It is said that a human body that has been traumatized or overwhelmed by stress can feel helpless, reactive, angry, impulsive, raging, numb and leaning towards avoidance. AND the same is true for schools! Institutions, public or private, that serve the needs of children, learners and families from distressed communities can also feel helpless and drained with an ongoing crisis or seemingly unmanageable chaos. These places and its people too can become reactive, angry or riddled with avoidance and the necessary skills may be lacking in dealing with overstressed schools and classrooms.
On this episode, trauma expert, licensed social worker, the Co-Director of Outpatient Services at NFI, Vermont, and former fellow at Child Trauma Academy (CTA), Dave Melnick, returns to discuss the distinction between trauma-informed vs. trauma-transformed schools and the best practices involved in the effortful redirection that cultivates this deep and wide knowledge that helps make trauma-transformed schools. In these challenging times, psycho-social and emotional trauma experienced by learners, learning communities, and all communities around the globe is far more common than ever before. Those who are trained and trauma-informed approaches to care, shift the focus from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” This is a journey we all take together.
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. And we talk about executive function, our ability to manage our thoughts, emotions, actions, so that we can persist to pursue goals that are meaningful to us. And those goals that serve our future selves. However, we are not living in this world alone, we are worth living with our friends, family, our communities, our nation, and world, global world. And most important thing we are also trying to figure out is how to be part of that global world and how to contribute to it. However, not every child's experience is made equal. There are a lot of factors that bring challenges, you know, and when the child shows up to school, and look solemn, withdrawn or irritable. There can be one approach where you say what's wrong? Hey, child, what's wrong with you? Or there's a way to say, Hey, what happened to you. And this shift in the way we approach and take care of our children, really is fueled by thoughts about the child having a very, very meaningfully different lives at home. So you know, I read somewhere that the individual human body that has been traumatized has been overwhelmed with stress, can feel helpless, reactive, angry, impulsive, rageful, numb, or even tending towards avoidance. And my guest says, that is the same case. And same is true about schools. So schools and school districts that serve the needs of children and families who have endured trauma, they too, as a collective body can feel helpless, can become reactive, angry, which can lead to combative encounters with each other. Their decisions can be impulsively impulsive, and lastly, they too, can be riddled with avoidances. So we now No, we have some pretty good methods in mental health and education to treat individuals as well as families with that kind of backdrop of, of knowledge. And it's not just an optional thing, the way I see it, it's a mandatory, very, very essential ingredient or to create opportunities for children to not just grow but thrive and demonstrate resilience. So it is such a great pleasure to bring back after begging and pleading, my dear friend, Dave Melnick, to come and give us part two of the conversation we had last time. So those listeners who are tuning in just to this episode, there is one more additional treat for you. So definitely check out our previous episode, just to get some additional backdrop of this conversation but a little bit about Dave. So Dave Melnick is a LICSW. He is a co director of outpatient services at NFI Vermont, is statewide mental health agency primary, primarily serving children, adolescent and families. For past 35 years. He looks very young, so I don't know how he does this. But he says it's 35 So we'll take it. He 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, adolescents attachment, reflective practices and trauma informed systems. One last thing I would like to kind of point out that you know, Dave, he is not only a server, he takes care of children and schools, but he also trains so he trains the trainer's and his knowledge is so deep and wide that there's incredible kindness and thoughtfulness but more importantly, a desire and commitment to empowerment, which is what really speaks to me because I think we need a multiple days at multiple levels of educational tears. So with that, I would like to welcome Dave to our podcast. How are you Dave?
Dave Melnick: I'm really well Sucheta, how are you today?
Sucheta Kamath: Excellent. And thank you for coming back and I just read realized it was very ambitious of us to cover everything that you know in one episode. But just to set the tone, I thought I'll kick off this conversation with this question about the two key terms that you laid out for us, which is trauma informed, and trauma transformed. So can you just start there?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, that's a good place to start. And then I want a moment or two comment on what you said about the progression from what's wrong with you to what happened to you because I want to give a slight minute or half history on that. And what I think is the most current evolution of that progression, which is I'll state in a second. But what we talked about last time and very summery fashion is, is that organizations, schools, mental health agencies, child welfare offices, health care offices, have often three versions of responses when they, they, their staff and their client, patients, students, whatever the case may be, have been exposed to a lot of stress and strain and harm. And one of those and the nonpreferred, that we touched on a little bit last time was is called trauma reactive. And in those organizations, those agencies there's actually a succumbing by the workforce, and by the leaders to the same kinds of symptoms that you mentioned, that are often present for people, individual bodies and families that have been traumatized. So everything that is true about an individual on that's experiencing Traumatic Stress can also be true on an organizational level organizations can become helpless organizations become can become limited in their cognitive capacity. They can, they can be reactive, they can become angry, they cannot hear one another, they can get easily frightened, and risk averse. And so that's the non. That's the non preferred version of what happens to an organization when they are around and try to heal or educate through traumatic experiences and traumatic exposures. The second in the in the, in the continuum, going from trauma inducing to trauma reducing is what is commonly now referred to as trauma informed. And I tried to give a very quick definition of that which really boils down to in order to be a trauma informed person and a trauma informed organization, you have to know the science of trauma, which is pretty substantial, although very easily understandable to anybody that works with and raises children, you have to have a understanding of the four R's that we went over the realize, recognize, respond and resist retraumatization. And importantly, that being trauma informed means that you're being responsive to the potential negative impacts that trauma can have on individual bodies and collections of bodies like occur in classrooms, and in hallways, and in schools. The final version, which is both aspirational and attainable, I have got to believe that this is attainable, even though I'm just beginning to see versions of this in different organizations around the country is trauma transformed. And what's different about trauma transformed and trauma informed is that although it also has clinical components, it is centrally a political movement, it is about prevention. It's our work to try to make sure that we are preventing harm being perpetrated against our kids, our families, our community members, our teachers, our principals, our bus drivers, and anybody associated really anybody in the human species, the focus is on how do we prevent that?
