The violence in the United States this past month has brought up raw emotions in all of us. The killing of Asian seniors as they were worshipping in their church, African-American elders as they went about their everyday tasks such as shopping for groceries, and the violent deaths of 19 small children with their two teachers who came to their elementary classrooms for a day of learning—all of this leaves us in a state of deep grief and pain. For some, this might elicit feelings of fear, anger, rage, sadness, numbness, or even resentment. For others, this may invoke a renewed determination to try and make the world a better place. But for most, this might be the ultimate point of exhaustion.
On today’s podcast, trauma expert, licensed social worker, the Co-Director of Outpatient Services at NFI, Vermont, and a previous fellow at ChildTrauma Academy (CTA), Dave Melnick, discusses the impact of developmental trauma on childhood learning and the distinction between trauma-informed and trauma-transformed schools. Helping children cope with childhood traumas and setbacks requires effortful redirection and educators as well as leaders must cultivate this deep and wide knowledge to help build better schools.
About Dave Melnick
Dave Melnick, LICSW is the Co-Director of Outpatient Services at NFI, Vermont, a statewide mental health agency primarily serving children, adolescents and families. For the past 35 years, Dave has worked in a variety of settings including outpatient, residential treatment, and in public and day treatment schools. Along with his focus on Developmental Trauma, Dave has expertise in family therapy, adolescence, attachment, Reflective Practices, and Trauma-informed Systems. He is trained in EMDR, DDP, and a variety of family systems models. In 2015, the ChildTrauma Academy (CTA) acknowledged that Dave had completed NMT Training Certification through the Phase II level, and between 2017-2021 he was a Fellow at the CTA.
Dave received his master’s in social welfare from UC Berkeley in 1988 and is licensed in both the state of Vermont and New York as a clinical social worker. Dave teaches graduate classes for the Vermont Higher Education Collaboration, and is a presenter and consultant in Vermont, New York and Canada.
Course: Transforming Trauma (Level 1): The School as a Healing Community | VT-HEC
About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.
Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath. I believe that when we think about managing life managing goals, we also have to manage our emotions. But most importantly, we have to manage our relationships. And in difficult times, managing anything is hard. But particularly when we face the world with so many challenges and and sad news and catastrophic events that where people have been harmed. It's even a greater challenge. How do we reconcile with what's happening in the world while continue to seek safety? You know, last month was a mental health awareness month and also happened to be end of the school year, for most of our students and teachers. Many had gathered together with their families and friends to celebrate the graduating class of 2022. But also happen to be the particularly the last week of may happen to be a tremendously sad event. The violence in the United States this month has last month and I hope not accidentally I'm saying this month but has brought out all kinds of raw emotions in all of us, the killing of Asian seniors as they were worshipping in their church, African American American elders as they went about their everyday chore of grocery shopping. And in addition, the violent death of 19 small children with their two teachers who came to their elementary classroom for a day of learning with all that it leaves us in a state of deep grief and pain. For some, this may elicit feelings of fear, anger, rage, sadness, numbness or even resentment. For others, this may invoke a renewed a determination to try and make the world a better place. But for most, particularly after repeated events that we are encountering, we are just simply integrate ultimate point of exhaustion. So the question is, how do we find power? What do we make of it? And people come with various levels of knowledge and expertise. That means some are experts in you know, treating people with trauma versus some people are just humans who have experienced a lot of trauma. And as we talk about executive function, you really cannot think about managing without really living in spaces where life meets life, which is a great source of friction. So that's why it's such a great pleasure and joy to have this incredible, incredible expert and a phenomenal therapist, a healer, an educator as well as an insightful human who I think we all need in our lives. It's my guest, Dave Melnick, he is an LICSW, which is a licensed mental health provider, a social worker and is the co director of outpatient service at MFI in Vermont. It's a statewide mental health agency primarily serving children, adolescents and families. For past 35 years, Dave has worked in a variety of settings, including outpatient residential treatment, and public as well as their treatment schools, along with his focus on developmental trauma. Dave has expertise in family therapy, adolescents attachment, reflective practices and trauma informed systems. I had the privilege of listening to him and his perspective in one of the conferences a couple of years ago when we both co presented but one thing that spoke to my heart is it's not like a little silo where you put a child and or an adolescent and adults Oh, you had trauma go there. I think it has become a ubiquitous human experience in 21st century and his work more than ever is most relevant, important and valuable. Dave, in closing teachers graduate classes for the Vermont higher education collaboration and is a presenter and consultant in Vermont, New York and Canada. Welcome to the podcast. How are you Dave?
Dave Melnick: I'm really well thanks for all that and I particularly as a social worker, very much appreciate the context that you provided that one of the things that we social workers study a lot is context and and ecological approach, and that by naming some of the painful heartbreaking experiences that we have had in our country in the last month in particular, really provides the appropriate yet painful backdrop to some.
Sucheta Kamath: I really hope so. And to begin with, you know, I had an very interesting guest, who was an anthropologist, and he wrote a book called Nobody's Normal. Roy Grinker is his name. And one thing that I learned from there, that the cultural tendency to form groups like normal, not normal. And when we think about life experiences, anything that caused obstacles, grief, or sorrow, or deep pain, we used to write books about it, or people like Shakespeare wrote books about it. And now we find that in last 150 years, as psychology has evolved, we are trying to help people reconcile with their life experiences and yet heal and move forward with great resilience. So my first question is, should we really? How should we think about trauma? Or how do you define trauma? And secondly, is it what is considered traumatic experience? Losing a parent is traumatic or having something or just having life difficulties is traumatic? So it'd be really helpful for people to understand that framework?
