One of these is Peace and Release, an innovative comprehensive domestic violence treatment program we have developed in collaboration with Clients and Partners. Following are a few examples of the breakthrough results we’ve been able to achieve through this program. Highlights are also provided for results delivered through our empowerment training programs.
Irma co-founded a local community mental health agency that focuses on preventing and treating child abuse and family violence. As her agency’s COO, she oversees its operations and finances. Irma participated in the ATJ Empowerment series in 2009, two years later Irma credits the program with helping her to recognize how she was being impacted by the stress around her, and to become more grounded and aware of the need to take care of herself. She reports that she now uses communications skills and breathing techniques she learned with A Thousand Joys throughout her day. As a result, finds she is calmer and feels more in control. Irma has also seen positive shifts in how staff who have gone through the training now make better decisions about their health and well-being – even going so far as removing unhealthy snacks such as donuts and cakes from the workplace and replacing them with fruits and vegetables. Irma observes:
“From a retention point of view, people want to work in an environment that is healthy, where they know they are taken care of. At the same time, it is important that they understand they have to take care of themselves in order to take care of others. That’s what these trainings provide: an opportunity to create a healthy workplace.”
Helena is a clinical supervisor at a local community mental health agency that works to prevent and treat child abuse and family violence. She works with a team of clinicians who constantly address the needs of a traumatized population. Helena participated in the ATJ Empowerment Series in 2009. In 2011, she notes that the training has helped her to develop stronger communication and self-care skills that enable her to deal with day-to-day frustrations in positive ways. A valuable skill Helena honed in the program is the ability to pause before reacting, so that she can communicate more clearly. She also learned how to monitor herself and to recognize when stress is starting to affect her body and mind, and then implement self-care techniques before she becomes depleted or exhausted. She has incorporated these skills in group supervision sessions with other clinicians; they will often stretch or practice a breathing technique before the meeting begins. Says Helena:
“ATJ’s wonderful program teaches you how to communicate better, use self-care techniques, be a better team player, use time productively, and manage yourself as a worker and as a person.”
Cristina is a therapist at a local community mental health agency centered around preventing and treating child abuse and family violence. She works directly with clients who are traumatized and suffering from mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. A participant in the 2010 and 2011 Empowerment Series, Cristina reports that the trainings provided constant reminders of the importance of taking care of herself. The training provided her with activities to prevent burnout and vicarious trauma, helped her set up her workspace to support her overall well-being, and enhanced her ability to communicate more positively and clearly. The result is a reduction in her daily stress levels. Cristina has also been able to share with her clients some of the workplace stress management activities she now practices. For example, she now teaches her clients to manage their anxiety by using progressive muscle relaxation and visualization. She says that helping her clients to be calmer makes them better able to listen and participate productively in therapy sessions.
Lynda is a therapist at a local community mental health agency that aims to prevent and treat child abuse and family violence. While she used a number of self-care techniques with her clients, she failed to use them in her own work and home life. Lynda found that the techniques she learned in the Empowerment Training were simple, and they served to remind her that taking a just a few minutes to care for herself during her work day actually allows her to recharge and be more effective at her job. She is also better able to turn off lingering job or client-related concerns by using exercises she learned for healthy work-to-home transition. As a new clinician, the Empowerment Training sessions came at a perfect time in Lynda’s career. She has also been able to introduce the techniques she learned to her clients, benefiting them as well. Lynda says:
“The session on Optimizing Physical Health was my favorite and has stuck with me. At first it was difficult to get into a routine, but I would remember the facilitator telling us that even just 15 minutes a day was good. I ended up making significant shifts in my exercise patterns and diet, incorporating workplace wellness activities, and have seen remarkable results. I’ve lost 30 pounds, eat healthy foods and drink lots of water. I feel great! Thanks for kick-starting me, A Thousand Joys!”
Maricela is a wraparound facilitator at a community agency that serves children and families. She has played a number of roles at the agency, providing both direct services and supervising other staff. Like many social service workers, her job is highly demanding but low on resources. Maricela is an Empowerment Training participant from 2010 who has grown to appreciate the experience even more over time. Initially, she found it difficult to be fully present during the sessions, aware that she was taking four hours out of her workday, fearing it would create an overload of clients and paperwork. But as the training progressed, she learned and implemented new self-care skills that now allow her to manage both her time and stress effectively. Maricela shares many of the techniques she has mastered with her clients, and says:
“My participation in A Thousand Joys’ Empowerment Training exposed me to a number of different self-care and communication skills that gave me the freedom to choose what worked best for me. The breathing and meditation techniques, along with the inclusive language, were the things that most resonated with me, and I use them all the time. I manage my stress better now and my communication is much more clear.”