Sucheta Kamath: You know, I think this, your summary just reminds me of, you know, Sandra Blum, she's a physician who is the creator of the sanctuary model. And she talks about this that trying to implement trauma specific clinical practices without first implementing trauma informed organizational structure, culture. Yeah, culture changes, like throwing seeds on dry land. So you're just pointing out that that I think it is not a child that we're taking care of, it's the systems that are taking care of children. So both.
Dave Melnick: Yes, and that we talked last time about important like the developmental model that we use in family therapy or as family therapists is that if caregivers are reasonably good shape, if the people raising children are reasonably well, that gives the child the best chances of being well, and just basic kind of trickle down that that, you know, when primary caregivers are doing well. They have lots and lots of things to offer kids the things that kids need to in order to thrive and heal when necessary. I'm glad suited to that you brought up Dr. Bloom, because that connects so beautifully for what you said before. She is long credited with the expression that progression of what's wrong with you to what happened to you. And that her belief is that many of us in the clinical world and myself included were trained in models that focused To some degree on pathology and deficit, and that the central approach, one of the central approaches for me as a social worker, and in Dr. Bloom's work is to focus much more on asset and strength and ability. So the progression now is much more representative as, as let's move from what's wrong with you to what happened to you, too. What is it about you that enables you to survive with it, you survive that adversity. So it's much more directed around asset based and strength based. Because I often talk with kids and families, certainly about the things perpetrated against them. But I'm more interested in the elements, the personal elements, the cultural elements, the familial elements, the community elements that actually promoted healing. And in many cases, natural healing that does not necessarily have to be outsourced to a mental health provider or teacher, or a speech and language therapist or an occupational therapist. There's a lots of lots of healing that goes on and has gone on spontaneously and organically that we have not done a good job of professionally recognizing.
Sucheta Kamath: No, thank you for making that connection back. And as we proceed to the next deeper dive, about the process, and the methods, I just wanted to see if I'm getting it correctly. So when we talk about one of the things, which you answered my question, which was going to be do we even understand the term trauma? People who are trying to take care of it? Do they understand what it is? So is? Is it because there is? Or have, we come to conclusion that there is a universal definition of trauma, and are the you know, there are examples of trauma, but it's not limited to which is experiencing or observing physical, sexual or emotional abuse, which could be a childhood neglect, there could be having family members or with mental health and substance abuse disorders, so a lot of instability in the members who have family who take care of the children experiencing or witnessing violence in the community, and also poverty and systemic discrimination. So are these good? Is this a good list to begin with? When we think about trauma?
Dave Melnick: I think those are the lists of things that are potentially traumatizing events or immersive, relentless experiences. So I think what's there's much more agreement on the conditions that might lead to trauma, and there's much less consensus about what trauma actually is, in terms of describing what trauma is. I think what I was trying to clarify, the last time that we talked is that as a clinical concern, trauma largely is something that is distinguished by something that overwhelms your ability to cope and has potential long term effect on your biological emotional thinking and action systems. That beta and that beta acronym that I used last time. So to me, the two things that are important about trauma as a as a condition as a potential impact area, is if the experience overwhelms your ability to cope, not all abusive situations overwhelm not all, you know, physical assaults overwhelm, a person's ability to cope, that it is both the inability to cope and the longer lasting effect that I think distinguishes what really what trauma is as a clinical concern, as a parenting concern as an educational grade.
Sucheta Kamath: So with that, now, maybe you can talk to us about the key practices that you recommend us to use to help foster growth and healing.
Dave Melnick: Okay, so that's great. So there's two premises that I think are important to cover. Before I go into the more fundamental question that you're asking. One premise is that I don't believe that everybody through this pandemic, that not everybody has been harmed, or that not everybody is unwell, and that not everybody has been injured by the pandemic, in the last two and a half years. We know you and I know that whenever there's a community crisis, it's always disproportionate in its impact. And it tends to always harm people on the margins. That effect that I've experienced from the pandemic is so much less than people that don't have the resources and the advantages and the privileges that I have. And so I think that's an important premise that lots of people today and even pre pandemic have been unwell, injured, harmed by the list of things that you said before by abuse, neglect, deprivation, domestic violence, parental substance addictions, racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, all those things are harmful, and potentially harmful conditions. But I do take it as a part of the premise of our conversation. that many people right now are unwell and that many people have been harmed and hurt and impacted and injured and wounded. By the last two and a half years that is particularly true of anybody that works in schools and attends schools. So I think you're hard pressed to find people that have been completely unscathed. So that's the first premise that I'm operating under today and until we fully heal from this pandemic and other ills and harms in our communities. The second premise is a formula that I use almost root out Yes, absolutely. Routinely, anytime I talk to groups of educators, parents, mental health professionals, child welfare workers, anybody that has a love and professional interest in children, I'm going to talk about this formula. And the formula and I'll ask people that have the capacity to write it down as I narrate it, is it looks like a math formula. But I'm going to turn it into more of a psychological formula. And what it looks like is if you're willing to draw it, as I say it, think about a math formula, it has a circle plus a circle, plus a circle equaling a square. So circle plus circle plus circle equals square. If you're right at lot large enough, if you're listening and are able to write it down, then write it large enough, because I'll ask you to draw to write some words in each one of these. And to almost do like a mini diagram about this. In the first in the first circle, if you'd put student behavior or student conduct or student actions. And then in the square, so right at the end, I'm sorry, there should be an equal sign. So circle plus circle plus circle equals square in the square if you would write in the square outcomes, student outcomes at consequences. So the first circle is student behavior. The last square on the other side of the equal sign is outcomes. What a traditional belief system is about children is that what children's do what children do in a classroom in the hallway in the ball field, that there's a direct line almost. So if you drew almost a line and forgot those other circles drew like a curve line from that first circle, to the square, that's the way many people that work with schools and raise children believe about kids, a kid back talks, the consequences, you get sent out of a class, that kid puts their head down on the desk, they get a zero on their assignment. What's problematic about that linear cause and effect model is it completely discounts to other highly relevant factors that are impactful on the overall outcome of an consequences really the outcome of a child's behavior. So in the first circle, what a child does, I believe that children, regardless of what's happened to them have some accountability for their behavior, that the only way I can imagine to run a civil society is to hold people accountable, even when you've been harmed. The way that we hold people that have been traumatized, accountable, though, is going to be different than the way you would hold a typically developed child that doesn't have the adverse exposures, that many of the students that I work with most of the students that I work with have.
