Trauma therapy: Helping teens build resilience

When your teen’s struggles are rooted in past trauma, it can be easy to lose hope. Shelterwood’s trauma therapy helps students to frame their trauma in a different light, building resilience and strength to move forward to a healthy life.

Trauma therapy as a clinical practice continues to evolve, and Shelterwood is at the forefront. “What we know about trauma continues to change,” says Justin Puch, Shelterwood therapist. “Children are now exposed to trauma at higher rates than we’ve seen historically, and how professionals understand trauma and its impact on individuals is shifting.”

Trauma not only impacts the emotional development of children and teens, it also impacts brain function. “We now know that when we are exposed to trauma, especially early on in life, it can literally rewire the brain to function differently. Complex trauma can even contribute to chronic health conditions.”

Central to Shelterwood’s approach to trauma therapy is creating that safe environment for teens to process. “In many families, there is an avoidance of talking about what happened, even if the trauma was no one’s fault, like a tornado for example. So at Shelterwood, we strive to create a space where teens can talk about how they feel and know that they are safe.”

Furthermore, to counteract the brain rewiring, Shelterwood therapists often utilize trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT). Based on traditional CBT, the most heavily used methodology in counseling, TFCBT aims to answer this question: how does the way we process trauma impact our everyday life?

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“I tell parents that, with trauma, treating only the symptoms will only take you so far,” Justin explains. “When you really start to process through the trauma is when you really start to see success.”

The trauma therapy experience at Shelterwood can vary from student to student, typically based on the trauma itself. For example, Justin says, processing a natural disaster would look very different from processing a violent experience. “Our goal is to guide students in thinking differently about what has happened. The focus is on telling a different story with what you have been through.”

Justin recalls a student who arrived at Shelterwood with an aggressive attitude and negative relationship with family. She began work in trauma therapy. “We started to look at how her trauma impacts how she attaches to others and what her relationships look like. We worked on helping her feel comfortable and safe enough to be vulnerable and to invite relationships into her life,” he says. “Today, she has reconnected to her parents in a very strong way, and she is in college and doing very well.”

Ultimately, Justin says, Shelterwood students build resilience through trauma therapy. “Building resilience through whatever trauma you have been through, you can be a stronger person on the other side of that trauma. Helping kids reclaim their story and tell it in a different way is a very powerful tool.”

Meet Teri Hansen

Teri Hansen, Human Resources Director, loves putting her HR acumen to work to help the Shelterwood team. Meet Teri.

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What Teri loves most about Shelterwood: For Teri, everything at Shelterwood is about the restoration. “Our holistic goal of restoring families is so important to me, and we do this with both a clinical and faith-based approach,” she says.

When she was a teen: I was 17 going on 50!” Teri laughs. “I could not wait to be a grown-up and I enjoy being a grown-up so much more than I ever enjoyed being a teen.” She does cherish her longtime friendships from her teenage years, though. “I still have some friends today who I have had since kindergarten.”

Her Midwest move: Teri is originally from San Diego, California. When it was time for a move, she and her family conducted a thorough cross-country search. “It started with a spreadsheet and we looked at different places across the country. We looked at factors like the size of the city, what percent of households that were families, the quality of the school district, even the number of librarians per student!” They honed in on Blue Springs, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City near Shelterwood. The research paid off: “We love it here!” she says.

What brought her to Shelterwood: Teri brings nearly 15 years of experience in human resources management. She initially became connected through John Lawrence, Shelterwood principal, and Jane Lawrence, Registrar, who she met through volunteering in their children’s competitive marching band. Then, late last year, Teri lost her young nephew to a heroin overdose. “I do not want to see another family go through what we went through. I am a 100% believer in the Shelterwood program.”

A mentor to the staff: Teri says her job is similar to that of the Shelterwood young adult mentors, also called big brothers and big sisters. “I am like a ‘big’ to the staff. I help them with their challenges, their needs, anything from benefits to staffing,” she explains. “I love my job here!”

The Shelterwood setting: Even the environment at Shelterwood is conducive to helping teens on their healing journey, Teri says. “This is such a peaceful place. We are nestled in the beautiful forest here, and it is living proof that God is all around us. It is easy to feel grateful for this environment.”

Family: Teri is married to Randy, who is the residential director at the guys’ house at Shelterwood. They have been married for 25 years and they have two sons, Trevor and Braden. “Trevor is on the autism spectrum, so we know what it can be like to raise a child with challenges,” she says.

Outside work: She enjoys cooking, sewing and scrapbooking. Together with Randy, she enjoys road trips, dancing and being part of the Blue Springs community. “We like to enjoy the little things in life!” she smiles. Their son Braden is a sophomore in college at Northwest Missouri State University and is the proud “voice of the Bearcat Marching Band,” so the family also enjoys supporting the marching band.