Dave Melnick: Yes. So I'll give a standard definition of what trauma is, by standard, there's lots of different definitions, I'll use the one that is common in, in mental health. And I'll break it down maybe into two or three different parts of the of the definition. And I'll say, you know, as a precursor to that, that all trauma is stressful. Yes, stress is traumatizing. And that's sometimes in the common language in the common TV media discourse between human beings. People use the word trauma when they really mean stressful, or crisis even. So I'll try to break that down a little bit. But basically, three part definition is what a trauma is, is either a sudden, unpredictable event or events, or relentless and immersive events, that, that have a biological impact your body and overwhelm your ability to cope. So the three parts are it's an event or events or could be relentless, I'll break that down a little bit further, that impacts your body in order for something to be traumatizing, and ultimately has to impact your body. And that the third part of the definition is that it overwhelms your ability to cope, you can have a terrible event and even a traumatic event. But it won't store or have long term effects if it doesn't overwhelm your ability to cope. So I'm going to separate between what a trauma is, which is what what I, what I really just defined was traumatic stress. Because in order for somebody to be traumatic in a clinical term or clinical way, it has to overwhelm your ability to cope, that means it's going to have long local, lasting effect. The first part of the definition, you can be traumatized, certainly by a car accident by a physical assault of sexual assault, by exposure to domestic violence. You can also be traumatized by immersive and relentless experiences like being black or brown in the United States being in the queer community in the United States, being a person with a disability. So those are just different in some ways, from the way that we've thought about trauma as these events that can perpetrated versus something that is kind of woven into the fabric of our culture. So either are true and either can be traumatizing. Second part of the definition is that the trauma is going to impact your body that on a fundamental level, it's going to have physiological neurobiological neurodevelopmental impact, particularly with the kids and families that I work with where a lot of the trauma exposure is initiated early in their lives, sometimes even before they're born. And then the last part, this idea that it's going to have long lasting, it's going to overwhelm your ability to cope. Largely what that means is that what 27 year old can cope with might be very different and is often different than what a three year old. There's a lot of overlap between what might be traumatizing for everybody. physical assault is likely to be traumatizing for most people versus certain events that might be surely traumatizing for an infant or young child and may not necessarily be traumatizing for for an adult with lots of capacities in coping skills. And then a fourth consideration is that we tend to think about trauma and its impact as having broad reaching comprehensive potential effect, particularly when it's early. And frequently, we use a an acronym BETA, B-E-T-A. And what the acronym stands for is think about trauma as a Biological body experience. Think about an E as an Emotional experience, it has impact on how you feel about the world and about relationships. The T stands for thinking and cognitive ability, we know that with more trauma exposure, likely comes more cognitive impact in terms of the way you think how you think. Whether you're thinking in a black and white way, whether you have difficulty with cause and effect. And then the A of BETA stands for your actions, that your your behaviors that ultimately enough trauma is going to shape and impact how you behave and how you act with yourself and with other people.
Sucheta Kamath: Wow. I mean, first of all, I don't think on our my podcast, I have had an expert like you before, but somebody who actually breaks it down in such systematic way. So I really appreciate that setting the tone for this conversation, because I think my my reason for for starting there is, as you mentioned earlier, people have different ways to conceptualize trauma, and they are to me, it often feels like concrete buckets, you know, like something, you have to endure a loss of some kind or something must have happened to you. But I think the second bucket that it could, you could be simply a part of a community and it's a long standing trauma. The other point that really, I would love to see if you can talk a little bit about before we move forward is this idea that body trauma is in the body, I think one of the most amazing experiences I have had, you know, I'm going through my mindfulness meditation teacher training program, with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. And I'm in my last four months, few months, and I'm doing my practicum and teaching people, but one of the most revealing and have had 10 to 12 to 13 years of practice of meditation. But the most revealing thing for me was how much it taught me to be in my body. And I had no idea like I was not in my body. And I'm not I mean, I have not had traumatic experience in the way you describe. But tell us what is this? Why does this happen to us that we suddenly become so cerebral? Like, I feel like dancers maybe are in their bodies more than any like CEO or CFO? Like why? Why are we such urgently moving out of our body?
Dave Melnick: I think when, when you've been traumatized, one of the ways that we think about it is when your body is a battleground, there's a lot of wisdom getting away from the battleground, and that we have a variety of compensatory ways as human beings to get ourselves away from the scene of the crime, the places where the perpetration has occurred, it's important to note and to recognize that, of course, your body can be traumatized by literally it being assaulted and touched inappropriately. Your body can also be traumatized by, by through any of the senses. So one of the typical areas that I've worked a lot with his kids that have been exposed to domestic violence, even when the perpetrating parents, usually a male, doesn't even lay a hand on the kid. And it used to be thought that nobody laid a hand on this kid, they're not going to be there aren't going to be behavioral, emotional, cognitive and biological impacts. And in the last 20 years, it's been very clear, we've moved beyond and a lot of places from trauma theory to trauma fact and one of the trauma facts is is that you can be you can be impacted dramatically, even by things that you hear by things that you see, even if nobody kind of breaks the physical threshold of your body of your of your skin. One of the slogans that's often used and I meant to say this from your first question is in answering what is trauma and what is not it's really individual around what is it is individually identified and labeled and named. And that's important that people have efficacy around. If it feels traumatizing to them. The slogan is The mind is the marker. And what that means is the meaning that the trauma had for you. And so some people get assaulted and don't ever develop traumatic related symptoms, and some people get assaulted and come up with and are diagnosed by me or mental health professional within a month or so post traumatic stress disorder. And so we're, we're just really beginning to tease apart who was it more risk? How are people at more risk, where and you mentioned in your introduction about resilience, where does resilience become some protective factor to prevent post traumatic stress when you've been harmed in either singular or multi incident kind of traumas. And so we know something about that we're still figuring out what we know about. Why do some people come back from combat with PTSD? Why Some don't? Why? You know why some kids are exposed to domestic violence and find their ways very successfully in life? And why do others turn to things like self harm and substance abuse disorders and mental illness as a way to retreat? And survival, you know.