Sucheta Kamath: Absolutely okay. And I can't when the other circles if I may just interject, but I think it's such a colloquial wisdom, it is that people come, or their bodies and minds show up in the classrooms to learn, and they're supposed to learn no matter what the barriers they have encountered. And it's almost the position is an it's just a cultural change. I feel, you know, last 100 years.
Dave Melnick: Yeah. And that's what I'm promoting. Because, yeah, that's yeah.
Sucheta Kamath: Because I remember even like, simple thing, you know, my mother who lives with me, and she just turned 80. And it's a funny conversation about with her about her schooling experience. And, you know, a standard practice was a teacher would have a stick. And if you even like no eraser was given to a child. Because eraser means bad. And you just got beatings, like, like, that was literally like, yeah, as you mentioned, student, you know, outcomes, you know, or, or actions and outcomes were thought to be as a straight line. So bad outcome is your bad. Good outcome.
Dave Melnick: How does your How does your mom talk about that experience? Like what What's the flavor of the or the tone of how she reflects on that?
Sucheta Kamath: It is very interesting, and if I may, indulgent and like two experiences but I think and it's also very, very mixed feeling because you come from India where guru or teacher is considered the top of the top if the teacher is close to God, and so teaching or being in the company of a teacher is considered a cultural privilege. And so there is a wonderful way you relate to education, there's a lot of respect, but also the teachers intolerance or your infractions is considered your disrespect towards not just the teacher, but the teaching process. And so that disrespect needs to be brought on line by punishment, you know, so there's a very concrete way of thinking. So as she as she as she relates, one is she feels she must have some done something. It was her mistake, right? So that's how she processed it and internalize it was never the teacher lacks patience, or the teacher actually is unkind was never in the picture. And second thing is also, I, I was talking, telling my mother this recently, like her resilience, you know, she was left handed and it was beaten out of her. And she became right handed, and she continues to sew with left hand, she, she's ambidextrous, and she never looked, looks at it as being gifted. You know what I mean? So that there's a lost opportunity to me that a child who has become an adult has gone through these amazing adjustments and skills. How many people are ambidextrous, right, that she has never given herself? Any credit? So that that's the kind of a byproduct. I don't know if you're thinking about that or not.
Dave Melnick: Yeah, yeah. But I think it sounds like what you describe is minimally, some ambivalence about, on the one hand, it hardened and toughened her and allowed her to develop these resilience in these new capacities. On the other hand, what got lost in the suppression of her own ideas, her own style of wanting to do something, the message that she was bad, perhaps for not following exactly what was expected of her. So it sounds like she can represent both possibilities, or both experience.
Sucheta Kamath: And I'll say that's true about me, too. I mean, I don't know if I qualify for, you know, childhood trauma experiences, but my traumas were all about. My ideas were never respect worthy, they were always disruptive. And they were creating a disruption in the flow of how things were supposed to unfold. So questioning was taken as you being actually, you know, your actions are disruptive. And so it's just a, you know, an, I don't know about girls and boys distinction here. But I internalize that as something is wrong with me, why do I want to challenge anything? Why can I just go along with things?
Dave Melnick: Yeah. And that that, to me is such a fundamental experience of people that are harmed in all different kinds of way, whether you name it trauma, or you may name it adversity, that one of the designs of small children is they are oriented towards selfless than they are blaming the person that might be perpetrating harm on them the capacity to externalize the blame happens much later in development. But young children carry around the artifacts of feeling that there's something wrong with them, or else their parent wouldn't be hurting them or their teacher wouldn't be humiliated them making sense of it cognitively and placing responsibility where it really should be happens later on for children, oftentimes, after a fair amount of collateral damage has occurred for that for that child.
