PTSC Family Tree: A collective creation presented to Dr. Johnson and Dr. Lubin during the 20th Anniversary event. (To the left)
A Special Evening Reception and Ceremony was held April 21 to recognize the Center’s 20 years of existence. In January, 1997, Drs. Johnson and Lubin moved from the V.A. Medical Center to create the Post Traumatic Stress Center. Over 40 current and former staff and trainees attended, reminiscing and catching up on careers and personal lives.
The Center opened in January, 1997 as a group practice, then transformed into a clinic in 2001, and gradually expanded in size and scope, adding a strong drama therapy component beginning in 2006 and then developing the ALIVE school-based program after 2008. The Center began upstairs but gradually took over the whole Firehouse 19 building, and last year expanded to 18 Nash Street. The beam from the north tower of the World Trade Center was dedicated in 2004 in the outside planter. The Center’s model of Trauma Centered Psychotherapy was disseminated in 2006 with Trauma Centered Group Psychotherapy with Women (Francis & Taylor) and in 2015 with Principles and Techniques of Trauma Centered Psychotherapy (American Psychiatric Publishing), which has brought the Center national attention.
Psychologists, nurse practitioners, drama therapists, social workers, community mentors, administrative personnel, and international trainees were all represented. Early clinicians such as psychologist Barbara Greenspan, long-time staff such as nurse practitioner Kristin Hale, and just arrived staff such as drama therapist Alicia Stephen mixed and shared perspectives on the Center’s growth and transformation over the years.
Dr. Johnson, who had arrived in the building in 1982 to establish his private practice, mused, “It is gratifying that the Center has been able to adapt to large shifts in mental health care while preserving our commitment to the treatment of trauma and the training of multiple generations of clinicians, 150 in total over the years.”
Joyce Vollero, who has been the Center’s business manager since 2003, commented, “I am still amazed at all the changes that have occurred in the practice, in the building, in the staff! But there has been no change in the dedication of the staff to work as hard as they can to address the pain and suffering of our clients. That has always been the primary goal of the Center, and I know it will continue to be!”
The ALIVE program has been successfully implemented at Gateway Community College, widening our reach from kindergarten to college. By extending our work to the community college we are able to be available to both our high school graduates and new students who are dealing with high stress that stands in the way of their success. We knew our job was incomplete if we withdrew our support at this critical transition, as our youth are embarking on launching their professional lives. We hope to be able to increase our presence at the college and to provide a path for those students who may want to give back to the community through involvement in ALIVE.
As part of this initiative our staff, Stephanie Kilpatrick and Lizzie McAdam, strategically placed themselves in areas where they would be visibly available and accessible, outside of large lecture halls, or near common areas, for example. They said that one of the big differences between reaching kids in high school versus in college was that the students themselves have to take more initiative to get the help they need. Lizzie commented, “There’s a lot of stigma around it, which gets in the way of students asking for help.” Stephanie said that one of the students she worked with this year did not even recognize that they had been through anything traumatic, even though they had experienced significant loss and abuse, but that eventually they were able to make some meaningful connections. Both clinicians said that one of the goals for next year is to follow students from the high schools with whom they have already developed relationships. They also hope that students will refer each other out of care and consideration for their friends.
Stephanie said she saw the trauma impacting students' abilities to focus on school. She said, “They continue to have exposure to gun violence, gang involvement, expectations to pay bills for their house, pressure to just get a job instead of getting a further degree, responsibilities to take care of other people including other kids in the household, and on top of all that, they have their school work and grades to worry about.” We are hoping to gradually expand our services to the Gateway community.
One criteria of PTSD is avoidance of reminders of the trauma. Many traumas are associated with a specific time of year. Unfortunately, dates on the calendar are unavoidable. Anniversaries are ripe for rising feelings of not being able to control things in your life. Anticipatory anxiety can also be difficult to manage during the days leading up.
Since days of the year cannot be changed or avoided, your tendency might be to act on feelings of anger and helplessness. This might play out in relationships, or make you want to stay in bed, not leave the house, engage in self-harm, rely on drugs and alcohol, or use other maladaptive coping mechanisms to suppress anxiety or emotions related to the event. Sometimes these coping mechanisms lead to re-enactments of the original trauma, which can reinforce the idea that nothing is ever going to change or that bad things will just keep happening! The desire to avoid might also be compounded by an anniversary that coincides with expectations that you appear to be happy, or social, or to partake in other cultural rituals like birthday parties or holiday celebrations.
As tempting as it might be to avoid life, avoid people, or avoid therapy when reminders of the pain are present on any particular day, these reminders are opportunities to have feelings and ask for support. Knowing what times of year or what dates are difficult and talking to a clinician about what happened on those days can help you prepare for and reduce heightened anxiety and depression. Creative expression, like artmaking or writing, can help release some of the tension. Ritualizing or memorializing personal transformation can help redefine the meaning of a particular date or event. If you are employed, and can take time off, pre-empting periods of increased anxiety by organizing vacation days around that time can be helpful. Most importantly, attributing the reason for increased feelings of anger, sadness, or shame to the original experience of pain and horror in the past, rather than to your current circumstances, will help preserve and protect current relationships.
Anniversaries can be hard, but today is not the same as yesterday.
Cat Davis, MA, RDT Director of ALIVE
Cat has been at the PTSC since 2012. She began as a Drama Therapy Intern and is now the Director of the ALIVE program. She oversees and manages the program in Connecticut and Minnesota. She is responsible for training and supervising the ALIVE counselors, sees students in the schools, and facilitates professional development seminars through the Child Health and Development Institute. She also sees clients as well.
In talking with her about how she does it all, she said that she has seen the benefits of therapy by working with clients and wanted to be involved with spreading that to the schools. It energizes her to see change happen. She appreciates the straight forward approach of talking about trauma with students, staff, administration, and superintendents and its effect on healing. She believes in the program and knows that talking about difficult things is necessary in order to overcome them.
When working with her staff she said that she hopes to inspire them to grow and stay passionate about our mission. She wants to spread the word to other schools and systems. She stated that while she never planned to become the director of the ALIVE program, when the opportunity presented itself she was happy to take it on. She is grateful for the training she received at the Center and aspires to keep the program growing.
Where are they now?
Spreading the Word About
Licia was one of the first international residents who came to the Post Traumatic Stress Center back in 2013. While at the center she received trauma training, drama therapy training, and school-based experience. After her time here she expressed that being able to play with kids in the schools was an intense, valuable, and beautiful experience. When asked what the residency was like, she said, “It was the opportunity of a life time!"
Licia said that while she was at the center she learned a lot about herself. “I’m trying to give other people the possibility to learn how to deal with the instabilities of life,” she said. Since she left our center, she started working at a residential youth care center for rehabilitation treatment. She has been using the skills and trauma training that she received while being here to support young people, aged 12 to 18, who have high emotional needs. Licia has also continued her drama therapy training in the Netherlands. Her advice for future residents is, “Keep a diary for yourself and note everything down that you think is important. Make the best out of it. Remind yourself that it is a relatively short period, so give all you have and ask all the questions you have.”
Photo: Licia currently lives in the small town of Elst, Gelderland, in the Netherlands with her daughter, shown above, and her partner.