Trauma, Brain and Relationship Helping Children Heal
From NEURONS TO NEIGHBORHOODS
Second Annual Conference
Interview with Judith Weaver, Ph.D.
DR. WEAVER, FOR REFERENCE CAN YOU GIVE ME YOUR NAME, PROFESSION AND PLACE YOU PRACTICE OR TEACH?
My name is Judyth Weaver. I am a somatic psychologist, I teach sensory awareness, I work with and teach pre- and perinatal psychology, and I teach Tai Chi Tuan. I live in Mill Valley, California and I have a private practice there. I teach in several graduate schools. I co-founded Santa Barbara Graduate Institute and I teach in Japan and Indian and Russia and Canada, other places.
WOW, THAT'S GREAT. THANK YOU. HOW CAN SENSORY AWARENESS BE USED IN TREATING CHILDHOOD TRAUMA?
Sensory awareness is really the action or the activity of bringing people more into what's really happening with them. If a child, anyone, can get a sense of how they're feeling at the moment, then it creates a distance and some differentiation between the trauma and the effect there, and what they're feeling right now. Sensory awareness, tuning into your breath, tuning into how you're sitting, how your body is, what you're feeling, creates an element of safety. That is the first thing we need to work with with anyone who has been traumatized. They have to have a safe space so they can begin to face and then release whatever they need to.
CAN YOU DEFINE SENSORY AWARENESS?
I call sensory awareness, somatic inquiry. I offer to the client, to the person I'm working with, or to the class, some questions. Asking them where they feel their breathing? How they feel sitting on the chair? Do you feel the support from the back? The temperature? How are your hands, what you're touching? All of these things bring people into the moment without emotions. It's just the sensations. There we can start.
Now working with children it's essential, because a lot of the trauma that has happened to children, and happened before they were verbal. There's no way we're going to work with that verbally. We have to get into their senses and allow the movements, or whatever the needs, to come out of that experience into their consciousness in a safe, spacious way.
CAN SENSORY AWARENESS BE USED WITH CHILDREN AS WELL AS ADULTS?
I think sensory awareness can be used with anyone. I work with infants, newborns, and I use sensory awareness. Of course, I'm not telling them, to feel their breath or anything. What's very important is that the adult, the practitioner, do a lot of this work, and have a lot of this experience of sensing themselves, sort of like healer heal thyself. I have to really be in touch with myself so I can allow the other person; child or adult, to have their whatever it is they're going through. To know what's mine and what's theirs, so I don't interfere, much less transference, counter-transference. Also, I need that background for myself. I need to know where I am centered, so I can work with a person and let them go through whatever it is they need to.
HOW DO YOU WORK WITH AN INFANT UTILIZING SENSORY AWARENESS?
I work with infants who, of course, can't speak through the experience of my own sensing, and empathy. I know what it's like to really feel uncomfortable or create some movements. Then when I see movements coming from them, I can relate to it and talk to them. Also I do talk to the children. They don't use their words. They don't use English to me, but I use English, because they understand. They hear. So I talk to them and they'll tell me. I say, "Oh, that doesn't look so good. It probably doesn't feel so good either." Or I can even put it on myself and say, "When I do that, that doesn't feel so good." So I'm guessing it doesn't feel so good to you. They respond.
HOW CAN THIS WORK HELP HEAL, AND HOW CAN IT PREVENT CHILD TRAUMA?
Healing is, first of all, creating the container, a safe container, by being really clear about what is happening in the moment and what happened in the past. For example, now my breath is going down into my belly. It's long. I remember that traumatic incident, and I was panting and I was breathing, and I wanted to scream but I couldn't. But, now I can speak. So it's very clear what's now and what was then. From that safe space, be it physical, physiological, mental, keeping my feet on the ground and knowing that I'm here, then I can go look at that traumatic incident and know that that's not me, that was then. And not change what happened, but allow my new feelings, which are safer and more present, give me support and resource.
HOW WOULD THAT HELP HEAL OR PREVENT CHILD TRAUMA?
Every child has a sense of himself. We take it away when the baby's hungry, and if it's on a schedule, the baby cries and the mother looks at her watch and says, "No, it's not time yet." Pretty soon the baby doesn't know when it's hungry. So allowing the person, not taking it away from them, allowing the child, the infant, their self-regulation, and their being responded to, as I think every child believes. Then they have a greater sense of themselves. Then when someone else comes in and does something abusive or starts to molest a child, they have a greater sense of their own bodies and their selves and they can say, "No." They just have more command.
DO YOU TRAIN CLINICIANS OR DO YOU TRAIN PARENTS WITH THIS INFORMATION? DO YOU ACTUALLY WORK WITH CHILDREN?
I train clinicians at the graduate school. We're teaching students who are earning degrees, master and doctorate degrees, in somatic psychotherapy. I train parents. I don't work with children without the parents present, at least one parent. Although, preferably both. So I do work with parents. They see how I work with the child and learn, and then I also work with the children themselves. A very simple example is how we talk about children so much of the time as if they're objects rather than to them. That's the most common thing parents say, "I just learned so much, I can talk to my baby." They never thought of that.
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE TODAY AT THE CONFERENCE? DID IT AFFECT THE WAY YOU PRACTICE?
I could jump up and down with joy, because everything he said I think finally there is a doctor with a Ph.D. who is agreeing with this. He said that the senses are nutritional. They're nutrition for us. I work with smell, touch, breath, sound, sight, all of that. I was just so thrilled. He also said that early childhood trauma changes the biology of the brain. Well early childhood support also changes the biology of the brain. We have to work with parents, who can feel good enough about themselves, so that they can allow their children to feel good enough, then there won't be the kind of abuse. I was really, really thrilled.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
Often most infants come in to see me with their parents because of difficult births, birth traumas. There could have been traumas even en utero. But most wonderfully, my favorite way of working is with a couple before they conceive. In fact, I've helped people conceive and then worked with them through pregnancy, parents talking to the baby and really feeling good about this being embodied. Then when the baby's born, and I carried one person all the way through and was a doula at her birth, I worked with the baby when he was five minutes old. That's my youngest client.
More often than not, parents come because the baby had a difficult birth, a c-section, forceps, various things like that. So the baby is crying a lot, going into strange postures, and not that I can do sensory awareness with the child, but allowing that posture to happen and know that it's all right. I help that child feel that he's supported. It was a he, the last one I worked with. I let him follow the movement that he needed to do. Often, there are movements even en utero or in birth that have been truncated, and the baby is trying to complete that movement. So it's really very simple, just to be sensitive and allow the child, the adult too, to do what they need to do to balance themselves and resource themselves.
GREAT. THANK YOU VERY MUCH DR. WEAVER.
(END OF INTERVIEW)
Stan Tatkin, Psy.D. - Psychotherapist
Please read our disclaimer.