Sucheta Kamath: And then you might be you can make a quick comment here. Why are we using these models, motivational mechanisms, you know, humiliation seems to be like a belief, if I pick on you, you will straighten out so because you would not like to be picked on you know, but if I say it say to you kindly, you might take advantage of my kindness and never improve. You know, there is that some perverse way of thinking that reprimanding leads to more tight self control or self regulation. Do you have any thoughts about that? Why we go with that wisdom versus what actually works?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, I think I think we talked very briefly at least you mentioned the book, my grandmother's Yes. And I think there is as good a tracing of the history in this country in the United States of who came here and what they were carrying with them, the some of the child rearing practices, that although the people that came here might have been rebelling against certain conditions from where they came, but they came also with a with a fair fairly high level of, of kind of unrecognized pedagogy when it comes to child rearing practices. And that here we are hundreds of years, you know, as the white settlers, the people that colonized and still not I completely having done our work on separating from our, our roots, and how we even look at children, you know how children are still viewed, and the things that we can rationalize and doing to children, because there's still at least a notion that they are not individuated. Humans that they are, they are to be under the command of adults. And so the more that we command children, the more that we will raise children that will then command to their children, that we know that there's an intergenerationalality in parenting styles and that it often takes somebody disruptive or rebellious to say, I'm not sure this is going to work, this is working for me, and that I'm going to carry this forward in the next generation. So that in terms of this formula, one of the things that I really push back on is that I'm not saying that there aren't antecedents to kids behavior. And I'm not saying that kids are not ultimately accountable for certain things. But what I am saying that is that in the second circle, so in the first circle, we have child behavior, in the second circle, we have adult response. And my claim is that how adults respond to child's behavior. So how the adult in circle to responds to what a child does is as relevant is as vital. And it's as important if not more so than what the kid did. So, my belief, my observation, and I think there's plenty of data to support this, that how an adult responds to what a kid does is as critical as what the kid dud, did, including a kid back talking you threatening another kid, kicking a hole in the wall, that how we respond has as much to do with the outcome as what the child did. And that's often not the way that many people see the world. In fact, when I say that without further explanation, there's hands that get raised very quickly saying, Well, you blaming me for what the child does. And in my head, what I say is, of course, I'm not blaming you. But of course, I'm holding you co responsible that you are a co author, you co construct the outcomes, whether you're a mom or dad and Auntie your uncle, a school teacher, a principal, a coach, the way that you respond particularly to problematic behavior, absolutely has an impact on the outcome. And I think that that is incredibly provable what I'm saying. And I think the proof that proof is rather simple. Follow a middle school kid around follow a kid that you watch in first period class that is defiant to their teacher, but that teacher happens to be trauma informed and has a good relationship with that kid. And watch how artfully and gracefully that human being handles defiant behavior to the point where the outcomes are ended up being pretty good. Because of the talent level and the experience level of that workforce member. Follow that kid to the second period class where the teacher is not trauma informed, same behavior emerges, the kid becomes defiant, I'm not doing that this is stupid, you can't make me and the teacher matches the intensity of the kid and says if you raise your voice if you don't, and begins to threaten, humiliate raise their voice to the point where the kids you know, at co escalates with the teacher. And then all of a sudden, you have a kid getting bounced out of class, not because of the defiance, singularly but because of the combination of the defiance and the response of the adult. Wow. But one of the things that is most problematic in families and in schools and in therapy is that we spend a lot of time in schools. And I'll say this with some irony, irony in my voice, which later but I mean, it seriously, is I think we spend too much time in schools talking about kids and curriculum. I think when we spend all of the available adult time adult to adult time in schools, spending time just talking primarily about kids and curriculum, we lose any possibility of speaking about this second circle, how our response system directly impacts. And I think it's an equity issue. And I think it's an equity issue. Because if we spent all this time in schools, when we just have adult time together, and all that time is distributed to surveilling and deconstructing and analyzing children, then we are saying that children are the problem. Yeah. And the equity issue is that the equity issue becomes, then we are taking no responsibility or little responsibility for our own ethnicity, our own race, our own culture, our own bias, our own beliefs, our own pedagogy, our own conditioning and socialization as a kid and saying that's not relevant here at all. And I think that's hugely problematic.
Sucheta Kamath: Wow. And you know, it's from the executive function lens, you know, I feel we talk a lot about that put your mask on first before you help people, but I feel you polish your mirror first before you offer other person to look in to a mirror that is not polished, you know? So I think that lack of self awareness to me is a profound gap. Because you're certifying yourself to be fully competent in your ability to respond with patience, kindness, reflective stance, and also I think, are you taking perspective on that child from a child's perspective? That is such an essential ingredient?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, yeah, I think that's critical what you said and it'll, we'll circle back to in a little while about the capacity, I think we have so many different lenses by which we look at children that are good, we have theories and science and expect, like, we have all these lenses. And that's great. But I think what you just said that the most important tool to me to work with and raise children is a mirror and not a lens. And that we need not only the mirrors that we hold up to ourselves, because those are limited. You can't see the back of your head, you need a friend or somebody to help you see the things that you don't see in yourself. And so for that, in order to really optimize our capacity as adults working with and raising children, is we need people that will reveal to us the things that we don't see about ourselves. Because that's where dangerous things happen between adults and children is when adults are acting in an unexamined way. They're not examining their own experience their own triggers. I'm all for talking to kids about their triggers and antecedents. And here, where I think is where the where the real equity issue is, I think it's patently unfair, that we asked 5, 7, 9, 14, 16 year old kids incredibly rigorous questions about what they just did, with functional behavioral analysis and ABA is and we asked kids incredibly rigorous questions about themselves, which I'm fine with, provided the adults are doing the same. Yeah, zero self reflection. Yeah, zero. And so often when I start asking questions, it's amazing how vulnerable and fragile adults are when I ask very basic questions about their conduct and their behavior, and their antecedents and their triggers. Because those things if we're going to ask kids that we owe it to children, particularly children that have been traumatized, we owe it to them, that we're doing as rigorous self examination as we're asking them to do it. And if we're not, that's an inequitable system. And we're actually harming kids.
Sucheta Kamath: And can I prove this right here, something wonderful, you said, it comes back to this foundational understanding of when people get together under the under a roof of school schooling, there is this inherent belief that I teach you learn. So somehow there has to be some sort of submission, there has to be I am, I don't want to say I'm the king, but I have knowledge. And I have a way to impart the knowledge and you need to become a vessel. And that vessel, if it's empty, only then I can fill. So there is a little bit of a assumption that it's not equal. Teaching and learning are not equal, is not done on an equal footing. And I'm wondering, as I'm listening to you, maybe we are getting that wrong.
Dave Melnick: Yeah. I think that I think the most progressive, disruptive, innovative and excellent teachers are the ones that truly don't just give lip service to the idea that they are learners as much as they are teachers. But I do think that that's absolutely, where we're heading in lots and lots of places, where when I walk into classrooms, and I see the level of creativity, when I see teachers circling up with kids, and truly working the spirit of, I have as much to learn here. And if I listen very carefully to kids, I'll become a better instructor, if I'm, if I'm a better listener, and a better learner. And if I keep myself kind of present in the learning experience, I can't but become a better teacher.
Sucheta Kamath: So amazing, very powerful.