Susana is a program coordinator, MSW supervisor and field instructor at a community mental health agency that serves children and families. She wears multiple hats and juggles a tight schedule but has always tried to find time to take care of herself. Susana participated in the ATJ Empowerment Series in 2010, and after attending the trainings, reports that she has made additional changes to her routine. She is more conscious of her eating habits and the need to drink water to keep herself hydrated. When she gets tired, she now takes time out for herself. While she used to move from activity to activity without a break, Susana now consciously stops to relax and re-energize. The techniques she learned have helped her clients as well, especially in the areas of communication, where she notes that by wording things differently she is obtaining more positive results. While many of her parents avoid communicating with their children because they fear conflict, Susana is now able to help parents see the importance of openly expressing their feelings, and she is better able to guide them in more effectively communicating with family members. Susana observes:
“There was something that I was able to take away from every session, whether it was learning about nutritious foods, changing my language, or just remembering to do something for myself every day.”
Ten-year-old David* lives in a domestic violence shelter with his mother and three younger siblings. Every night he suffered nightmares as he relived the trauma of abuse and of leaving his abuser. Individual and cognitive therapies did little to help, and David would act out in order to avoid his therapy sessions. David’s therapists joined (ATJ’s Peace and Release Program) and learned to integrate movement into his trauma work. David learned specific yoga based stretches to relax his central nervous system, and he saw an immediate reduction in the frequency and severity of his nightmares. This enabled him to feel safe and deal with his trauma history during individual therapy sessions. Today, David coaches his younger siblings on how to use yoga-based stretches and breathing to reduce their own stress.
Ana*, a 35-year-old single mother from Mexico, moved with her four young children to a domestic violence shelter after the children’s father made multiple attempts to kill them. Expressing a desire to parent her children violence-free, Ana took parenting classes and graduated from her treatment program. But she still had difficulty regulating her emotions and would often hit her children in anger, after which she expressed guilt. Ana began participating in ATJ’s Coping Skills Program, where she learned movement and breathing techniques that she could later apply in specific parenting situations. She now knows how to control her breath and movement in ways that calm her mind and body. And she has gained a better understanding of how the body reacts during and after a traumatic experience. This has empowered her to release her guilt and take responsibility for her previous parenting mistakes. Ana now reports feeling “in control” of her body and emotions, even when angry, and she has been successfully applying violence-free parenting.
Lucia*, a 23-year-old single mother, lives in a domestic violence shelter with her children, a toddler and two preteens. Traumatic experiences in her past left Lucia struggling with flashbacks that triggered frightening and overwhelming memories. She joined ATJ’s yoga-based coping skills program and learned how to use breathing techniques and yoga poses to bring herself back to the present whenever a flashback occurred. Lucia reports that even at highly stressful times, she is able to manage her flashback experiences.
Violence in the home and parental neglect left nine-year-old Samuel* an anxious, fearful child who had trouble focusing and concentrating in school. He attended ATJ’s school-based yoga coping skills group, where he learned specific skills to reduce school-based anxiety. Samuel then successfully applied the active movement meditations to manage his worries at home by calming his mind and body, enabling him to vocalize his concerns for safety, and in turn enabling caregivers to take action and keep him safe.
Ruth* is the director of a mental health agency where she manages a staff of five. Daily, she contends with stressful situations, challenging reports and time-sensitive deadlines. Ruth attended an ATJ-sponsored yoga stress management training session where she learned to apply simple neck stretches to relieve her work-related stress. By using these techniques, Ruth was able to reduce the irritability she often experienced at work. Being able to manage her stress had other benefits, too: Ruth found that she could communicate more effectively and derive greater satisfaction from her work.
Sam*, an 8th grade student has found the Transform program especially meaningful. He was initially described as the angriest, most challenging student in the school’s history. He described himself as highly competitive, a sore loser, a fighter, and a quitter when he performed poorly in sports. In class, he became easily frustrated over assignments and would often throw his work across the room.
Sam cites Transform as helping him to focus both outside and inside the classroom. Instead of throwing his work away or giving up in frustration, he now takes several deep breaths to regroup and tries again. Instead of fighting or quitting during a sports game, he remains in the game. Sam says he is better able to concentrate on his studies in class and on his homework. As a result, he completes more assignments and is making good progress. With pride, he reports that his grandmother noticed such a shift in his coping behavior that she told their neighbors. Now the neighbors approach Sam for advice on managing stress.
After agency staff members participated in ATJ’s 12-month Empowerment Training Program, attendees reported the following results:
- 94% felt more positive
- 94% reported being able to communicate more effectively with co-workers
- 83% took steps to improve their physical/mental well-being
- 77% experienced reduced burnout
- 77% reported increased energy
- 72% said they were better able to manage stress
- 72% reported increased job satisfaction