Best part of her role at Shelterwood: “I am truly fortunate to work with some amazing people, and I like helping our staff,” Teri says. “I have been really welcomed into the Shelterwood community.”

School year success: What parents can do now

Being proactive now can help your teen feel greater confidence when school starts. Sam Cummins, Shelterwood Dean of Student Services, shares our tips on what parents can do over the summer to help teens start the school year on the right foot.

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1.) Show, don’t tell.

Showing your teen what to do carries much more weight than telling them what to do. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned as both a parent and an educator is that parents need to model the behaviors they want to see in their children,” Sam says. “When your teen sees you practicing certain habits, there’s nothing better.”

2.) Build on both strengths and weaknesses.

Spend some time reflecting on both your child’s strengths and weaknesses from the past school year. “If your teen had a tough year in math, for example, help them with some enrichment activities there,” Sam says. Look for resources both through your local library and online. Khan Academy is an especially helpful platform that guides students in learning different concepts. Allowing teens to dive deeper into areas where they excel is also a smart summer strategy. Encourage them to pursue subjects they really enjoy.

3.) Begin ACT and SAT prep.

Just 10 minutes a day can make an impactful difference when it’s time for your teen to take college entrance exams. “After your teen does some practice questions, take some time to look together at the answers. Help your teen notice why she got certain questions right and why she got certain questions wrong. Then, approach those areas where knowledge gaps need to be filled.” Teens can be reluctant about test prep, so encourage them to start with a few minutes each day. This attainable goal sets your teen up for success.

4.) Model work-life balance.

“For many teens, their schedules are crowded during the school year. So summer can be a good time to model a healthy work-life balance for your teen,” Sam says. “Teens can feel like they are under lots of pressure during the school year and so they do not learn healthy ways to have fun. Think of ways that you can do some positive leisure activities together.” Sam and his daughter enjoy going for hikes together, for example.

5.) Start healthy habits now.

Creating new habits happens gradually, so set the stage for healthy habits now. “Especially as you move into July, it’s time to start slowly turning the ship.” Again, modeling smart behavior goes much farther with teens. If your teen has been staying up late and sleeping in, start the shift as a family with earlier bedtimes. “Starting small can be helpful and can show your teen what it looks like to make positive changes in life.

Ultimately, Sam says, focus on using time this summer to build a relationship and earn influence with your teen. “As a parent, you don’t have to have it all together and you don’t have to be perfect,” Sam says. “Starting small can be helpful.”

Announcing our successful re-accreditation

Shelterwood is pleased to announce our official AdvancED re-accreditation, awarded in July 2017. This five-year designation builds on our previous 20 years of accreditation, and affirms our commitment to academic excellence and ongoing improvement. “This is something we are very excited about,” shares Shelterwood Principal John Lawrence. “As we continue to make our school better through accreditation, we help our students to grow and learn.”

AdvancED (formerly North Central), with more than 100 years of work in school accreditation, is unique in its commitment to not simply certify a program, but help schools improve. AdvancED accredits more than 32,000 schools worldwide. While the organization no longer offers levels or tiers of accreditation, schools do receive an overall score, also known as the Index of Educational Quality (IEQ). The average score for an accredited institution is 278.34; Shelterwood received a mark significantly above average, at 353.85. This is 27% above average.

“This is a holistic measure of an institution’s performance, and it is a formative tool for us,” Mr. Lawrence explains. “The IEQ, and all the elements that go into it, help us understand our areas of strength, as well as our areas for strategic focus.”

The AdvancED team makes their accreditation decision following a rigorous campus visit. The time on campus included visits to classrooms, as well as discussions with staff, parents, administration, students and board members. Shelterwood was evaluated in three areas: teaching and learning, leadership capacity and resource utilization.

“The team found that we have some unique instructional challenges, as we serve students with a wide range of academic levels, from remedial to accelerated, as well as students with high emotional needs,” Mr. Lawrence adds.

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The team remarked that Shelterwood’s purpose played out in every aspect of the school, from academics to counseling to mentorship and everything in between. “They were able to see what our purpose was in everything, and how we’re striving to restore families and help students, doing whatever it takes so these students can be successful.” The team also noted Shelterwood’s tight coordination of student support services and the culture of teamwork as “powerful practices.”

Shelterwood’s re-accreditation means that students’ course credits are accepted by many institutions and easily transferrable. This creates a more seamless transition back home, and helps set students up to be on track academically after Shelterwood. “We can provide students with credits that will transfer to pretty much anywhere, even including universities further down the line,” Mr. Lawrence explains.

Ultimately, Mr. Lawrence says, “the purpose of the AdvancED visit is not only to validate our work here, but also to help us in school improvement. Their visit helps us to prioritize our school improvement plan. It is a good feeling to know when you are doing things right, but AdvancED also gives us direction to address what is important.”