Dave Melnick: And in this formula, so we got a third circle we gotta get to in a second, but I linger on the second circle. And I make a very strong appeal as I can, that teachers that are highly reactive to child behavior. always struggle with child behavior, when you're when you are as reactive as the kid is impulsive. That's a problem. The only time that an adult human being has to respond quickly to a child, is if there's imminent aggression. In every other circumstances that I can think of deliberation, intentionality, exhaling, mindfulness will always breed better outcomes. And so again, I think it's ironic that sometimes I consult with teachers and in my head, I'm thinking, wow, you're as impulsive as the impulsive kid. That's a problem. Like you. You can't, you can't join the kid's rapid pace with your response. Unless, again, there's somebody that's about to be harmed. And in fact, the teachers that I watch that are exuding excellence, they're the ones that when there is a behavioral concern in the classroom, they take a fair amount of time to address it. And that what's communicated to the other kids is confidence. Because one of the things that you communicate to children very quickly by responding impulsively, one of the things that you communicate to children is that you are anxious, and that you are not in charge. The faster you respond to certain kinds of behaviors, the more likely you're communicating to the kids. Oh, we can get to Mr. Melnick, look, we got them all wound up. He's struggling, he's off, he's off balance here. And not that, you know, kids are going to be intentionally predatory, but they're looking to feel safe. And if I'm highly reactive, that doesn't feel safe to kids. And so the work of trauma transformation is fundamentally a top down notion, we've got to get the workforce in a much more relaxed, less reactive, and a reflective place where they understand that part of this outcome formula rests firmly on their shoulders. Because the final thing I'll say about this second circle, adult response is I've been a child therapist for 35-38 years, it's really hard to change people, other people, the most effective way to change a child, whether it's your own child, or it's your student, is to change yourself, it is much more efficient, it's much more effective. And it's much more likely to have outcomes. The teachers that I work with that become trauma informed and successful are the ones that are, again Sujay, to holding the multiple mirrors up. And they're developing methods amongst their colleagues, where they're talking more about themselves and what's coming up for them working with kids that have challenges than they are hooking constantly during their department meetings around how do we work with this kid? How do we fix the most inefficient thing to do is to try to talk about 10 kids in a 45 minute block that you're worried about the most effective things to talk about one kid and your response to that kid and how you can shape and control and change and adapt how you're working with that kid. And then the third circle that impacts outcome is of course, context. And context includes everything that would come to mind from anybody listening right now, context would include, where's the behavior happening? When's it happening? Is it in the classroom is in the hallway? Is it at bedtime? Is it in the middle of the day, you know, if you're if you're a parent, that context includes what's the nature of your relationship with that kid, because the better the relationship you have, the more contextual issues and the more rights I have to try certain things with kids if I have a really good relationship. But context also includes I am, you know, people, most people listening won't be able to see me I'm a white, straight cisgendered middle, a middle aged middle class, man, I'm six foot two tall, and that if I don't carry and I said this a little bit less time, if I don't carry that knowledge into every interaction that I have with people. That's a problem. That's a contextual issue, that for many of the youth that I work with kids that are in the bipoc, community, kids that are in the queer community, that I automatically represents something that's harmful for them. And if I don't contextually understand that, then I am creating conditions under which I am contributing to their heart.
Sucheta Kamath: Wow, so many thoughts are circling in my head as I think about your third circle. You know, context, I think I'm wondering if you can comment a little bit about so there is the context in terms of the cultural context, you know, what's your relationship to the group, you know, you may be a minority teacher in a majority group versus vice versa. It could be time of the day, you know, I had Daniel Pink talking about his book, when which is our biochemistry is different during different parts of the day where, you know, a child who's hungry, who may be hangry, you know, and that could be a simple reason that child is misbehaving. Or you could be hungry.
Dave Melnick: If you have a third grade student that you have for most of the day, and that kid is, uh, is learning reasonably optimally. 11 o'clock at 11 o'clock in the morning. And then by one o'clock in the afternoon, the kid is surly defiant, mouthy. It could be about blood sugar could be about tiredness, it could be about what I really focus on what happened on the playground. Yes, because when I hear teachers say it's the same kid. Well, Dave, why was he learning at 11? Why not? And when I say he's not the same kid, because if the stress level changed if the kid was bullied or harmed or hurt or saw a sibling and was reminded of something that happened at home the night before, then it's not the same kid. It's a different version of the same kid. And that We have to recognize that there might have been something in the child stress experience that now has them leading, leading, so they're presenting in a very different way in the classroom.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, I mean, I think this reminds me of like a, you know, I think what kind of person you are in a person who has done the self work person who is mature person who has experienced something called motivational maturation, that means your motivations are not to control and squash, everything, but just allow things to thrive. I like to think about a visual when I talk to educators is you can be you're a tree under which children are seeking shade. So you can decide what kind of tree it is, because if it's too shady that nothing grows under shade. Right? And if it's too tall and thin, and has no leaves, then there's no shade, you know? So just the right amount of shade. How do you decide that? That means how do you make children feel that they're safe with you, but they also are ready to take academic and interpersonal risks, which is what learning is all about.
Dave Melnick: In your world and your expertise around executive functioning? I, I think I know the answer to this, but I don't know for sure. Is it fair for me to assume as a non expert in executive functioning, that relationships enhance executive functioning amongst kids, if I have a good relationship, and I'm the second grade teacher, I might get better executive functioning, functioning from a kid that I have a really good relationship with? Or does it not work that? Well?
Sucheta Kamath: Absolutely, primarily, because we tend to self regulate. If there is a social presence, that means we are likely to regulate, this is a gross example. But it is like you when you the things you will do in an elevator, when you're by yourself versus a one person enters the elevator and you suddenly shape up. That's social regulation. And that's what executive function allows you to do, not just you to regulate yourself, because your behavior actions, and your expression of thoughts and emotions influences other people. And that awareness makes you better.
