Structured Sensory Interventions for Traumatized Children, Adolescents and Parents
What is trauma?
To understand what trauma in children is, it helps to start with what it’s not. Childhood trauma is not a diagnosis. It’s an experience. Children who have been severely abused, neglected or marginalized aren’t just experiencing what we might call “fear;” this word is too small. What they’re experiencing is terror; the same terror commonly associated with the devastating experiences of soldiers in battle. Feelings of powerlessness and a total lack of safety persist, even when the threat is over and often creates a spiraling constellation of debilitating symptoms and behaviors that defy traditional therapies.
Recognizing trauma for what it is – a survival tactic.
When the brain is faced with a traumatic incident or situation, it doesn’t shut down. It shifts. The “reasoning” part of the brain gives way to the more primitive mid-brain where everything is about instinct and survival. Cognitive processes become limited, while sensory reactions to terror dominate. Fight, flight or avoidance reactions are not uncommon. A traumatized child reframes memories and behaviors in ways that may not make sense to an onlooker or even to the child – but make perfect sense to a brain grappling to protect itself from danger. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the negative behavior issues resulting from these mid-brain responses may in fact be the greatest evidence of a child’s inner resilience.
SITCAP® – TLC’s revolutionary approach: leading the field in the treatment of childhood trauma.
The core principle of the SITCAP model is that by providing children with the opportunity to safely revisit and rework the primary subjective experiences of trauma, within the sensory, not cognitive context in which they are experienced, stored, and remembered, PTSD symptoms and grief and trauma related mental health reactions can be significantly reduced, the gain sustained, and the resilience developed and/or strengthened in ways that support growth.
The SITCAP® process directs itself at actively involving children in new experiences in order for them to build new connections related to what they are learning about themselves and trauma as a result of the sensory-based activities they engage in when participating in SITCAP®. Trauma experiences are difficult to communicate through words and are more easily described through sensory-based interventions. Sensory-based interventions are non-language activities that help children convey the way they now see themselves, others and the world around them as a result of their trauma experiences. The intervention process involves multiple sensory-based activities, which bring these sensory memories to life in a safe, contained context so they can be regulated, reordered, and reframed in ways that support a resilience response to future stressful, overwhelming, and terrifying experiences. Since traumatic memories are stored through our senses, the use of sensory-based interventions provide children with an opportunity to give their experiences a visual identity. The SITCAP® programs include sensory-based interventions like drawing, imagery and other forms of expressive art to make us a witness to their experiences, to present us with their iconic representations, to give us the opportunity to see what they now see as they look at themselves and the world around them following their exposure to traumatic experience.
Developed and used over the past 24 years, field tested in schools and community agencies, SITCAP® is supported by the latest scientific advances in neuroscience and has been featured in leading scholarly journals and numerous books on childhood trauma.
TLC has developed several SITCAP® intervention programs for children, adolescents and adults. The “SITCAP®-ART” and “I Feel Better Now!” programs are listed on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence Based Programs and Practices. Click this link to download an article by Caelan Kuban Soma explaining SITCAP® in Action.
“There are so many examples. I find that clients are engaging and returning with commitment to keep working on things because they see the value of SITCAP®. My youngest client right now is 11 and oldest is 87. They benefit from drawing their traumatic events. One woman, age 55 and diagnosed with PTSD has experienced a long history of chronic abuse and rape. She is now able to sleep at night after going through the SITCAP® program.”
“I worked on a Native American reservation in an elementary school and had several students who were traumatized due to physical abuse, violence in the home, poverty, gang relations and drug dependence. The effects of trauma were severely impacting their ability to learn. I was able to teach the teachers how to recognize and better handle the effects of trauma specifically in the classroom. Several teachers have commented on how the tools they learned from the TLC training have changed their classrooms for the better.”
“I worked with a first grader who witnessed violent behavior between his father and mother. I used drawing and curious questions with the student – he created a monster that he was able to conquer and put to rest.”
“I was working with a 17 year old girl who had been neglected and physically abused. She had done a lot of SITCAP® work through therapy and was coming close to discharge. In session she created a poster – after covering half of it with thick layers of tissue paper and the other half with just a few pieces. She pointed to one side and said– this side is the amount of anger I had and this side represents the anger falling away – I didn’t realize how angry I was before!”
“I have completely stopped asking WHY questions and it has changed the way I interact with clients and how they respond for the better.” “TLC has increased my confidence in working with the complexities of trauma. By using the sensory approach, I have been more successful at helping children manage their reactions, gain strength and re-write their script of life.”
“TLC has helped me empower children, families and groups. I have seen tremendous change with kids I have worked with as well as others I have trained to implement the SITCAP® intervention program.”
“I use my TLC certification and knowledge every day! Just today I worked with a client who has experienced extensive sexual, physical and emotional abuse. She has been in and out of therapy. She told me– You are the first person to tell me I am normal for feeling the way I do, I thought I was crazy, but now I know the things I think and sometimes do are trauma responses.”