Sucheta Kamath: As you were saying, about this battleground and leaving the battleground, but most powerful thing I thought you said was, you know, you can experience harm through five senses. So I mean, without even being touch and I had an expert, Kip Williams, who studies ostracism, and he talks about this, the when you're excluded, the kind of harm you feel of not belonging, and people physically make themselves small. They actually like fold their bodies inwards, you know, they cross their legs, they fold their arms so we you talk about, like, you know, that trauma staying in your body, you certainly don't occupy and then you're familiar with Amy Cuddy's work where you talk about you know, that body posturing can really change the cortisol level in your brain makes perfect sense to me. Really powerful.
Dave Melnick: And it's interesting certificate with you said, a humiliation, yes, is a body based experience. Embarrassment isn't right, there isn't an emotion that we have that doesn't emanate and originate in our bodies. So when you're frightened, that's a body based experience when you're happy and joyful and excited and despairing and despondent and rageful it's all body based experiences. And one of the experiences of people that have been traumatized is, is is the dissociative move away from disconnect.
Sucheta Kamath: And, you know, I really liked the term humiliation over bullying, because I think that the bullying has some sort of like, somebody's overpowering you. And you know, like, kind of destroying you. Humiliation is so subtle that you're standing all together. And you can be humiliated. You know, like, I feel like there's a way to introduce, or there was a, this is a silly little example. But there was a movie about the House of Gucci I think, and there was the woman who murdered her husband, one of the Gucci sons and or one of the brothers and but she came from different class and in the movie, they show subtle, subtle the way the husband who is very wealthy and he's a Gucci, treats you know, Lady Gaga has character and it's just causing humiliation, just making references to how she wouldn't know she'd because she doesn't have class she doesn't have and you can cringe, you know, so even as I feel like we are when you're witnessing this type of social encounters, you can actually feel I don't mean pain, like not trauma, but the pain of somebody else's suffering. So So, so let's talk a little bit about then. Should we dive into this, what it means to have trauma informed and trauma, trauma transformed, approaches to helping people cope and then move towards resilience? Maybe it's a good idea to start talking about that. Yeah.
Dave Melnick: Yeah, yes, I will. And one of the things about humiliation and bullying, bullying focuses on names and labels, the perpetrator humiliation names and victim the person that has been harmed. And that, that one of the things that I hope to touch on today, that is about addressing the nonverbal unspoken unsayable experience of being traumatized is oftentimes we as therapists are trained to pay very careful attention to nonverbals. And in the work that I do, largely in public schools, is to try to give teachers permission to pay attention to the nonverbals and that nonverbals coming from a child whether you know or suspect of as a trauma history is as relevant a bit of information and to empower and teach teachers how to comment on the on those those nonverbal expressions that could be about fear and worry and anxiety and despair and and impending concern that the child has, that if we wait too long for the behavioral manifestation of some of these unsaid things, then by the time they become behaviors they get very difficult to deal with when we address them as biological and not on verbal impulses and experiences, we often are working in a much more preventative way, which is aligned with your question around what's trauma informed? What's trauma transformed? What is this just different language? So I go into that. Yeah.
Sucheta Kamath: And if I can just ask you one more quick question along those lines that I think, you know, when, ultimately what I'm hearing you say, and it's such an interesting thing, because, you know, I also have been a therapist for 25 years. And, you know, I'm a speech and language pathologist, so very much trained in non nonverbal communication and nonverbal communication disorders. But what's so interesting, the perspective was never about trauma. It was about effective communication. And you you're speaking when you're conveying meaning, when you're not using words, this idea is the when we would focus on nonverbal communication. And it's interesting in our training, we didn't have that, like you, as a therapist have trained to pay attention to nonverbal in a very different way than I was. But it's so funny after working with a lot of people with brain injuries, one of the interesting things that I saw a lot if they had had any previous trauma, such as childhood sexual abuse, or you know, some very, very poor treatment or experienced ostracism as belonging to minority community. And then they had a traumatic brain injury there, all those the layers of defense mechanism or protective mechanism they had built, vanished. And now they presented double vulnerable in a therapeutic situation, where, so the loss of functionality or skill set was much more severe than the brain injury would define. And so this would become a very difficult situation. And, and so that's how I got exposed to this understanding that history, as you were mentioning, people in our whole, you know, they bring their whole selves, and you cannot really say pinpoint an event that made you are broke you, but you also have to look at where they come from, and where they want to be. So I was just wondering if you had similar experience about as you think about this bigger picture of the context of people, we are helping to deal with life in a better way.
Dave Melnick: Say a little bit more about that. So I got curious, as you were talking about when you made the switch between your classic training as a speech language therapist, and became more integrative, and looking at nonverbals and subtlety that was with your work with TBI?
