“Don’t waste your hate, rather gather and create. Be of service. Be a sensible person. Use your words and don’t be nervous. You can do this. You’ve got purpose. Find your medicine and use it.” ~ Nahko Bear
High School & College-Level Speaking & Post Presentation Integration workshops
Is this appropriate for the high school and college setting? I believe it is, however, only when certain parameters are kept in place and there is clear communication between the speaker and the school community (including the guidance and counseling departments). Additionally I believe a speaker should have the qualifications and experience to safely work and speak among groups of survivors who are under eighteen years of age. I will elaborate below.
What is a safe adult? We may want to be a safe adult, however, what does it actually mean to have a child experience us as safe? I believe that a safe adult working with children possesses three key aspects. The first aspect is that the adult works within a team and not alone. The second, is that they make time and space for self-care and if working in a therapeutic role, has one's own clinical supervision and counseling in place. This ensures that a practitioner can become aware of her own shortcomings and blind spots. The third aspect is that safe adult holds the appropriate education, training and experience for the specific helping role they are in and has a clear understanding of how the role fits into a larger support structure; such as a school setting.
My background in Working in Public Schools: I may be a survivor, but does that make me someone who should be granted the opportunity to speak in front of kids? My answer is, no. Here is what I also hold in my background, experience and journey that I believe does qualify me. I have held the roles of: mandatory reporter, teacher, mental health counselor / school social worker, dance therapist, coach and mentor within schools. I have worked under licensure in public schools in the states of Oregon, Massachusetts and Connecticut. After working as an English and dance teacher for five years, I went back to school to obtain my Masters in Mental Health Counseling and Dance Therapy from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I loved my work in schools and also knew I wanted to understand what working with a child in a therapeutic role entails and even if I returned to the classroom, I still wanted this background so that I really knew how to be a safe adult for kids in my current job as a teacher. I was fortunate to begin my counseling role in schools through a two-year internship as a school social worker and dance therapist in a progressive school district in Massachusetts. I wanted the checks and balances that come with understanding clinical work as well as the clinical supervision to become aware of my own bias and background in my work with others. I knew intuitively that this background and education would be a critical step in the overall work I had a vision to one day do as a public advocate and speaker for survivors. Additionally, I know this critical education, background, and my years of experience in public schools sets me up well to be given the incredible trust, privilege, and responsibility to speak to an audience of teens and/or group of adult survivors. I also have many administrators and staff in multiple districts who can speak to my experience and the quality of my work in schools and in working with children in a variety of ways.
We will always impact children more through what we embody more than through anything we will ever say. Any educator knows that children are more impacted by our example than by an eloquent speech or finely crafted lesson. We must embody and model for students what we believe is possible for them to one day hold as their own truth. Our dream, of course, is for them to then go beyond what we have achieved and experienced. When it comes to thriving in life, children who have been wounded must have modeling in order ask for help and go through the journey to heal. They need examples of adults who outwardly demonstrate that they embody the essential qualities of: courage, vulnerability, and the capacity to ask for help. Lastly and most-importantly they need examples of adults who have faced and confronted their own wounds and done the courageous work to heal. In seeing the example, they know it is possible for themselves. Children are the most perceptive group in our population. It is useless to try to fool them. They know when we are not honest and they also greatly respect us when we are authentic and vulnerable. The reality is that we cannot hold their traumatic truths, if we have not already held our own. Having individuals in society that model the courageous act of healing from child sexual abuse is clearly so needed for the next generation of children to witness.
What will be shared at the speaking Event? As a speaker, I feel the most important part of any speaking event is to simply to make myself visible; to be seen. As a child, I needed to see adult survivors who were not ashamed to live their status openly. I needed to see successful and thriving survivors. I needed an adult to acknowledge that what I had lived through was confusing, difficult and important to acknowledged and talk about. I needed my community to see that I existed, that I was hurting and that I needed help to heal. I needed to know that I could receive help, whether I was ready to tell anyone what happened or was happening or not. I needed to know who would be safe to go to if and when I was ever ready to tell. Mostly, I needed to know I wasn’t the only one, and that I was not alone. As a speaker, when I stand on stage, all of the above is accomplished within the first two minutes.
Note: I will never share specific details of abuse when speaking with audiences of any age. Details of abuse have a high likelihood of re-traumatizing other survivors. I do share what it was like for me to grow up, go to school, and go home, while being abused in my family. I share that I needed to see examples of other survivors while growing up. I share on certain tools that helped me to heal, such as dance, writing, inner child work, nature and the arts. I share that my family and home were not safe. I share that certain secrets should be shared. I share about resources in the community. I creatively weave in humor, references to literature and the arts to make the depth of the content appropriate and palatable. I work with the school or college to point students in the direction of resources in their community
The speaker not only offers hope to the survivor but, benefits the community This event allows the community to remember the prevalence of survivors within it. It brings awareness to a need for compassion and space for the survivor’s reality to be acknowledged collectively. Even if we were not directly abused, we likely know someone who has been. In a community of support, survivors are more likely to tell someone they are being abused and they are also more likely to be connected to the supports they need to assist in their healing process. Educators gain a greater awareness and communities realize a need for more trauma-sensitive training and often come up with their own creative ideas in how to support survivors.
Follow up – Expressive Arts Therapies Group Workshops
After the speaking event, students may be processing a great deal. The community will need to create a space for students to integrate and process what was shared. We do this through follow up Expressive Arts Workshops. The first workshop can happen the day of, or up to one week later.
Any audience member who feels passionate about the topic or wants to be a part may attend. It is stated that the group is made up of anyone who cares about the topic. There is no need for a student to identify as a survivor to be a part. This allows students to stay anonymous and participate in a way that feels safe. The arts are a wonderful way to express, be seen and communicate in a safe way. It allows students to process the content non-verbally, or if through writing it can be creative rather than explicit.
For the Workshops: I will return with my team to facilitate the workshops along with a minimum of two members of the guidance or counseling department at the school. Students are given guided exercises to express through the arts medium of their choice. We will use some movement, meditation and yoga to help the students ground into their bodies before the session. Schools will supply any writing, instruments or arts supplies.
If schools are open, the students can have an afternoon or evening event, where students display or perform their work or have a place in the school where student work can be displayed.
There is an option to connect this school community to other schools for future collaborative endeavors. Students can be part of a march or community outreach to raise awareness for survivors.
The speaking event and integration workshops are designed to create a foundation for a permanent group within the school that students have ownership over and can last long after the workshops.