One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious... Carl Jung
Toxic stress doesn't occur just as a result of war, natural disaster, refugee migrations and other dramatic events. It shows up in people living with chronic poverty and unemployment. It shows up in juvenile detainees and in prison populations and, in general, contributes to anti-social behavior. It shows up in people who have witnessed violence or been the object of violence, domestic and street. It shows up in our Native American populations and it shows up in people with high risk-taking behaviors. It shows up in people who are admitted to emergency rooms and ICU's and it shows up in those who care for them. It shows up in fire department and police personnel. Chronic conditions or situations can put great stress and pressure on the individual over time.
Toxic stress occurs when an individual experiences a shocking incident or a series of events(s) that creates a stronger emotional reaction than the individual brain can process in the normal response sequence -- as a result of the stress hormones released, changes take place in the brain that function.
Symptoms of severe stress show up differently in children than adults. They may appear hyperactive, unmotivated, and chronically sad or, in general, identified as having learning and behavior problems. These children are often" scanners" and wrongfully identified as ADD or ADHD. Instead these "scanners" are asking with their behavior: "Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe?" These children may appear normal after what is categorized as a traumatizing event but their vital signs when taken over time may tell a different story. Bruce Perry MD director of the Child Traumatology Academy found in the Branch Dividian children. These children had been through experiences akin to war -- after a few days of quiet, they settled down and were playing normally again but when vital signs were taken, there was nothing normal about them.
Thanks to the ACE study done nearly twenty years ago ( 17,000 people participated) by doctors Robert Anda and Vincent Filetti, those of us in the field of traumatology have learned that adverse childhood experiences alone are ubiquitous in communities and thus, those doctors have shifted the focus from mental health bot Public Health. Because of the prevalence of toxic stress, we also know that the number of professionals trained to meet the needs of those suffering from it is limited; we do not expect this to improve a great deal in the short term. Ashlar programs have been developed to fill this need. We work to train lay traumatologists in arts driven remediation processes because we believe that many people, for a variety of reasons, are better served by their own community members than those outside.
Neuroscience teaches that toxic stress symptoms can be transmitted generationally which increases the urgency to remediate the symptoms as quickly as possible and provide communities with the information and skills to take care of themselves and each other.
Unresolved toxic stress underlies most addictions. And it is not too far-fetched to say that un-remediated toxic stress contributes to the lack of peace in the world. People tend to do to others what has happened to themselves or if they are more introverted, they will hurt themselves. At the very least we know that violence begets violence.
In the last decade, our understanding of toxic stress has undergone tremendous change. Neuroscience has been a large contributor to this change. Another shift came with the redefinition of PTSD to PTSI - Injury rather than Disorder. Charles Figley, PhD, founder of Green Cross Academy of Traumatology and a Vietnam veteran, says that in traumatic experience the brain is injured and thus changed. In the spring of 2009, Bessel van der Kolk, MD, international expert in traumatic stress, announced that traditional psychotherapy does not touch trauma. So, where do we look for models that resolve and reduce symptoms of traumatic stress?
At Ashlar, we use Client Centered Trauma Resolution methods which have to do with Deep Listening and other easily learned skills. We also integrate toxic stress resolution techniques in our Expressive Arts and Expressive Writing -- the latter's impact has been the focus of studies by James Pennebaker, PhD who was a first among other researchers, to demonstrate the efficacy of writing in remediating health issues, mental and physical. Like many others, we have also integrated techniques of Traumatic Incident Reduction and EFT. Studies have proven the efficacy of both.
All too often people from institutions come in to areas where untreated trauma is ubiquitous and attempt healing and even do for awhile -- but then leave and conditions all too often revert because the community hasn't "owned" the processes, added to or subtracted from them to make the processes their own -- individually adapted to the needs of their specific community. Additionally, in some communities those seeking "professional help" are stigmatized.
Thus, the focus of our training is grass roots. In the first phase participants will learn, experience and practice the skills involved in trauma resolution and have exposure to auxiliary processes that support brain healing -- like the calming breath or creating a Healing Pillar of Wham, Bam, Pow (a veteran's journey through PTSI and TBI in images). After completing our program, trainees will be equipped with information and techniques to begin facilitating trauma resolution as well as functioning as community educators – both remediation and education are equally important in the effort to understand the tremendous impact traumatic stress has and the frightening symptoms that it produces.
Our desire is to empower individuals and communities by creating self-generated, community based services out of shared knowledge and experience.
We have developed a process through which we can identify our own cultural biases in an on-going way which allows us to step beyond the ethnocentrism of the west that has monopolized and informed the field of trauma resolution for years and sometimes in ways that have proven deleterious.