Sucheta Kamath: With people with traumatic brain injury, yes, people on autism spectrum, particularly Asperger's as we don't call that anymore. But one of the focus, for example, would be if you're going for a job interview, you know, having a smile on your face is very, very important kind of shaking, you know, putting your hand forward, you have to nod when people speak, or, you know, tilt your head when something is not clear. So a lot of those pieces of nonverbal communication would be presented in a therapeutic context to build people's ability to make an impression and be considered as very connected human being. But then if you have trauma, your effect is flat, your tone is flat, you sit there with math, kind of you know, if you're doing that, my focus would be to how to get you to fake it till you make it without really paying attention to the reasons you might be mad. Or when you maybe you're really, really depressed, because you've had lots of challenges other than the brain injury. So that's why this is a very gross example. But I hope you know what I'm saying that you cannot just pay attention to how people compensate. But you have to really empower them to think about themselves in a greater context of resilience.
Dave Melnick: Yes, so let me let me talk a bit about because I think your earlier question around, you know, trauma informed trauma transfer. Yes, that will be really good jumping back, because I think so. So So one of the ways one of what was in our work in is informed in working primarily, again, with schools and mental health agencies and child welfare agencies is, is there's a graph that we use that shows a continuum between the ways that organizations can respond to trauma. Most of my work, I've spent a lifetime being a clinician directly with kids and families. I do much less of that now. And my work is really around organizational healing. Because it's a developmental model. And part of the developmental model is it's a top down model, under the belief that if the primary caregiver versus in the case of what I'm working with the teachers and the administrators, if primary caregivers are in good shape, if they are mentally healthy, and if there are, if there's a focus on wellbeing, then there's an awful good chance it's not automatic, but there's also a good chance that that's going to trickle down to the care of the educational and counseling practices with the kids. What we've learned, particularly over the last decade and a half is that, like the communities that we live in our schools have some choices about how they're impacted by traumatic exposures. And so I'll go through this kind of continuum of three possible ways that organizations respond, because it turns out that organizations in their behavior are not that different than individuals in their behavior when they've been when they've been exposed to trauma. And that there's three kinds of choices on this continuum that an organization like a school district, can demonstrate when, when they've experienced a lot of trauma. And so in the context of a school, every school regardless of socio economic, regardless of location, regardless of the ecological system around it, almost every school I could say, has some trauma exposure, and almost every school that I'm aware of perpetrates trauma. And so traumas there, it's it's there, if you know a little bit about the ACEs study, then you know that one of the, to me, one of the interests about working in the world of trauma is that it is it is ubica universal experience for humans. Unfortunately, it's ubiquitous and, and that one of the statements that we make in the travel world is, if you're not one of the 60 to 65% of people, pre a team that had trauma exposure, then that's great. But by the time you're an adult, if you have not been traumatized, then somebody in your inner circle has been. So it is relevant to you, whether it's a direct experience, or whether it's an experience because your husband, wife, best friend from college or high school, your son, it has to add uncle, somebody in your inner circle has been exposed to it. So these three potential organizational responses that somewhat mirror what individual bodies might experience, the first one called trauma reactive. And I'll describe just a little bit what a trauma reactive school is, because many of your listeners either work with or consult with, or have worked with, or have consulted with schools that are trauma reactive are organizations that have trauma reactive. And so there are three or four characteristics that I'll that I'll just name and just describe very briefly before I go to trauma informed. So this continuum, the unprepared choice is trauma reactive and trauma reactive organizations are suppressive, oppressive and repressive in their operation, that they tend to be extremely top heavy. They seem to be extremely authoritarian.
Dave Melnick: And there is a promotion in schools like that of maintaining the status quo power is centralized. There's no voice and choice. There's no real interest in what teachers and aides and bus drivers and foodservice, people have to say about the organization's very top down. These trauma reactive organizations are often are often full of people, good people that are often and frequently reliving and retelling. And repeating the same trauma narratives over and over again, oh, these kids are on never listened to, or I can't believe that we have to do this. And there's another initiative. When you listen to the narratives of the people in trauma reactive organizations, they often don't evolve. One of the efforts in trauma treatment is we want to help people change their story from you know, in a victim experience to a survival experience, from helplessness, to a sense of agency. And what you find in trauma reactive organizations is very few people have a sense of agency. They're often feeling consumed by and overwhelmed by the stress. And then the third symptom that I'll just highlight in a trauma reactive school or trauma reactive district is frighteningly, the workforce tends to parallel the symptoms that we find in enticing people. So all the things we changed that you said already, the numbness the acting out, the running away the fight flight or freeze that is so ingrained in people that because schools are working with, yes, so because schools are working with and often taught by people that have had trauma exposure. If we're not careful, then the system tends to be a mirror image of trauma. And that becomes hugely problematic. So that's trauma reactive, and those organizations tend to induce trauma. There's a feedback loop where instead of helping the workforce and helping the educational leaders and helping the kids, they're actually harming. There's this mirror image of of chaos happening between workforce and students and students and workforce members. So that's trauma inducing. We want to move away from that and unfortunately there still organizations mental health organizations.
Sucheta Kamath: So quick question if I may. Moving So, as I'm listening to the trauma reactive schools, I mean, how about trauma reactive job places, term trauma reactive countries, like talk about, you know, culture. Like, I had Michele Gelfand who talks about tight and loose cultures. She's an expert who studies cultures or sociologists who studies the way and yeah, the like, in order to get larger groups to cooperate. They believe they don't distinguish between the rules that allow you to get become seamless in your execution or stay productive versus not challenge any ways to do things to make it seamless. But it's also make it suppressive. So I'm just thinking about and it and how about households, you can run a trauma reactive households.