Dave Melnick: So in terms of the, that's just the formula, and again, it's the second premise, one premise is there's lots of unwell people second premises, I part of my job is I've got to convince people that this formula is the most relevant way to understand outcomes, and that we can't continue to shoulder kids by filling out behavior plans and various different plans that exist in schools, because I think it says to the kids, exactly the opposite of what you said before, I think absent some really careful and considerate planning. I think many kids fill out behavior plans and the interpretation they make is there's something wrong with me. Because look, who fills out behavior plans in this classroom? The kids, you know, the kids know who the behavior plan kids are. So there's an automatic potential negative feedback loop on that.
Sucheta Kamath: So Dave, how do we manage all this what I know you have a very thoughtful way that you recommend us to approach this process? So how should we go about it?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, so going back to the premise of unwellness, injury, harm, wounding through trauma, and how that wounds bodies and collective bodies and communities and organizations and schools and things like that, that we use a metaphor with some level of detail that I'll just I'll just touch on, just so people can leave with a sense around that. And the metaphor is that, in order to address when unwellness and illness and injury and wounding has become big enough, sometimes we need medicine to take care of that. And so the metaphor is that in order to heal organizations, that have been harmed by trauma, that we think about medicine and a delivery system, that medicine without a delivery system. So if you think about having medicine, but no way of getting it into the people's, you know, mouths and arms, than the medicine doesn't do any good. So I'll just name what the five ingredient components of the medicine are that we use, and they can be different organizations, different people would say my medicines different, you know, the components of what we use to help heal people is different, that's fine. And then the six step delivery system is like how do you it's from implementation sciences? How do you implement? How do you get this, these good medicines into the people that need them? So the five ingredients for us, and they change even from when you and I met a couple years ago, I've changed one of them. The first one and Sucheta you tell me if I want if there's any detail, I'll just name them and then if you want some detail on them.
Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, that sounds great.
Dave Melnick: A little bit of detail or just name them?
Sucheta Kamath: Oh, well, I think a little bit detail will also help.
Dave Melnick: Okay, so the first medicine the first ingredient in the medicine is that we believe that everybody needs to everybody that works with and raises children needs to have an understanding of stress. And so we go into a fair amount Hell of understanding. And we use this progression of terms around stress that it's about detection, connection, and mitigation. And what that means is that in order to be effective in moderating stress, and in this case, post traumatic stress that can impact an individual person or collective of people, that in order to get to mitigation, you've got to detect it. First, you've got to know how it's impacting you. And so we spent a lot of time in our work, teaching people, adults, to get really good at detecting different stress states in their own bodies, and being able to in a very granular level, know the difference between stress states that are helpful and stress states that are harmful. One of the notions that many people carry popular notions that stress is bad. And that's not the case, stress is inherently never neither good nor bad. It depends. Whether stress is positive, and productive or negative and harmful, depends on the amount of stress the frequency of stress, the type of stress the age or developmental stage you are at. It depends on the escape ability of the stress when you can't escape the stress that is more harmful than stress that you can get away from. So those factors, and the overall capacity to be able to protect where you are on the stress continuum, which is what we teach, we show these beautiful slides around the stress continuum and the stress curve. The second notion is around connection. And that notion is that if you work with and raise children, it is highly likely that the stress that you are experiencing, and the stress that you are enduring will not get erased by self care that there is not enough self care time in your life, to be able to completely mitigate. One of the things that we push back on in our world of stress is that stress should be community property, it should not be. It should not be individualized and privatized the way it is in our culture, that stress is your problem. We don't believe that in trauma transformation, we believe that your stress to change, if you and I were working together in a school, your stress would be certainly some of your responsibility to mitigate, mitigate. But it would also be my responsibility, that your stress, like my stress is community property, it is a team sport, to address it and not an individual endeavor alone.
Sucheta Kamath: So I really like that, by the way, Dave, I think it's such a profound way. It's like a universal hug, you know, putting arms around every individual in the community. So they're never alone. I really think it's it'll change our world. If we do that.
Dave Melnick: I think if we really saw stress as community property and stopped individualizing and pathological pathologizing, there is not a diagnosis in DSM-5R that is not impacted and precipitated by stress. There is not 100% 100%, right, that you could have conditions that you know, genetic that you were born with, that are going to be made worse if you're in heightened levels of stress. So we talked about again, detecting it connecting with one another and having methods and means and measures by which every family, every workforce, every work group, every classroom has means by which they are connecting with one another. So we can then accomplish the third step, which was around mitigation, the kinds of stress that's most harmful. One of the things and then I'll move on to the next one, because I could talk for hours about stress. One of the things that we find incredibly important, particularly when you work with educators, is that there is often a an unwritten rule that you suppress negative stress. If you're an educator that you inhibit it, you suppress it, it's your problem, check it at the door, don't let it out. And one of the things that we know both by the ACEs study, but we knew it before that, we know that when you suppress negative stress states, it does not metabolize in your body and metastasizes. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And we know that stress will reveal itself, either with your permission or without your permission. So powerful. And So stress can reveal itself, with your permission. When you exercise. When you meditate. When you do yoga, when you break bread with friends, when you talk about in download your day with your partner that's letting stress out with your permission. When we overly suppress it, it will come out without our permission if we don't have methods by which we mitigate it. And we all know the ways that stress comes out without our permission. We humiliate other people we lose our temper we're impatient, or harmful or mean or unkind or short tempered all those kinds of things. So lots more we could talk about at some point maybe about stress. The second key ingredient You already named earlier Sucheta was is reflective practice, that we believe that you certainly have to read books about kids. And you have to understand executive functioning and learning style and personality theory and mood and all those. Like there's lots of lenses by which to understand the landscape, and landscape being kids and families and what we can see out there. But reflective practices, as we talked about earlier today, I believe it's far more important and far more relevant to outcomes, whether their educational outcomes or their mental health outcomes or well being outcomes, that we have methods and means and measures by which our workforce can reflect together in groups, no larger than six people on a regular basis. That we spend time analyzing deconstructing, surveilling and understanding ourselves our own antecedents and triggers, and conditions, conditioning and socialization. And to the best of our ability, make sure that we are examining those factors. So we can have the most control over outcomes with kids, when we're most clear about who we are and why we do what we do, not who the kid is, and why they do what they do. There are too many kids with too many complicated presentations, to be experts in all the kinds of kids Yes, so reflected, that's a good point. So reflective practices, be an expert on you. If you're an expert on you, you will automatically learn what you need to learn about people that you don't know or you don't understand.
