Kurn Hattin Annual Conference: Elements of Success for Treating Trauma and Attachment Issues

Kurn Hattin Homes for Children 22nd Annual Fall Mental Health Conference will be held October 25, 2013! 

Treating Trauma and Attachment Issues in Children and Families 

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featuring Terry Levy, Ph.D., B.C.F.E. and Michael Orleans, M.A., D.A.P.A., co-founders of the Evergreen Psychotherapy Center and the Attachment Treatment and Training Institute in Evergreen, Colorado.

In a recent interview, Dr. Levy and Mr. Orlans gave us a preview of their upcoming workshop, “Treating Trauma and Attachment Issues in Children and Families.” The following is a summary of the second installment of our conversation with these esteemed experts in the field of child and family therapy. Our introductory blog post on this topic can be viewed here.
Attachment has to do with the way in which children become bonded to their parents early in life. Secure attachment involves love, protection, need fulfillment, and communication. Anxious or disordered attachment involves some level of trauma.
Levy and Orlans’ work centers on children suffering from attachment issues as a result of experiencing trauma, neglect, or emotional, psychological, or physical abuse. Their October 25 workshop at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children offers support for social workers, counselors and therapists, caregivers, parents, and anyone working with children and families affected by trauma and attachment issues.

These are five of many elements Levy and Orlans identify as essentials for facilitating secure attachment and helping these children let down barriers and learn to trust adults and accept love again.

Start with yourself.

It is important for caregivers to look in the mirror, and be aware of your own issues, tendencies, and triggers. Children with attachment issues often look for an adult’s weak spot—something they know will cause frustration or get a reaction. They have learned that this is one way they can feel in control.  In such cases, reacting in anger or taking punitive action may simply confirm in the child’s mind that adults cannot be trusted.

Levy and Orlans often tell clients, “Change the dance; change the child.”  If caregivers can change the way they interact with the child, the dynamics of the relationship can change, and mutual trust and understanding can begin to emerge.  

Step into the child’s shoes.

The child’s cognitive frame, internal working model, or way of perceiving the world, is based in his or her experience of trauma. A “normal” child will view a parent as loving and safe, and will want to listen to and learn from them. A child with trauma and attachment problems will view a teacher, parent, or authority figure as someone who could hurt them. That is what their past experience has been. They do not want to listen or get close to this person. Instead they choose to act out or defy him or her. Understanding this perspective and taking a compassionate stance will enhance caregivers’ ability to have patience, and to try new tactics as they build or rebuild the trust essential for healthy attachment.

Cultivate mutual respect.

Respect is the backbone of trust; without it, the bonds necessary for healthy attachment cannot form.  Caregivers of children with attachment issues must work harder to show that they are worthy of the child’s trust. Start by trusting the child. Be consistent, firm, patient, loving, and caring. Set clear and thorough rules. Keep promises and follow words with actions.

Involve the whole family.

It is not enough to place the focus of healing solely on the children because in most cases, the whole family unit— mothers, fathers, siblings— has been traumatized. The family must come together and work toward the common aim of a stronger family in the future.

Give the child the tools to succeed.

Children who have been hurt tend to fall back on anger and aggression as their mechanisms for getting control and “solving” problems.  However, when children are taught to notice and be aware of these feelings when they arise, they can begin to control those impulses.  Cultivating empathy and introducing social skills for communicating, cooperating, getting along, managing conflicts are also keys to success.

For more information on this topic, register for the upcoming conference.


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orlansTerry Levy, Ph.D., B.C.F.E., and Michael Orlans, M.A., D.A.P.A., are internationally respected teachers,trainers, and clinicians with an expertise in restoring attachments in children, teens, adults, and couples.
Their work has been featured in numerous national publications and TV shows. They are co-founders of ATTACh (The Association for the Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children) and on the founding Executive Advisory Board of the A.P.A (American Psychotherapy Association).
Terry M. Levy, Ph.D. and Michael Orlans, M.A. are co-directors of the Evergreen Psychotherapy Center, Evergreen, Colorado, and the authors of Attachment, Trauma and Healing (Child Welfare League of America, 1998), and Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust and Love (Child Welfare League of America, 2006).

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