The Role of Healing Complex Trauma in Supporting Adolescents and Their Families with Leslie Filsinger
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In this episode of Transforming Trauma, our host Sarah Buino is joined by Leslie Filsinger, NARM therapist and Clinical Director at Spring Ridge Academy in Spring Valley, Arizona. Throughout their conversation, they talk about how the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) supports the healing of developmental and complex trauma in adolescents, how adolescents can learn to develop their voice to find their internal truth, and how understanding complex trauma can create more compassion and grace within families.
Spring Ridge Academy is a private, all-girls therapeutic boarding school specializing in treating young women and their families in overcoming the impact of emotional and developmental injuries. Spring Ridge is trauma-informed and part of their mission is to educate the young women and their families about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Complex Trauma (C-PTSD). Leslie defines developmental trauma, a key aspect of C-PTSD, as “anything less than nurturing — intentionally or unintentionally”. While the concept of Shock Trauma (PTSD) is widely recognized and understood, most parents do not understand the nature of Complex Trauma, and that what their children are dealing with is the impact of emotional, relational, and developmental trauma.
Families often come to Spring Ridge Academy overwhelmed by fear, hopelessness and despair regarding their children. Leslie shares how she and her team meet the families with compassion and understanding, but also using psychoeducation around Complex Trauma to support greater health within the family system. By describing Complex Trauma to the parents, their understanding of their child’s experience can shift. Most parents arrive at Spring Ridge with the belief that their daughters are acting out, and within the NARM frame of C-PTSD, they begin to recognize these behaviors as reactions to the unresolved trauma their child has experienced . Leslie shares, “These symptoms and behaviors are maladaptive strategies. They are ways of managing something that is otherwise unmanageable”. When Leslie and her team share the idea that the child’s behavior could be a result of the trauma they’ve experienced, it creates a moment of awareness and expansion for the families. ”And that's where the compassion and grace come in — it's a beautiful thing and humbling to witness,” Leslie says.
Both Sarah and Leslie are NARM Therapists, and throughout the episode they define NARM concepts. Central to their conversation are the concepts of “Child Consciousness” and “Adult Consciousness”. As Sarah puts it, in NARM, Child Consciousness is “when we are living from a wounded child place” and relying on survival strategies that were once life-saving but are now obstacles in the way of health and well-being. Adult Consciousness, according to Sarah, is “when we’re able to give ourselves compassion and step out of our survival strategies.” Practicing NARM with adolescents is unique as young women are just beginning to develop into their capacity to be in their Adult Consciousness. Additionally, many parents struggle with this developmental period of adolescence, sending mixed messages to their children about the need for their children to be more autonomous and at the same time upset about the way they are defining themselves outside their family unit. In other words, wanting them to stay children but expecting them to be adults.
When working with her clients, Leslie focuses on helping these young women understanding themselves, their behaviors, and begin processing and resolving their unresolved trauma. From her NARM-informed perspective, Leslie describes what the process of this transformative work can look like: “Moments of stepping into our truth without being shackled by those strategies that limit us, or those self-limiting beliefs that box us in, or the shame and the guilt of the old narratives that are running– when we have those moments when we can step left for a moment and feel that.”
Leslie describes the importance of therapists and other helping professionals in shifting away from the focus of fixing behaviors and instead bringing greater understanding to what is driving these maladaptive behaviors. Instead of meeting adolescents with the pressure to change, meeting them with curiosity, patience, understanding and compassion. At the same time, Leslie reminds us that as therapists, we are not the ones creating the change for these young women and their families, and not to overlook the strong intention of adolescents in connecting to their own will to heal and grow. Leslie also reminds us that true change does not come from the outside, and as a NARM Therapist she focuses on respecting and reinforcing her clients’ developing Adult Consciousness. As Leslie says, “We don’t [want to do the work] for them… we create the space and allow them to connect with their own internal truth.”
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Leslie has been a practicing therapist for over thirty-five years and has worked in outpatient and residential settings as well as private practice. She is the Clinical Director at Spring Ridge Academy in Spring Valley, Arizona, a private, all-girls therapeutic boarding school specializing in treating young women and their families in overcoming emotional and developmental injury. Leslie is a NARM Practitioner and NARM Co-Training Assistant, committed to assisting others in understanding the impact of developmental, attachment, and relational trauma.