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Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma – Book Review

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From the Cover of Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma: Helping Children and Families in Foster Care, Kinship Care or Adoption edited by Anthea Hendry and Joy Hasler:

“A burgeoning evidence base supports that arts, play and other creative therapies have potential to help children in care to recover from complex trauma. Written by contributors working at the cutting edge of delivering effective therapeutic interventions, this innovative book describes models for working with children in foster care, kinship care or adoption and presents a range of creative therapeutic approaches spanning art psychotherapy, music therapy and dance therapy.”


Grade:
For Families

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Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 4 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

For Professionals

5 hoots out of 5

Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 5 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a professionals interacting with or treating foster or adopted children.


What Our Family Thought:

The target audience appears to be therapists, school personnel, and other professionals seeking to help children recover from complex trauma. Edited by professionals in the United Kingdom, this book focuses on therapeutic interventions in the UK but touches on their counterparts used in the United States. As someone who has a degree in psychology, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and its case vignettes. It gives background to theoretical developments in complex trauma and attachment as well the creative therapies used in treatment, their histories, effectiveness, and evidence base. It highlights the need for interdisciplinary interventions and teams of all involved adults working together to help children. This is an academic book which assumes at least some working knowledge in attachment, trauma, psychopathology, and psychotherapy.

We highly recommend this book to professionals in the field who interact with or treat foster or adopted children. This book would also be helpful to caregivers who are seeking to learn more about creative treatment options which may be available to their children.


Buy From Our Links and Support Transfiguring Adoption:


It’s Your Turn:

  1. Have your children taken part in therapies which were ineffective for them?
  2. What therapy would you like to try for your child?
  3. Has your child experienced success with any creative therapies? If so, what therapy was helpful?

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The Importance of a Foster Care and Adoption Tribe

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I was relatively unemotional, a bit to my own surprise, during our move to Florida this year, I guess because I was just really excited about it, but I had intense moments of realizing what an amazing group of people we were leaving. It took years to develop our “tribe” or “village.” It was not immediate. We moved to Florida not REALLY knowing anyone. We knew of a few foster and adoptive families. We have some acquaintances because of our frequent trips to Orlando in the past several years. We have people here who love what we do with Transfiguring Adoption. We have people who are eager to volunteer for us, but it is going to take a while to establish a tribe. Over the last six months, I have definitely experienced waves of grief and sadness over what we left, and so have our kids.

What We Left and Why It’s So Important

“For caregivers to ‘keep their mind and heart open to the child so that they can remain engaged’ (Hughes et al. 2012, p. 23), they need others who engage with them whom they trust to be empathic, who understand the challenges they have endured over months or years, and who can appreciate why they have lost hope, warmth, compassion and joy and that caring for the child may have just become a job.”

~ Janet Smith in Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma

There is something to be said about having people around you that “get you,” people you don’t have to explain yourself to or give long backstories. I love this quote from Janet Smith. It communicates a need for a tribe of people around foster and adoptive parents who speak the same language and have compassion and empathy for their whole family. We left a host of people whom I miss so dearly, who knew us and our kids, who journeyed through the good and the bad with us (listed here in alphabetical order…not necessarily importance).


  • Adults who have been in our children’s shoes
    We had a group of people in our lives who had been in foster care or who had been adopted. These individuals help us understand our kids at times when they cannot verbalize their feelings or they do not understand themselves, and they provide modeling for our children of what they can do in life or overcome their trauma. When we had two foster kids last year, one neighbor who had been in foster care as a child and who had also fostered in the past, was a safe place for our teen to land when the stuff really “hit the fan.”
  • Church and pastor
    We had a wonderful little church family in Tennessee with other adoptive parents and professionals in the congregation. They understood and loved our kids and us. While we were only in Tennessee for about five and a half years, we have known our former pastor, Phil, and his family for almost two decades. He was our pastor in Illinois before we were even married, he performed our wedding, and our families were often substitute extended families when our families were far away. They were some of the first folks our kids met and connected with after moving into our home. Our youngest, who was really into superheroes, somehow started calling him “Captain Phil,” and the name lovingly stuck. They were with us from the decisions made about foster care and adoption to finalization and all the highs and lows during and after.
  • Doctors
    While I wasn’t fond of every single one of the specialists who cared for our children, we had a wonderful PCP who was proactive in getting care for our kids (and us as well). Most specialists were within a 20-30 minute drive. They knew our kids’ histories and were able to quickly ascertain medical needs.
  • Neighborhood
    We had some fabulous neighbors in Tennessee. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a very small subdivision, and most folks helped each other when it came to keeping an eye out for the neighborhood kids.
  • Network of professionals and therapists
    We found a new therapist last week, but it is going to take a long time to build what we had in Tennessee. We had a network of post-adoption therapists and service providers around us. Our family was able to grow and thrive through groups, adoptive family camps, home therapists, equine therapy, attachment therapy, and so on provided by these amazing people at places like Harmony Family Center, Shining Light Equestrian, the office of Helen Lyle-Joiner, and Built2Bond Attachment Institute. Even after our kids were discharged from these places, we knew we could call on them in a crisis and go back when needed. They could quickly answer questions and give suggestions having knowledge of our kids’ stories and needs.
  • Other foster and adoptive families
    Over our time in Tennessee, we were surrounded by a great group of foster and adoptive families who were on the journey together, fighting for our kids, fighting for healing, fighting for attachment. They spoke our language and shared our struggles. I always had people to call upon for advice, practical needs, or a group of ladies to go grab some time away with. I was able to be on the receiving end of desperate phone calls from other parents in the trenches. For me, it gave purpose to our struggles as we learned and were able to help others. It helped us all to know we were not alone and to have better outcomes for our kids.
  • School nurse
    Oh, how we miss our “Nurse Ashley.” As Dalton was leaving elementary school, we would have moved on from her care anyways, but we love her. As a foster adoptive parent herself, she understood Dalton and us. Her office became his safe place during difficult times. She provided the same for our elementary-aged foster child last year. She was priceless to our family.
  • Schools
    Our kids were enrolled in some amazing schools with great staff who helped to meet the kids’ needs at school. It wasn’t always easy, and in the beginning, they didn’t always “get us,” but by the time we left, we knew they had our backs and our kids’ backs.

