamlined our current content and will be adding new material, like regular blogs!
Made our site intuitive and easy to navigate
Improved visibility on all devices, including phones and tablets
We haven’t taken anything away: the members only area, the program signup capability, info on our programs and presenters, event the Refer-A-Therapist section are all still there. Everything just looks better and is easier to find. Having said that, can we do better? We’d love your feedback on our new design! Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you think.
These are just a few of the great things I’ve noticed about NESTTD over the past six months. I promise all of our blogs won’t usually be all about us, but I just had to share my first impressions. Keep watching this space for interesting and original content. If you’re a member and would like to write a blog, please let us know. And if you’re not quite brave enough to take pen in hand, send us your ideas!