Dave Melnick: Sucheta, I think that the concept so far, exactly, you're exactly right. You can apply it on a very micro level and a family and a person. And you can apply it very globally in the way that you did to, to a state, to a community to a nation, and look at what's happening globally, in terms of the level of rise of authoritarian. Yeah, I mean, just the, the top down in control models that are beginning to take more hold. And so you're right.
Sucheta Kamath: Other thing, if I can also say, and maybe get you to reflect that. This is almost assuming a, some automatons are running the world. You know, like there's some, there's no humanity, there's no vulnerability, there is no ability to say I'm having a tough day. Like, what where does how does this culture become so prevalent? Like, what are we trying to do achieve optimal output?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, I think I got a million different answers for that. And many of them are more political than psychological or social work, while social work is inherently political. But I think one of the things I observed that's going on in lots of places is, as there's challenges to the existing power structures, that people in power, like I read that white, straight cisgendered men, when power is being challenged from those that have historically had it and taken it. There's a counter response, which is no you don't, Nope, we're gonna we're gonna grab tighter and I think that's part of what we're seeing in our country right now, and have been for a long time. And so that, that trauma reactivity is, you know, again, it's another version of, you know, I can, I can call it I can talk about it as oppression and suppression, and repression. It's against some versions of fight, flight or freeze. And that one of the things that I think a lot of our leaders are demonstrating right now is a fight response. Oh, you want equal shares and things? I'm going to fight you and I'm going to maneuver you and I'm going out?
Sucheta Kamath: Withdraw support, withdraw Resources?
Dave Melnick: Yeah. To ensure. Yeah. All that stuff. Yes, absolutely. So moving in the continuum. I mean, getting where we would want to be getting in if we have some time, I'll talk about at least my sense and our sense in our work around some of the remedies for this, the middle part of the continuum, if you if you're if we're moving our way towards the you know, up the continuum is trauma informed, and trauma informed is great. I'll define it very quickly. Many of your listeners know some of the standard classic definitions of trauma informed. But I do want to say that, that trauma informed is great. And it is a clinical model. It is a downstream model. It is really historically been focused on how do we help people that have been harmed. And that's important because I'm a therapist, and I'm a parent, and I'm a community member, and I'm a husband and I want to take care and help people that have been harmed. But more fundamentally, which we'll get to in a second, I want to prevent harm. trauma informed practices is generally a downstream model that is responsive to the terrible things that have already been perpetrated on our children, on our families on our community members. And so it's good. But it isn't preventative. And so the basic features of a trauma informed school and I hear a lot of people say I'm trauma informed, or we're trauma informed without being able to really define what that means. I'll give you a quick definition that is part ours in part coming from SAMSA.
Sucheta Kamath: Sorry, tell us what SAMSA is some people may not be familiar with it.
Dave Melnick: SAMSA is the substance abuse, mental health, the government agency that one of the government, US government agencies that oversees mental health and substance use treatment. So I'll give their classic example and I'll describe briefly what's good about it, what's problematic about it, but basically trauma informed as a clinical model. It in order to be trauma informed, you have to embrace the science of trauma of 20 years. ago we were talking about it as trauma theory today. It's trauma science. It is information that we know very clearly in terms of the impacts of trauma on individual bodies and our collective bodies, on cultures like you were saying such data. The third component is that that in order to be trauma informed, we begin to use universal concepts and universal language to describe more collectively, what we're seeing, instead of having various different opinions about why kids and why workforce are behaving and operating the way they are, we try to develop some common lens, not common style, we don't want to take people's style away, we want individual style, because there's beauty in that. And then the fourth component of trauma informed is a recognition that you cannot talk about trauma unless you're also talking about cultural trauma trans in your unless you're talking about racial trauma and class trauma and transphobia. And sexism, and genderism, and homophobia, and all the phobias are included in what is considered to be a trauma informed lens. And then there's the four R's. For words that start with a letter r, that is part of this SAMSA definition of what it means to be trauma informed, I think it's a really good start. And I'll I'll describe where I think it's a little bit short in pursuing where ultimately we want to go. So trauma informed by the classic definition, the first R is that, and you said it before is that we Realize how universal trauma is, it is, unfortunately, human experience. And that by realizing it, we understand that that we unfortunately, keep inventing ways to harm each other as a species. And that it is ubiquitous and universal. And that in order to be courageous in addressing it, we have to acknowledge how big it actually is, and how frequently we.
Sucheta Kamath: If I can just sorry, if I can just add one component that just strikes so deeply with me is what Kristin Neff, who is the guru of self compassion talks about you know that she has three steps to self compassion. You know, this, by definition is the warmth and understanding warmth, of being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, or feel inadequate, rather than fledgling ourselves with self criticism. But the second component of that after being warm and understanding towards ourselves is recognizing common humanity, that it is universal. And I think the the part that really, I think is so helpful, because I think there can be extreme sense of violence against an individual or trauma and harm, but there could be simply being excluded can also feel equally hurtful. And I think that includes everybody with this idea of the first art that you're talking about. Didn't mean to interrupt, but yeah, yeah.
Dave Melnick: In the absence of certain No, that's perfect. The absence of certain experiences and Sucheta I love just listened to you. Because one of the things that it sounds like you do, I'm just meeting you for the second or third time, you're very integrative of information from a variety of different people like you clearly listen, because you're you listen to people, because you're integrating ideas. That's part of really the pursuit of being trauma informed a trauma transformed is yeah, we borrow ideas, brilliance from a variety of different from philosophy and ecology, and sociology and mental health and occupational therapy, speech and language, that it is inherently integrative to be trauma informed to think in a variety of different ways. And I appreciate that, that you
Sucheta Kamath: And that's why we connect, because you're exactly like that. I just love that. Yes.
