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Healing the healers

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FNHA's Healing Complex Trauma training program helps front line workers so they can more effectively support the clients they serve

Frontline workers supporting First Nations clients on their healing journeys often have a lot in common with the clients they serve. A shared history of Indian Residential School and the Sixties Scoop result in an invisible inheritance for both client and caregiver. Recognizing this fact, the FNHA is delivering two new trauma training programs for frontline mental health workers: the three-week intensive Healing Complex Trauma 1 (HCT1) and the three to five-day Brief Trauma Training (BTT).​

The learning in HCT1 has three main streams: (1.) the neurobiology of trauma and how trauma changes the brain (2.) group therapy, and (3.) integration through art therapy and movement. Sweat lodges and cultural brushings are also offered during the training.  BTT, being a brief overview of trauma offers: (1.) the neurobiology of trauma, (2.) implications for First Nations, and (3.) integration through art and/or movement to promote self-regulation.

"The information delivered through the HCT1 was very clear about the different things that cause complex trauma, how to overcome complex trauma, and in so doing, how to recognize it in others," says Joanne Lafferty, a Resolution Health Support Worker with the Indian Residential School Society and a participant in the intensive 3-week program.

Program participants experience their own healing by taking part in HCT1. "I was able to put a voice to my own historical, complex trauma – and release some of the negative energy and emotions," says Joanne. She recommends the 3-week program to all front line workers. "When we are working with people in community, if we haven't done our own work, how are we going to recognize trauma in others?" 

Frederick Johnson, an Elders Liaison from Esketemc First Nation, participated in HCT1 and realized that he'd been frozen for 55 years – because he'd kept everything inside. Now trauma is a topic that he can bring up. "The program was gentle and comforting. I wasn't re-traumatized. I didn't have to stand up and tell my story," says Frederick. "We used art therapy, prayer, ceremony. I shared my story through the pictures that I drew."

The intensive HCT1 is meant for people that work closely with clients, such as community health leads, addictions counsellors, cultural supports, and health directors. It's also for those who are interested in a more detailed understanding of neurobiology, somatic experiencing, and associated techniques. To date, HCT1 has been delivered to the Interior and Northern regions, and will be delivered to each of the other three regions this year. Each session accommodates 16 participants.

The Brief Trauma Training is for people who want to gain a basic understanding of trauma. Over 100 people have taken this training to date. It's been delivered to IRSSS agreement holders, two treatment centers, the FNHDA Board of Directors, and to Health Directors in the five regions.

Patricia Vickers, FNHA's Director, Mental Wellness Clinical Services, created the unique curriculum for both training programs in consultation with several professionals. Patricia is also one of the facilitators of the training workshops, along with two other psychotherapists and three other facilitators.

"We are not coming from a place of seeing the facilitators as being the experts, the ones who 'know'. All facilitators have experienced traumatic events and they are sharing what they've learned," says Patricia. "There is a really good dialogue that happens."

Those who do their personal work in HCT1 can begin to train to be program facilitators. FNHA's aim is to build capacity in the regions so that regional facilitators can host workshops for First Nations clients in their regions. Joanne Lafferty has moved on to become one of these facilitators.

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Facilitators from left to right: Joanne Lafferty, George Jeffrey, Patricia Vickers, Lois Hansen, Natashaa Chatterton, Dave Belleau

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