Photo by Tony Cece

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tuesday, July 14- Day 18


After a ferry ride, maxi rides, two plane rides, and two delays, the team has made it safely home.  Twenty four hours of travel is enough to make one a bit loopy, but I was able to get some of the team members' thoughts about the things that they have taken away from this trip before we dispersed to our respective normal lives.  It's necessary to point out the incredible job that our leaders have done- Dr. Benjamin Keyes, Dr. Kim Harris-Keyes, Dr. Kathie Erwin, Dr. Kathy Arveson, and Jenner Cotton.  The trip and the high caliber of work would not have been possible without you and your gifts.  Special recognition goes to Dr. Erwin who got herself on a plane with approximately 48 hours notice to join us when another faculty member couldn't come due to unexpected medical concerns.  Her flexibility and commitment to the mission of the trip, as well as her perseverance at the prison training college in the face of daunting circumstances, was inspiring to us all.  Thanks to the vision of Dr. Keyes for the education and training of other  mental health professionals and the treatment of trauma, literally countless lives have been impacted by the short time we were in Trinidad and Tobago.  It's exciting to think that I was a part of something much bigger than my own abilities that will possibly produce significant changes in the way people are treated and cared for.

A very special thank you goes out to Rev. Osbert and Angela Williams and the congregation at Woodbrook Pentecostal Church.  Your hospitality and warm welcome cannot be overstated.  The willingness to serve and love was evident in your church, and we were incredibly blessed by your people's ministry to us.  Lemuel and Osanne Williams also played a significant role in both the orchestration of this trip and the practicalities of our team members navigating a foreign country on top of the daily responsibilities that we all had.  There were many other Trinis who made our trainings/workshops possible and provided food and transportation.  Thank you to you all!

One can't go on a trip like this without having some significant thoughts about life, God, and working in the field of trauma.  Here are some thoughts from a few of the team members about their personal "take away" message.

Jeff Francis- "Although I had never been to Trinidad before, I felt the love and appreciation of the people for our trauma team being there on the island.  From the prisons to the schools, and the conference, there was a great response toward our trainings and team...I am walking away with a greater understanding of how trauma effects people, but with an effective team working together anything is possible."

Tronda Douglas-  "This trip has shown me that it's important to serve others."  Tronda stated that as Christians, we are servants who are called to show God's love, mercy and grace.  She noted the team's great attitude about being flexible.

Sarah Kornhaus-  "With encouragement of my teammates I came to recognize that it's not the training that makes us effective counselors, it's the calling."  There was some trepidation among some of the team members about their lack of training as they are currently students.  Working together with more seasoned clinicians allowed them to learn more about working directly with others and gain confidence that they can make a difference.

Ashley Leary- "Going into the trip I didn't know what to expect and I found myself being pushed outside my comfort zone.  But as a result, I feel more confident as a clinician and I feel more flexible and adaptive."  She mentioned that she had never worked with any of the populations with whom we were working while on the trip, but she discovered one of her favorite parts of the trip was working with the children.  She also enjoyed the Nylon Pool!

Susan Harvey- God affirmed and re-affirmed at every corner of the trip that her calling is in grief and loss.

Mary Taylor- "It's not about me."  Working with different groups of people with our own diverse group of team members required that the team put aside individual desires or opinions.  When it comes to dealing with the frequent changes, it's best to go with the flow.

Dr. Kathy Arveson- She mentioned that she was amazed how God showed up in unexpected ways daily in stories of counseling clients and the unexpected graciousness of the people that we encountered. She felt Christ's presence in how others expended themselves and the personal connections that were made.

Dephia Roberts- "Transformational."  Throughout the trip, at many of the nightly debriefing meetings, Dephia turned our attention to the power of the Holy Spirit, reminding us that we can do nothing without His Spirit.

Dr. Kathie Erwin- "Our trainings on crisis management and trauma were on target for the Officers who work in the crowded, challenging environment at Trinidad's Remand Prison. Their recent experiences with a prison riot and other personal dangers proved that God chose this time to send the Trauma Team to Prison Training Center to bring help and hope."

Candyce Burns- "This was a wonderful display of the beauty of multicultural awareness and humility.  Concerns such as social justice, at-risk populations and 1st responder self-care were all broached with love, grace and humility.  As we interacted with Trinidad natives in groups, individual therapy and trainings, we also grew in understanding and sensitivity towards one another as a team.  This trip was transformational."