Sucheta Kamath: And if I can just interject here, one of the challenges to this reflective practices is you need strong executive function to be able to reflect Yeah, and so one of the challenges that I talk in my circles that we want its children to take responsibility for their own learning, when we don't take responsibility for our own teaching. And your self lack of self awareness can be very harmful to children, because your assumption is I teach so you learn. But what if you fail to teach the way student learns, you and you never reflect on it, then it never becomes part of your self corrective process.
Dave Melnick: It's critical. I may have said this last time, but it bears reiterating that there is no such thing as self awareness without information from other people. There's just so much you can know about yourself, that that other people know you differently than you know yourself. That doesn't mean they know you better, they know you differently. And the information that other people have about us often can be incredibly important in our own capacity to improve our quality of teaching, counseling, parenting, whatever it is that we do. So that reflective practice. And, and often what ends up happening in schools is, you know, the concern around we don't have time for that. It is much more and there's research to back up what I'm about to say there is much more effective learning that happens in an hour a month of reflecting with your colleagues on your beliefs, your assumptions, your relationship with kids, then there isn't a six hours of professional development where somebody like me comes and speaks at people, that there is a robust amount of knowledge and research that says reflective practice enhances the learning of our workforce far more effectively and efficiently than standard professional development. The third ingredient, and I'll just run through these other ones. The third ingredient is the capacity to reframe. And what reframing everybody knows what reframing is, conceptually, how it's used here is that oftentimes, people get a fixed notion of behaviors, particularly problematic behaviors, and they often put a singular label on what is really a very complex set of conditions and behaviors that the kid might be expressing. So reframing is the capacity to have multiple explanations for what appears to be a singular behavior. And it wrestling rests on the notion reframing rests on the notion, one of the notions that what you see, you see selectively because you and I Sucheta could be watching the same news program. And we can both have different labels on what we're watching. And so we know that that what we see is a construction, a social construction based on your own, your gender, your sexual orientation, your conditioning, your race, you know your socioeconomic status, that what you see literally is impacted by who you are there, there is certainly objective truths, but more truths are subjective. And so reframing is living with the reality living in the both and world. I can comfortably work with a child and say they are both defiant and incredibly self protective and tenacious. I can live in both worlds. And in fact, I am more effective in working with defying kids because I recognize that the minute you label something you limit it, the minute you put a label on something, you limit it. Now, limit labels are great. I mean, we professional you, and we need limits, we need labels, because it's there's an efficiency. You say somebody has an executive functioning challenge to me. And you can say three words. And, and I got some ideas about what you're saying. But we have to look at the flip side of, of labeling, which is the moment you label it, you limit it, and you potentially kill curiosity, and wondering what else could this be?
Sucheta Kamath: And your own exploration about what other things may be mitigating or influences? Because that label has so many such strong boundaries? Exactly.
Dave Melnick: And that's where the limiting comes in. And so an example of reframing I gave is that the most trauma informed human beings are the one that can be working with a child and living in the both and world a child that's being very defined. No, I'm not doing this. You can't make me Mr. Melnick. I hate you. You're not so and so you can't make me do anything. So when kids get their back up against the wall, they're defiant. They're avoidant, they're putting their heads down on the desk, they're refusing to do tasks. I have great success with those kids, as many of the teachers do that I work with, because they're really good at seeing the both hand. What else is this child doing? Besides being defiant? Because I would argue that what they're also doing is they're being determined. They're being self protective. They're being passionate about their own beliefs, they're setting a limit on me, because I'm probably asking them to do something that is evoking of feeling that they don't like.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, it's, I know, you're on a roll here, I just quickly reminded me of a story I read this past weekend by I think, Sam Anderson in New York Times, and it was about I think the story was called, I have always struggled with my weight, losing, it didn't mean winning. And the story is literally about this reframing, that he goes through his struggle with his weight, and he goes through his visit his father who passes away, and his T shirts, he looks at them how who has, who was a runner, and then he looks at his own relationship to food. And he says, and at the end, he just concludes that, you know, I, I am not overeating. I'm curious and explore the world, through food, in addition to it was just such a wonderfully written article, you know what I mean? So I think we need that those kinds of little nudges, so that we can heal from our own obsessive or erroneous or not. So such good methods, or whatever we want to call it. But we need that reframing process.
Dave Melnick: You said to me, you should have one of the crucial things about reframing and why it works as a mindset and as a strategy. And that is that if you look at a child, and you call them to find that shapes the interaction, it shapes your tone, your emotion as the adults, your effect, tone, what the kid can read from you. And when you reframe it, what you're actually doing is you're communicating in a different ethics state with the kid, because most of us don't feel the same about a determined kid, or self protected kid, as we do about a defiant kid. Yes. And so when we change the language, it's not just some clever language shift. It is intended to change our experience of that behavior. When we change our experience and our perception of it. The child will feel it, it will feel like we're collaborative instead of critical towards them. The fourth thing, and I know we're running out of time.
Sucheta Kamath: Maybe we can cover these five, and that'll be great for today. But yes, tell us about the number four and five.