Dave Melnick: Try to Yeah, try that. So that the, you know, realizing universalities first or second or is is recognizing signs and symptoms, and most people are trained in that. Second, R you get your local child welfare, you know, to recognize what does trauma look like in the body? What does it look like? In your, in your behavior? What does it look like, in your emotional style? What might it look like in your relationships in your interpersonal style? What does it look like cognitively? You know, there's lots of reasons why people are rigid in their thinking. Trauma is one of those. It's not the only reason why people have rigid cognitive styles, but it is one of those possibilities. The third R and this is the third and fourth R where it gets a little bit tricky for me in terms of trauma informed. The third is to respond in ways in order to be trauma informed, you have to respond in ways that are trauma informed yet there's no universal accepted way. Formed needs. So that's still up for debate. There is some best practice there's some common practice there are some models that have emerged, you know, that are evidence based that have emerged that are excellent models, but there is no universal sense you get 10 trauma experts and everybody's going to be potentially have some different ideas about what responding means. And then the last one is also problematic When it gets good, it's well intentioned, the Fourth R is to resist retraumatizing people. If you're trauma informed, you have to be working towards not harming not perpetrating more harm. That gets complicated because I have rarely, if ever, in my 40 years of being a social worker, I've rarely met a professional that intends to harm a kid. But just about everybody I've met has harmed a kid, including myself, like in something I've said, or thought, or did or didn't do, that. It really is much more complicated than just stating your intention not to not to re harm somebody that's already been harmed. And that part of what many of us are learning or relearning is, white supremacy alone is harmful. And those of us like myself, that benefits as a white, straight cisgender man, that even if I do nothing, I'm harming, especially if I do nothing. I'm still perpetrating harm, because of all the privilege that I have. So I think it's well intentioned, but I don't think it's granular enough. I don't think we talked enough about what does it really mean, to not harm a kid in school, because one of the things that I spend most of much of my time is deconstructing traditional discipline, because traditional discipline is harmful, in many ways that it is applied to kids in schools. And so, you know, maybe again, yeah...
Sucheta Kamath: A couple of thoughts about this, as you're saying, you know, for the last two R's to be effective, you know, respond in a way that is trauma informed and then resist requires self-awareness. So what if you have good intention, but you lacked awareness, self awareness, that self directed attention to know, you do what you say, and you say what you do are matched. And that's where I find a gap, that I think a lot of people who have lofty goals for themselves, they lack the follow through.
Dave Melnick: And that's absolutely that that speaks to one of the key practices that we use. Because I love the idea about social emotional learning, I think it's fine. And I think I have some concern about it. One of the first skills and social emotional learning, at least in most of the models is self awareness. But what often doesn't get talked about and self awareness is there's no such thing as a self aware person without information from other people. So you are limited, you're not self aware, if there's not a formal way in your work setting for you, as a teacher, as a guidance counselor, or school counselor, as a principal, you are not self aware, if you're just left to your own thoughts about who you think you are, because none of us is completely who we think we are absent from information, intentional information provided to us by people that we work with, because all of us have blind spots. And all of us will become more self aware, the more we develop methods and means by which we garner information from other people in our worksite. So one of the things we talk about is that, you know, you can't see the back of your head without a mirror. The mirror symbolically, metaphorically is, in many of the settings that I work with, we talk about something called reflective practice, how are you sitting down in an intentional way with people that you work with, so they can provide information to you about you, that is outside your conscious awareness. That's how to me you build meaningful, meaningful awareness to the level of improving your practice far more than you can if you're just in your own head.
Sucheta Kamath: And you know, so. And then, as you know, so many ideas that you're talking about. And this is why you know, like this podcast was conceived with this idea that we cannot operate in our silos without really expanding our, our understanding of complexities of life, but there are people who study this. And for that, you need to first accept that you don't understand it. And you know, I had a wonderful researcher. She's a psychologist, her name is Sarah Schnitker. And she studies patients. And so there are three types of patients as skill which is interpersonal patients, life hardship patients, and daily hassle patients. And I find that we have educators and parents in the spaces with children, and particularly from my world world and work with executive dysfunction from your world, having real life barriers, which makes you either full of anxiety or resistant or whatever the situation is. You cannot offer support and help if you haven't done the work of developing patience and cultivating patience, and people who are less patient. To me, they're activated active acting as if there they lack the traffic or trauma informed they have good intention but they literally can't practice it because they don't have this patience towards people's resistance to their good Tensions. And I've seen that such a powerful problem that nobody's mitigating everybody's assuming when you go into the field of education, you are nurturing. Well, you may be nurturing, but you may not be patient.
Dave Melnick: And I regret that what I should have said 45 minutes ago that trauma informed, trauma transform, trauma work is equity work, it is part of equity work. And that, that the, what people in social justice and equity work pro equity work really focus on is, you know, that it's about impact and not intention, because lots of therapists, lots of parents, lots of teachers will say, Well, I didn't intend to hurt the kid, when there's a significant power differential, you don't get credit for your intentions, you get credit for the impact and that we are accountable as people with power for the impact and not what we intended or not. So part of what happens with trauma transformed, which is the aspirational and attainable next step. So trauma informed is good. I mean, I think if an organization and the school says we want to be trauma informed, I'm all in I'll be with you. I'll help with that. I think the 4 Rs, I think the science of trauma is compelling and important. I don't think it goes far enough. And so
Sucheta Kamath: Oh, please, yes, I did interrupt you. Thank God, you remembered. But I'm so glad you mentioned because when we did the conversation before this interview, you had mentioned about the why this is an equity work. And I'm so glad that I also forgot to bring it up. So thank you for remembering to do that.
