When a person is involved in a traumatic event, like a car crash, a team of surgeons work to fix the physical damage that may have been caused. But how is the emotional and mental damage caused by the event resolved? Scott Carlson, a mental health professional and Director of Heartland School says that like any other wound left untreated, trauma will continue to fester in a person and can show up in acting out behaviors like ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder, or depression.
“Trauma is a hidden wound that is not easily identified. People know something is wrong, but don’t know how to articulate what. People try to numb the pain with additive agents like drugs and alcohol, which might reduce the reactions, but will never treat the trauma,” Carlson said. “I am passionate about making sure there are accurate diagnostics and ability for mental health professionals and other people who are in helping professions to find trauma and then treat it effectively.”
Carlson, a certified trauma specialist and Deana Peterson, Ph.D. who work together at TeOusia Life Center, using a researched based program from The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, where Carlson trained, recently conducted an Adult Trauma Group pilot program with the Adult Women’s Probation group in Douglas County to help women identify trauma and work to relieve the pain.
Carlson explains that people who have experienced trauma have intrusive thoughts about the event that can affect them throughout the day and night. The intrusive thoughts not only cause the individuals discomfort, but limits their ability to concentrate or enjoy life. Using a combination of talk therapy and art therapy, through the trauma program, the daily intrusive thoughts are eventually slowed.
“What we have learned is that talk therapy alone does not do enough to address trauma. You have to access the emotional side of the brain, which is also were the creative and expressive part is. We go into the memory, we set it up with a lot of preparatory stuff, and then use coloring and pictures to dislodge the trauma,” Carlson said. “This form of expressive therapy can get resistance, especially from adults who think it’s stupid, but once they open their minds to it, they immediately see the benefit.”
The specialized, 9-week program is free to individuals who volunteer to attend. Using the art therapy approach, which is just as effective with adults as children, the Adult Trauma Group pilot found that over time data showed that those in the program were helped. Of the 12 women who started the program, four completed it and reported feeling better saying they were glad they did it.
“It was hard work, but they are different ladies now,” Carlson said. “The ladies who completed the pilot group will be speaking with individuals to share how the process has helped them and to try and encourage others to participate in the program.”
Due to the progress and success of pilot program, three more groups for Adult Women’s Probation will be offered this year with the next program starting at the end of August.
In addition to his work with the Adult Women’s Probation program, Carlson is also bringing trauma informed care to Omaha schools through the Trauma and Learning Task Force. In an effort to inform special education directors about how to identify students who may be dealing with a traumatic event, and then how to find treatment, Carlson has been meeting with special education directors from various school districts and mental health professionals to share knowledge and develop a plan for addressing trauma in students.
“If there’s a traumatizing incident in a young person, it will show up in behavior, it will show up in the inability to concentrate, in lagging IQ performance, and even poor grades. So when those things show up, a student may get labeled with a behavioral disorder, which may be misdiagnosed trauma and then we mistreat it. So for a long time these kids act out and never get the help they really need,” Carlson said. “My goal was to inform Special Ed Directors about trauma informed care and then number two collectively try to set up a metro area group that would continue to figure out how to best diagnose and inform medical professionals then set up treatment places for all schools to use for students.” The Trauma and Learning Task Force will finish up its fourth meeting of the summer the last week in July and will then begin work on building an action plan.
To learn more about trauma informed care, the Adult Trauma Group for adult women’s probation or the Trauma and Learning Task Force, contact Scott Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org.