Dave Melnick: So the fourth ingredient is relationality. Relational, I use the word relationality. Because it's an underused word, people use relationship, I really want to get people's attention when I say relationality because it's really about the art and science of how we develop relationships with I love that term that we know. And we and we know from our own life experience, and we also know from the research and literature, that the singular most important tool in effecting change with another human being is a relationship. Yes, we're not, I'm not an engineer, I don't have a lot of fancy tools to do my work. The primary tool that all of us use when we're effective, is the ability to form and maintain and sustain a relationship with somebody, particularly somebody that has been harmed and hurt in relationships. It's hard to develop a relationship with somebody that has prior experiences that relationship represent harm and hurt and abuse and all those kinds of things. So relationality is and I will partially quote Maya Angelou because I think it's particularly pertinent to this ingredient in the medicine of transforming trauma. Longer quote, but essentially Maya Angelou talks about that people But we'll forget what you say and did, but they won't forget how you made them feel. When I'm in interacting with a kid, and that child is struggling, they may not remember a word about what I'm saying. But they will remember what it felt like to be with me to feel honoring and kind to feel humiliating, did it feel like I was trying to use my power to outmaneuver or to harm them, they may not remember us a moment of what I said. But they will remember the body tone feel. And that's critical. And so part of what we talk about in this fourth ingredient is how do we maximize our capacity to develop relationships, recognizing that many of the kids that we're most worried about are experiencing relational poverty. And what they need most is enhancement is they need two or three, trustworthy, reliable relationships as a precondition to learning relationships and love them for all kids is a precondition for learning. Most kids arrive at school with those relationships and tax so they don't necessarily need them with their teacher, they benefit from them. And then the fifth area is, is Co-care, community care. And so as an ingredient to transform trauma, what co care is, many people have heard the term, it is the more important older sibling of self care. And so I am a big fan of self care, I think self care is a necessary component to human well being. It is not sufficient, there is not enough time in the day there is not enough access to take care of yourself, for you to be a completely well, human being. In fact, that's not how evolution has taught us that we have survived all these hundreds of 1000s of years. We've survived as a species, primarily because we're really good at caring for one another. Yeah. Not because we take bubble baths or because we go on a jog. Those are important. I don't mean to put those down he is but what co-care is, is that it is the responsibility of the community, a school a mental health agency, a classroom to figure out together, how are we going to take care of one another, co cares about how do we take care of one another. So self care necessary, but not sufficient. Community Care. And so one last thing I'll say about many people that are listening probably work for organizations that promote self care, and they meet they even have apps and, and contests of who gets the most steps. And that's fine. Except when organizations promote self care, in the absence of providing co care, what the organization is doing for their workforce, then selfish self care becomes weaponized. And it becomes weaponized in this form of if you're not well, employee, it's because you're not doing enough self care. You're not taking good care of yourself, and it's a bit patronizing. So self care when it is when it is promoted singularly by a work by up by a workplace without also saying, hey, workforce, this is how we're taking care of you. Without that second more important component than we often have a implicit way that we're blaming people when they're not well, yeah, work.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, I think as I'm listening to you, it's just I don't know, I'm not coming from a place of discouragement. But I just I'm thinking, there's so many opportunities for people to change the way we educate care providers, educate and prepare our teachers educate and prepare children or college going young adults to become these participants in society as contributing members. Because Why limit this to trauma informed trauma transformed approaches to highly stressed contexts. Every single workplace is highly stressed context, every single interaction at home, if you don't keep check, requires reframing. You know, I mean, I think just why not learn about this? So as we close, Dave, do you have any thoughts about how can we take these wonderful nuggets of information and apply to universal way of becoming these human beings who have very safe collective nations? Or, or is that too grandiose? A thought at this point?
Dave Melnick: Yeah, yeah. You know, I have friends and colleagues that are so good at thinking globally and acting locally, locally. I'm thinking, I have been amazed and humbled by the schools that I work with in Vermont, in New York and in parts of Canada, that have been and again the word that you use before in describing yourself as being disruptive. that, that you don't transform trauma, if you're not disruptive, you don't transform trauma by just following the status quo complete. Our state has a kind of capacity and ability. And many of the schools that I've worked with, have a level of bravery and courage, that's just say, this sounds good, let's test it with the workforce. If you can sell the workforce on this, then we will commit the resources, that wow, the program that we offer is significantly less expensive than then packaged, you know, we really try to tailor it, we're a small outfit, we're a small little mental health agency and in one of the smallest states in the United States. And so we have trusted that what sells the program is relationships. Yeah. As what changes, the work that we have to do with kids and families is relationships. So we use our own medicine, and that, that the districts where this is really taking a footing, is not the wealthiest districts, it's not the, you know, necessarily the most progressive, it's the ones that have allowed and enabled a relationship to develop between us and them, and a level of trust and regard to figure let's go through because I'm not, I'm not going to change it on my own. It's a partnership, it's a collaboration, it's a community, and that when we speak that language, there's often a lowering of any kind of defenses around what you're going to do or what you're going to change or where you're going to ask us.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, brilliant, I am going to give you the list of quotes I have for you the what you have said, which needs to be framed all over my office. So and I wish to really educate myself even more deeply to understand how to create communities because you know, I as a creator of ExQ, and a curriculum in schools, I have a relationship with lots of districts and schools. And as we are expanding, I'm recognizing that just schooling in 21st century post COVID is not an easy process. So Dave, I cannot thank you for your generous time. And thank you listeners for your patience. We did take a little bit extra time from you. But we meant to do that. Because as you can see, Dave could have gone on for another two hours in depth. But I really appreciate your time. So that's all the time we have. Thank you deeply Dave, Dave Melnick, for being my guest. As you can see, these are important conversations. And as you become knowledgeable and informed by our guests, we create communities where we share this common knowledge, which again, becomes the impetus to change. So that's all the time we have. As usual. If you love what you're listening to share with your colleagues, friends and family. Please leave us a review. And we also will have this posted on YouTube in case you would like to see Dave and I bantering about this. So once again, thank you for joining in today. And let's see you again next time here at on Full PreFrontal. Thank you.