We have floundered a bit over the last six months trying to get established here and find a similar system of support, like when one child had to go a few months without much needed meds because of issues getting a psychiatric provider. For now, I am thankful for the caregivers we have connected with through Transfiguring Adoption. We just found a therapist that two of our kids spoke with for intake and loved. We are starting to get plugged in to groups of caregivers. I know it takes far longer than we would hope, but I’m looking forward to building a new tribe here as it is a vital part of the life of a foster or adoptive family.


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Adjusting Dreams with Kids with Special Needs: 4 Tips to Help Them

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This past spring we attended a high school graduation for the first time as parents of a graduate. During the ceremony, we were inundated with numbers. Ninety percent of the 470 graduates were entering college. They had been awarded $25,502,169 in scholarships. It was not as hard as I anticipated knowing that my child was not one of these students. College is not a good match for him. I know that. What was incredibly hard was watching graduates stand as their names were called along with the branch of the military they were entering. That was difficult. I cringed as I thought about unattained dreams. Our young man had dreamed of being a soldier as long as we had known him.


Unrealized Dreams

I can sympathize with unrealized dreams, as can most people who have lived a few years. My childhood dream was to be accepted to and attend Northwestern University, which was at the time ranked as 14th in the nation and was one of the very top schools in speech pathology, which I intended to major in. My childhood was not without major obstacles and struggles. I fought with fierce determination to succeed at what I put my mind to. I worked for what I got, but so much came naturally. I was not limited by a disability. While so much was unknown to me, I knew enough. I applied to Northwestern and was accepted, but after much deliberation, I chose to attend the state school offering me a scholarship as opposed to graduating with tons of debt. Looking back I know, had I gone to Northwestern, I would not have met Darren. Chances are that this crazy, dysfunctional family and Community Kids and Transfiguring Adoption would not have all come about. I still have that acceptance letter. In high school, I was voted most skilled in business, most likely to succeed, and most likely to be in politics (really???). I remain proud of my accomplishments, but that person seems far away. My dreams had to be adjusted.


Adjusting Dreams and Expectations

I talk often about adjusted dreams and expectations. I join with parents all over who secretly hurt for their kids, who feel twinges when their kids are not being recognized for how amazing they are at awards ceremonies or graduations. How I wanted to scream to the rooftop of that huge, packed out college basketball stadium about the wonders that our boy has achieved, living through horrors and overcoming obstacles those other grads could never imagine.

My life does not look like what I thought it would when I received those high school awards. Does that make me unsuccessful? Are my new dreams any less valuable? My child’s life does not look like what he had hoped. Does that make him unsuccessful? Six months post graduation, we are still struggling with our young man to figure out the next steps. We don’t know what our kids’ futures hold. We don’t know what our futures or the future of Transfiguring Adoption holds. We don’t yet have hindsight. When living as a foster or adoptive family, our dreams and expectations quite often go unmet and have to change, sometimes drastically. Our life looks SO different than what we dreamed or expected. We have had to grieve those dreams and build new ones.


But When It’s Our Kids…

It’s one thing as adults to readjust our dreams and expectations. We have more hindsight, and we have more life experience. We know there are many more types of opportunities for success. While, in the moment, it can be hard for us to access all this, our kids really do not have much in the way of life experience with other possibilities. How can we help them?

  1. Kindly offer reality.
    One thing that we have battled is people in positions of authority who are supposed to be helping kids set and reach goals telling them they can be anything they want. We can’t put a blind person in the pilot’s seat and have them fly a passenger jet. I’m sorry, but the child who is tone deaf is not going to be a famous singer, and the young adult who cannot read, is going to have limited choices. Sometimes we have to help our children ascertain between reachable dreams and those that are unattainable. To allow them to continue expecting something unrealistic is setting them up for a much greater pain and loss. For example, we helped our guy take a practice military entrance test. When we saw the results, we shared with the school and encouraged them to help us in helping him instead of continuing to focus on the military as a goal and setting him up for heartache and failure without a backup plan. They ultimately repeated the test at school and shared with him that no amount of hard work, through no fault of his, would fill the gaps.
  2. Acknowledge their pain and help them grieve.
    Do not just brush the child’s dreams aside. Let them know that it is painful to let go of dreams, allow them to grieve, and help them understand how to grieve that loss.
  3. Share your experiences.
    We have to be careful to not undermine our children’s struggles, but we can express that while our experience is quite different, we have had to face crushed dreams, share what they were, how we handled it, and positive outcomes.
  4. Show them other possibilities.
    Help your child explore other options. Is there something related to their interest that they are capable of attaining? What are other options that they may not be aware of? Help them explore.

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. Is there anything you would add to this list?
  2. What have you done to help yourself or others to manage the loss of unrealized dreams?

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