Dave Melnick: And it shouldn't be talked about as a replacement or different from it is all of it. Yes, underneath the umbrella of general equity of how do we bring the resources to people that need the resources so they can be successful in life. So the third in the continuum of possible places for an organization to respond to school in this case, is trauma transformed or as a healing organization. And the continuum represents, on one side, what I described as trauma reactive, that's trauma inducing, and then as we're moving towards trauma reducing and ultimately, trauma preventing, like with the whole goal of this third possibility, this aspiration and hopeful place that we get as, as organizations and communities is called trauma transformed or healing organization. How that is defined differently is differently than trauma informed, which is a clinical model and a downstream model. Trauma transformation is an upstream and it is most it is essentially a political model. It is a political and an ecological model that says, let's stop traumatizing people, let's stop the conditions under which people become traumatized. Like, let's address anti, you know, let's become anti racist. And let's be pro equity. And let's inclusive, the harms inclusive and the ways that people are harmed. So the four R's that I talked about from SAMSA, as what what is the central part of the definition of trauma informed? The two R's that we add on, one of the ways that we add on and create trauma transformation is again thinking about upstream and as a political movement, and we think about two other are. So now we would have six r's that would be moving us towards trauma transformation, the fifth R is being reflective, that a trauma transformed organization and a trauma transformed individual is reflective. They think about their own conduct their own belief systems, their own biases, their own assumptions. And they're courageous and brave enough to develop methods and means by which they're evoking information about themselves from other people, that if you are truly committed to self awareness, you have to be committed to self reflective, reflective practice, and that in mental health, in any any responsible mental health organization, we have clinical supervision, which is what reflective practices, we have a place where we spend time talking about our experience of the work and not just about kids. Because one of the things I say, and if we ever get a chance to talk again, I think that we spent way too much time talking about kids in schools and over surveillance and an over deconstruction and over analysis of kids to the harm of not analyzing and surveilling and understanding us, because we learned and one of the fundamental things we've learned in trying to transform trauma is that if you want to change a child's behavior, the fastest way to do that is to change your behavior is to change your response pattern to change the way you're thinking about the behaviors that you think you're seeing. And so reflective practice that fifth R is a way that really centralizes I want a workforce that knows itself really well. And currently, a lot of our workforces don't know themselves, well they know their clients really well. We have lots of labels and special ed labels and OT labels and speech and language labels. But we often are not as discerning and as descriptive. As analytic with our own selves and how we use ourselves, one of the things that ties us together regardless of your formal training, is the primary skill that the primary tool that all of us have is relationships is our capacity to develop human trusting, reliable relationships. So that's the sixth R is relationships, that in a trauma transformed healing organization, we centralize healing, we maximize healing. And we recognize that when we are harmed collectively, like in a pandemic, like with racism, like with transphobia, when we're harmed collectively, we have to heal collectively. And that's where what you said before about culture where culture comes in, and that many cultural practices aligned very centrally with relationships. How do we dance together? How do we sing together? How do we pray together? How do we eat together? How do we bake together? How do we cry together? So many of our cultural healing practices are about community and not about individual. So trauma transformation is really about partially about bringing in reflective practice, optimizing relationships, and first optimizing those relationships amongst the adults that are working with the kids. Healthy caregivers have an awful good chance of raising healthy children. Wow, yeah. Healthy teachers. And a healthy organization in its practice has an awful good chance of evidence based practices, you know, being able to really optimize evidence based practices, when the people in that organization are working well with one another.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, I think, Oh, my goodness, Dave, can I please, can I just have you come back?
Dave Melnick: Because we didn't talk about the remedies. I mean,
Sucheta Kamath: Can you come back, yes, I would love to do part two. Because number one, I think this, this itself took so long to establish because people are operating with this. And, you know, this is the my concern about social emotional learning as a as a teaching process. Well, social emotional learning, where the incessant traumatic experiences are not changed, or like the pressures of life don't change. It's really like mood, you know, it's like saying that, you know, I'm stressed out. So I'm using a stress ball. But I'm not removing the my workplace, which causes me stress, you know?
