In a drumming session, attendees learned how music can help access emotions in a non-verbal way to promote expression and catharsis.

Jefferson Conference Works to Close Trauma Training Gaps

Trauma at a young age can drastically impact children’s development, physical health and emotional well-being, and the problems likely continue as they grow up. A strong relationship exists between childhood adversity and cardiac disease, obesity, diabetes and depression later in life.

Philadelphia residents experience higher doses of childhood adversity than average, and consequently, they face a greater risk of physical and behavioral health challenges and disorders. 

“Yet, many health and human service professionals and paraprofessionals lack the necessary training to address the trauma-related needs of their patients and clients,” says Dr. Jeanne Felter, chair of Jefferson’s Counseling and Behavioral Health Department.

To help close such gaps, the University presented the third annual
Philadelphia Trauma Training Conference: Promoting Equitable Access to High-Quality Services for Vulnerable Children and Families from July 30 to Aug. 1.

The meeting on East Falls Campus provided intensive, collaborative training to providers, educators and leaders across health, education and social service disciplines, as well as to community members invested in the health of their families, neighborhoods and cities.

“Trauma knowledge and competencies shouldn’t be reserved solely for providers of care,” notes Dr. Felter, Community and Trauma Counseling professor and Zeldin Family Foundation Term Chair. “Far too many of our most vulnerable citizens are underserved in our existing health systems. There remains tremendous need and opportunity to train community members, family members, faith leaders—individuals embedded within communities and engaging with children, adolescents and families—to understand their unique and important role in healing.”

Over 500 people from 13 states attended lectures that covered a variety of topics, including supporting a school community after a tragedy, exploring how spirituality and trauma intersect, implementing inclusivity practices with LGBTQIA youth, and, notably, building knowledge and skills to support immigrant, refugee and displaced or separated youth.

“This is a topic critically important for providers and community members given the widespread trauma and inhumane treatment experienced by children and families migrating into the U.S.,” Dr. Felter says. “These deeply impacted individuals and families reside within our communities and attend our schools but have limited access to services and resources. We have a responsibility to grow our capacity to serve the complex needs of our displaced children.”

In another special meeting facet, the PhotoVoice project by Jefferson and the Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity showcased the work of 34 teenagers from North Philadelphia. Following a brief photography lesson, the teens captured images in their neighborhood that answered the question, “What helps or prevents you from being healthy in your community?” They then wrote captions to accompany the pictures, from a baseball and a water bottle to trash-covered streets and graffiti. “One person has this plant and it is real, but it did not last long because of winter,” an anonymous teen wrote of a photo titled “The Only Beauty.”

Along with giving a voice to underserved communities and addressing health inequities, the conference helped people work collaboratively across disciplines and sectors to contribute to healthy outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

Jacqui Johnson, founder and executive director of Sankofa Healing Studio, attended the Trauma Training Conference for the third time. This year, she presented on the vicious cycle of incarcerating marginalized girls and women who have experienced complex trauma and the correlation between stress, trauma and the vagus nerve.

“The conference has enabled me to connect with other clinicians and become aware of valuable programs I might otherwise not have been introduced to,” Johnson says. “In fact, I’m currently enrolled in Jefferson’s art therapist professional certificate program as a direct result of being introduced to art therapy at last year's conference.”

Also attending the meeting for the third year, Ismael Alvarez Jr. says the conference allowed him to learn through comprehensive didactic concurrent sessions and put the information into practice with interprofessional case-based experiences.

“I’ve always left the conference feeling invigorated, ready to share the knowledge gained and feel more trauma-responsive in the work that I go back to do,” says Alvarez, division director of center-based services at the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, which sponsored the meeting along with Lakeside, the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

In the stirring keynote to close out the conference, psychologist, performer and poet Mykee Fowlin spoke about the importance of listening to patients and the value of attendees sharing their own grief, anguish and suffering. By acting through five characters, Fowlin discussed his personal trauma growing up.

“I was raised to not talk about my pain,” he says. “I learned to stuff my pain inside. That was the part that was killing me. Your pain is not for you to keep alone.” 

The Philadelphia Trauma Training Conference at Jefferson attracted over 500 attendees from across the country.