With all the data regarding physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and neglect which occur in home settings, it is easy to assume that anytime traumatic events occur, a family member is always the perpetrator. This is not true, and while over 40% of such events do occur within family settings, almost 60% do not. Those of us who are practitioners in the field of human services at any level must have compassion for families and provide them with the supports they need to deal with the after effects of traumatic events.
This blog entry is directed towards those families dealing with the effect of trauma on families, using the systems theory model developed by Murray Bowen to explain such dynamics. When families adopt a child who has a known history of trauma, that family will need to know that every member of the family will be affected by the after effects of trauma in some way. When the child “acts out” the internal stresses they feel, that behavior ripples through the family system, and sometimes rips the family system depending on the severity of the trauma and the behavior of the child. The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/ptsd-and-the-family.asp) is just one of the many sources of information on how trauma to one family member affects all family members. This web page does a great job of reviewing the stages of response of trauma victims, and ends by encouraging families to seek more information and indicating that classes in anger management, parenting, communication, etc. may be helpful.
Supporting families by empowering parents and caregivers with the knowledge and skills staff in residential treatment centers receive is one of the most important things to do. Countless families have told us that they want to do the right thing, but don’t know how. All of us who are parents know first hand the struggle to “do the right thing” when emotions such as fear, frustration, anxiety and tension come into play. When dealing with the effects of traumatic events, it is even more important to provide the emotional, psychological, and physical safety all people need. After a traumatic event, the need for safety at these levels is even more important, and even harder to give because people with trauma histories don’t know who to trust, and the only way they will trust people is if they “pass the test.”
Six years ago, Lisa Young contacted us and said she needed help. She was desperate, she said, because her son was traumatizing the family through his aggressive behavior. After discussions and dialogue, we agreed to teach her the Relational, Conceptual, and Technical portions of The Mandt System®, and her son tested her. His behavior became uncontrollable on two occasions. In a letter she wrote to us, she said “! It was a short rage, lasting only 47 minutes. The hold was held for only 1 minute 32 seconds until he began to deescalate. He and I were both worn out at that point. Exhausted, he went to his room to rest. After a few minutes I checked on him. Although drowsy he sat up and really looked into my eyes. He then said, “Wow mom, you handled me!” Then he hugged me and spoke for the first time the words, “I love you,” while keeping eye contact.”
Lisa passed the test.
We have heard similar stories from other parents and from staff in organizations working with children and adolescents. People with trauma histories won’t trust us until we pass the test. They will push and push and push, fearing that if they push hard enough, we will break our promises and violate their trust in the same way that others did before, when the original trauma occurred.
Families need to be equipped to pass the test. In our program, we give certified instructors permission to teach family members The Mandt System®, and have even re-written the non-physical chapters for families. Providing families with the same level of “sub-clinical” training, skills, and knowledge as staff in provider organizations have is a necessary and long overdue first step.
Bob Bowen CEO – The Mandt System