Dave Melnick: No, no, good. Yeah. In the store. I mean, I think it's great to have stress reduction for kids. But what about the stress that's being perpetrated by the workforce, usually unintentionally, but nonetheless, potentially. So that that to me, again, if we get to talk in the future, we could talk a lot about remedies like how do we address some of these, like, how do we truly operationalize trauma transformation? Like what are the key ingredients? You know,
Sucheta Kamath: I'm to your point, I think a lot of my work now is kind of amalgamation between the mindfulness practices reflection as a science and self awareness, cultivating self awareness. And I have the most helpful book has been this book, I don't know if you have read, it's called Work Won't Love You Back. It's the most powerful book that I have read, and I'm sorry, but it's it is literally I feel the thing that you mentioned, how can we talk about community when people are working in isolation? When we talk about children, they don't have belong to a community because they feel direct competition? You know, Suniya Luthar is another researcher I have had on my podcast, who studies of affluent communities, and trauma of children in affluent communities, or too strong emotions, and jealousy, and stress or fear of like, FOMO, you know, like, how are you going to try? Right? So I think we have created communities where it's like, there's a zero sum game thought process that if you win, somehow I lose. There's no way for all of us to make progress. Somehow, if I pause and help you, I'm going to be late to something very important, which is going to set me back, you know, there's the incredible fear of helpful nature of ours, as causing disadvantage to self. And I think that's the part that I think culture has embedded. That's why you know, including practices such as dress dancing, and praying and baking are such simple remedies. So I know I am going to have you come back and you have to say yes, yes, please. So and I know we're short on time. So as we wrap this up, I think if you I think the thing that struck me today is the trauma transformed is putting burden back on adults who are responsible for children. And I think finding time to do self work, where you can actually do the introspection and then take the proper measures and And just this gap between intention and impact, because I do not think a single person enters education, or want to be a parent to cause harm. But I think how can we take responsibility? So, as we wrap this up, can you just give some simple suggestion, one suggestion, and we'll come back to the whole gamut of suggestions? where, how, what form of reflection do you think is most helpful and impactful if you if you know, nothing, but there's more work to be done? But what is the first step step of reflection?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, to me that the a first step of reflection is find a colleague or two that you trust and begin to ask questions about your own conduct. So what typically happens in schools is when somebody's having trouble with a student, we spend an hour talking about the student, I can next time we talk talk about some very simple questions that the typical question I ask when I'm doing a consult with a teacher around a kid that they're struggling with, is after they describe the kid, I want to know, what's your relationship with that kid? Yes, what prevailing emotion comes up when you work with that child, if I don't know the prevailing emotion that visit you when you're working with that child, then there's a very good chance that any strategy I have for that child won't work, because it's blocked by the significance of the emotion that you have about that kid. The most common emotions that teachers have when they're working with students that are very challenging are things like anxiety, fear, despair, helplessness, if you don't mean your personal experience, which looked at practices that will continue to be an obstacle between you, there's nothing that I can do for you in helping that kid if we don't remove first, that you're scared of the kid? Or that wow, yeah, hopeless about there's no magic strategy that helps until we centralize the adult experience of the child's behavior. And so to me, reflective practice is the most cost efficient in any organization, whether it's school mental health agency, child welfare, it's the most cost effective way to develop. You know, we talked about professional development, professional development largely doesn't work. The research says, It largely doesn't work. But we keep putting our workforce in front of people for three or six hours of lectures in a passive learning environment, where they never really do some work around. What's it like for me to work with kids that I really struggle with? What? Who are the kids that I work really well with? And more importantly, who are the kids that I don't work well with? And why? Because if you can, if you can impact that, then you've just saved consulting on 10 different kids, if you can figure out because you change. Yeah, cuz you change, like, some people don't work really well with mouthy kids or defiant kids. Once you understand what that experience is, like for you, it's much more efficient to change yourself than it is to change 10 different defiant kids that's like, I don't know how to change 10 different defying kids, you know, two years of you know, of working with two different grades of kids. So, you know, that's where I would start is reflective practice, I would talk if we get a chance to talk and I talk a lot about stress and stress mitigation. And I talk a lot about reframing would be the three core skills that I would use.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, definitely, you have to come back. So as I, you know, I was going to just share one reflection practice that I have in my practice. When I work with kids and adolescents and adults is I do exit survey for every kid and say, So tell me how I did on a scale of one to five, what what do I get as a teacher today? What can I improve? What did I do? Well, and then can I do that? Same with you. So this it's so interesting. I get like, I just saw a kid. Last weekend, he gave me SEVEN and a SEVEN. I said, Wow, I have room for improvement. He said, Sucheta, Don't you know I always tell you you small words. If you use small words, you will get 10 It was so funny. But but the part that I think and when I asked that with older is like Did I teach you a treat you with respect and dignity you deserve? And I think that to me, is the bane of our interactions with people. Are we seeing them as if they're wholesome people?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, you know, there's so many things because some it's great set of questions. And one of the other methods that we can talk about next time is do teachers or therapists. videotape themselves? Yes. Which we routinely do in mental health when we're doing clinical work, and settings. Because you'll see things about yourself that you had no idea you'll see patterns and habits, you'll recognize things that are incredibly helpful in shifting your practice. But I love the idea of talking to clients, whether they're kids or whether they're adults and getting feedback right away.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you for being here as we close out I asked this question of all my guests. Do you have a couple of books that you'd like to recommend to our audience that has influenced your thought process about the way you do your work or the way you have shaped your human experience?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, I'm going to look over because I wrote a bunch of things down the books that have impacted me the most in the last year is Resmaa Menakem's My Grandmother's Hands. Well, yes. And the other book is called for educators in particular, it's called Street Data.
Sucheta Kamath: Street Data. Okay, that's one I don't know.
Dave Melnick: It's by Shane Safir really challenges some of the standard notions around data collection and best practice in schools.
Sucheta Kamath: Also, listeners, we're going to Dave was so generous, he has shared a lot of resources. So please check our show notes at the end, or on our site, if you scroll down. And Dave, thank you once again, for being here for your wisdom, your kindness, but in profound ways, you just in simple conversation, you have changed the way I think about my own skills. But thank you for talking about such an important topic. And thank you for promising us to come back. And listeners, thank you for joining me on this journey today. And you see, these are very, very important conversations we have with passionate experts. With their unique perspective, we become more informed. And the idea is this information can one shape our thought process. But second, we can act differently going forward. So if you love what you hear, please share it with your friends, colleagues and family. And second, if you loved what you heard, please leave us a review because that's how people find us. So thank you once again, Dave, for being here. And thank you everyone for tuning in in our podcast today at Full PreFrontal
Dave Melnick: Sucheta, thank you.