Oprah touts healing through relationship

When the Guru Oprah touts her latest report for 60 Minutes as a “game changer,” you sit up a take notice. When that report is about childhood trauma, healing through relationship and features a Therapy Guru who influences one’s daily pediatric work, you write a blog post about it!

Oprah touts healing through relationship.

Healing children through relationship

Oprah’s report featured the research of Dr. Bruce Perry, the founder of the Child Trauma Academy, and who pioneered the approach of healing children from trauma by using relationship.

Insight from a Calgary-based behaviour therapist

Sarah McMillen is a Calgary-based Behaviour Specialist with 20 years experience. Currently, she is a consultant with children aged 18 months to 13 years old who experience behaviour issues. She is a graduate of the International Neurosequential Symposium, created and led by Dr. Perry. Here’s what she had to say:

Question: You took Dr. Bruce Perry’s course back in 2014, before these theories hit the mainstream. What was your main motivation to take the course? 

Answer: Reading Perry’s book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, which is based on case studies from his practice as a young psychiatrist, changed my entire view of my job and the individuals in my service. Perry’s model, based on attachment theory, made so much sense. Instead of treating labels, such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, he encourages looking at the root cause similar to those experiencing challenges with behaviour. In most cases, this is childhood trauma. Traumatic experiences have interrupted the normal development of a healthy brain, resulting in a child who demonstrates a range of confusing behaviours. In short, trauma is more important than any label.

Question: How has your education under Dr. Perry changed the way you work? What specific problems has it solved?

Answer:  My work with families is the biggest change. Now, I start by teaching parents that their child’s state of mind is something to be worked through, instead of just a problem, obstacle or pure defiance. This can be delicate work with families; approach is everything. I’ve become better at helping families focus on moving forward and making sure it isn’t about blame. I also help normalize past traumas and challenging upbringings that a parent may have experienced. Psychology and psychiatry are still new fields of study, so I don’t want parents to blame themselves for what they didn’t know then and just guide them to new learning.

Question: What are the top 3 takeaways for parents that you learned under Dr. Perry’s direction? 

Answer: Just three? But, I love this topic and could talk about it for hours! The summary is really how to use relationship to heal behaviour.

  1. Safety – Being a “nice” parent isn’t as helpful as being a consistent parent with firm boundaries. Be the safe place to land. Insecurity and chaos causes more distrust in a relationship and a child can’t function in this type of environment. Who can learn when they are in constant fight or flight?
  2. Time – Put down the phone and spend quality time with your child, at least 2-3 times a day. Let the child guide and do what interests them. Learn to give positive or neutral feedback during this time, instead of constant correction. “You should always share your LEGO with your little brother” is negative. More positively, you can say “I’m going to share this LEGO piece with your brother.”  If you are expecting the child to do something, don’t correct it, model it. For a teen who doesn’t want to participate, you’ve got to get creative. Teens are tricky! Happily, there’s lots of time to be the chauffeur and use that quality time on a drive. Don’t ask questions, just share information. “I had the weirdest thing happen today…” can bring out more back and forth conversation than just “What did you do today?” And, don’t panic. If no one talks, that’s fine too. The shared space is still therapeutic.
  3. Be a positive role model – No one likes to hang out with negative people, but parents can so easily forget that. Be a person your child wants to hang out with.

Question: Lastly, if you could ask Oprah to do one great thing with her newfound knowledge of trauma-informed care, to help children and families, what would it be?

Answer: I would ask Oprah to throw her power, money and influence into making sure that we are using trauma informed care in ALL levels of human services. Adult health and education don’t exist in a bubble. For example, take the current opioid crisis. Right now, we observe addiction as a behavioural problem. We say “these people are in control of themselves and choose to make the wrong choice”. We need to switch to a trauma informed lens, where we see instead someone who likely experienced trauma and missed a critical building block of their learning. I’d ask Oprah to reinforce, instead of blaming people for behaviours, what can we do to support and teach them.

Thank you, Sarah for your enthusiasm and insight.  Any questions for Sarah or thoughts on how to implement this in your homes? We’d love to hear from you below.