Listen to a podcast about my work on a Korean radio show. I answer questions about historical trauma and its impact on the Korean psyche and child-rearing.Read More
Watch a new commercial for the Child Psychiatry division at Mount Sinai Health System that features the work of my Center.Read More
So, my trauma-recovered patient continues "wondering" around NYC, snapping pictures of its beauty.Read More
This is a redo of a training video on using compassion to motivate others.Read More
I work with a group of advocates who champion the cause of encouraging adoption of transition age youth. They go around the city talking to youth about holding on to the hope for unconditional family love and commitment, and they recruit parents to fulfill those dreams.
They hurt today when one young man in the audience despaired, “fuck family!”Read More
, a patient of mine comes out from under the dense fog of childhood traumaRead More
Ok, I wasted the weekend editing the Cardozo lecture so people can actually see the video and my talk at the same time. And I shrank it down to 35 minutes! I hope you enjoy it. I think it's kinda funny yet educational. After this talk, the NYC Dept of Education asked me to helped them improve youth development and school safety.Read More
Inside there is a link to a full day conference on the school to prison pipeline and my contribution to it.Read More
I received this plaque of appreciation while giving a keynote for a conference on runaway and homeless youth for the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development. It's more valuable to me than my diplomas. Those mark the development of my tools. This is what I've done with my tools: helping my dear city take care of its own staff and in turn take care of our children and families. What a blessing!
Today, a mother shared memories of being one of those little children who dallied walking to and fro from school, dreaming up fantastic elaborate worlds of little fairies hiding under blades of grass, building cities in piles of sidewalk snow. She was punished by her teachers for being so late, and now she worries that her own child will lose that precious imagination if labeled ADHD and medicated.Read More
I spent the day at a conference with panels and panels of renowned experts examining the nature of psychotherapy. These people have devoted their careers to understanding the process through which psychotherapy works. Yet, the discussion was leaving me bored and uninspired.Read More
I kinda helped open up a new mental health clinic in Flushing, NY. It's run by Korean Community Services of NY. I was brought onto the board to help them create it. We had our ribbon ceremony on Monday. The ceremony was covered by NY1 and The Korea Times. The new clinic is on the 2nd floor of this building in the picture. It's not the Head 2 Toe Spa, though it makes me think: that's not a bad business idea... therapy and pedicure all at once.
Though many therapists are trained to believe that they need to suppress or control feelings of anger, I think it is incredibly important to use them in therapy because they often reveal important patterns in the patient’s life--ghosts of relationships past. When these feelings go unexamined, they can harm the patient because they can slip out in hurtful ways. But, when examined, they can be some of the most healing moments in therapy.Read More
This post describes some heart warming events that happened when I visited a juvenile detention center last week.Read More
This post is about how a trauma-informed approach, at least the way I view it, might differ from standard clinical practice.Read More
While my colleagues do the smart thing of carefully crafting a response to the rising media attention on racial violence in our society, I thought I'd take the opposite approach and just blurt the first thing that erupts from my heart, in the spirit of hoping to engender discourse and not to be right but to strive for "right" together.Read More
My Center has been providing intensive training in trauma-informed practices using an abbreviated version of TARGET. We recently completed another day-long training for 75 officers and teachers in the adolescent unit. Here are some testimonials from those we've trained:
[The training] is not about talking to inmates it's about talking to yourself.
I've learned that I cannot always count on others to respect my feelings, even if I respect theirs. Being a good person doesn't guarantee that others will be good people too. You only have control over yourself and how you choose to be as a person.
[The training] is not about changing the world. It's about creating a space of consciousness.
I've met so many inspiring people working at Riker's to turn a life around and improve their communities. Even in the darkest places, people work to shine a light.
This was quickly written as a homework exercise, but i like the sentiment (even if I'll dislike the flourishes by the third re-read).
A trauma-informed child and family service system respects the dignity of all human beings and recognizes that people are always more than the worst thing they have ever done (paraphrasing Bryan Samuels) and that these "worst things" are often survival-based alarm reactions and adaptations to a world filled with threat and violence, inequity and oppression. It recognizes that the best way to combat the impact of trauma is to band together in a courageous belief in the possibility for healing and recovery. The system remains compassionately vigilant to the persistent and infectious nature of traumatic reactions and everyone's vulnerability to it. The system negotiates a balance of urgency and patience, righteous anger and forgiveness, sobriety and hope in spirals of progress buoyed only through our collective effort.
I was debriefing with a trainee about a therapy group we co-led. We were talking about how to feel comfortable in the chaos of the conversation. The trainee is used to having only delivered structured treatments in which each session is fully prescribed. I explained that to be comfortable in chaos, I work very hard to make sure each moment can be explained with some framework or another, the most important of which is to intensely track the process and trust that working in the here and now will always reverberate into the depths of the person’s psychic needs and issues.
So, what I really believe happens in therapy is that our past experience with primary caregivers leaves an indelible mark on our psyches in ways that most people don’t realize. It’s not as straightforward and obvious as “if you have been neglected in your life then you will fear being neglected again.” This much may be true. But, the interesting thing is what happens to your mind and how it plays out in the here and now.
Continuing with the example of neglect, the deeper thing that neglect does is to make it harder to know what one actually feels let alone express it. Neglect leads to feelings of loss, abandonment, rage and self-loathing all covered over with a patina of dissociation and apathy. In the dark recesses, the neglected person feels like they must not deserve to be loved. Whenever they need someone to comfort them, they shut that need down. As if they think (though never actually hear or realize), “Don’t ask for comfort. No one will comfort you anyway.” Or, “Who are you to deserve that?!” Rage at being abandoned is redirected to the self for needing others in the first place. “Why are you so weak, selfish and pathetic? You should be a better person. Don’t be a bother.”
Then, what happens in the here and now conversation is that the neglected person in some way checks out of the conversation. They can become vague or confusing, quiet or cliched—talking a lot without say much. The listener can feel lost or confused. The listener may also feel unimportant or invisible because suddenly the neglected person is lost in their own head and unaware of the listener. The listener can’t get a word in edge-wise or can’t get the neglected person’s attention. The neglected person has hidden themselves either explicitly or in subterfuge.
In these moments, the therapist tracking the here and now process can help the neglected person reclaim awareness of the given moment in a safe and tolerable way. The therapist can intervene in so many creative ways consistent with their own style and comfort level or in ways that are appropriate to the given moment or appropriate to the historical relationship with those in the conversation. The therapist can point out what they observe to be happening in the neglected person, in the listener or therapist, or between the participants. (e.g., “I notice that you suddenly changed the topic and began telling us a story that doesn’t seem to relate to the point” or “Hey, where’d you go? All of a sudden you seem to disappear”). They can simply break down what they saw unfold moment to moment, or invite participants to share how they are experiencing the moment (“I just noticed that when XX asked for an explanation YY moved on without answering the question. What happened?”). Once this space for experience and need is made, the therapist can help the neglected person express their need for comfort in an assertive way that implies, “I have hope that you may comfort me” and, as equally importantly, “I deserve to be comforted.” And, in these small moments, the neglected person is not neglected. And, the legacy of neglect is kneaded out.
Then, we do this again and again.