There's little more to say aside from the amazing sense of God's presence though we weren't there to evangelize or to do explicit ministry in the community.  This wasn't your typical missions trip, though we had the chance to share our faith and encourage others in theirs.  We served as the hands and feet of Jesus while equipping others to be effective in their helping professions and; we reflected God's love and caring while counseling individuals and families who have been traumatized, sometimes repeatedly.  We were His hands and feet as we listened to the stories of individuals on the front lines who work very hard to mitigate the damage of trauma in their community on a daily basis.  We were His hands and feet as we cared for and encouraged each other.

As St. Francis of Assisi said- Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.

Thank you, friends and family and readers of this blog.  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.  I hope you have enjoyed the tiny glimpse into our daily experiences in the beautiful country of Trinidad and Tobago.  Till next time...

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Monday, July 13- Day 17

Fun in the Sun

One last day of fun in the sun!  The main activity for the group was a glass bottom boat tour of the Buccoo Coral Gardens and opportunity to snorkel and take a dip in the Nylon Pool.  The group set out from the Enchanted Waters hotel and walked several blocks down to the Buccoo Beach pier and beheld Solo Amor, our vessel for the afternoon.  It was a bit smaller than I expected, but we all fit inside around the aquarium-like windows on the bottom.  We made a few stops on our voyage including the Coral Gardens, the Nylon Pool, and "No man's Land."  The captain described the different types of coral and fish as we passed over them- sea whips, red coral, parrot fish.  We even saw sting rays swimming below us.  Some of us braved snorkeling in the somewhat choppy waves, but Dr. Arveson stood out as the mermaid among us as she swam with the captain around the coral.  We all got out at the Nylon pool, reportedly named after the Princess Margaret's leggings when she visited!  It is an area of very shallow water near where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean Sea. Our captain informed us that every time people come to bathe in this pool, the women "get five years younger and the men get five years wiser."  We enjoyed the rejuvenating time and exfoliating coral/sand.

The night ended with a team dinner at Patino's- the restaurant connected to the hotel.  We had a relaxing time enjoying good food and conversation before we travel back home.  Many team members communicated feelings of gratitude for having the opportunity to travel with Green Cross and the Center for Trauma Studies and grow in ways that were unexpected.  All of us were stretched in some way or another, whether it was in our professional skills or in our patience and love towards a large group of people with whom we have spent every...waking...hour for the last two weeks.  (I think I grew in that area!)

Tomorrow we begin our journey home.

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.

Sunday July 12- Day 16


It is suggested, that practice makes perfect. There is validity to the argument, as one learns to “beach” with precision. Some beachers resemble the crabs crawling from side to side on the cleft of the rocks as they slowly show movement by raising their hand to feign shade, others resemble island turtles as their heads occasionally peak out from their shell sensing the heat of the summer sun. The remainders of the team simply sat by the pool, engaging in a psych term called processing. 

A highlight of the morning was the devotion, led by Dr. Keyes, followed by a discussion on what love really is in the midst of doing “all things, through Christ who strengthens us”. Each student had an opportunity to pray as a team and thank God for being in the midst of us. Others left for the mall to find Rituals, a local coffee shop, while some enjoyed ice cream at one of the pit stops during the bus tour. Everyone present enjoyed the bus tour as we passed rubber, mango, banana and cherry trees on our way to Fort King George on top of the mountain. Our animated tour guide explained in detail the local culture and monuments we should remember. Members of the team enjoyed walking to each of the lookouts, picking up souvenirs, and swaying to the music played with the owners' steel pan. The breeze caressed our hearts as we breathed in the air touched by the sea. Standing behind the weathered cannon, it was easy to look down toward the waters and imagine a pirate ship coming over the horizon. Hearing the history of the Island made the locals seem more real to us, like they had a story to tell if we were willing to listen. 

During the evening, some of the team members got the privilege of having dinner together and listening to the delightful conversation of Dr. Kathy Arveson. She explained the history of the counseling department and the original vision while we enjoyed our dinner. Hers sizzled more than others. She had reminded us that she and Dr. Reese like to give feedback on the assignments students write in order to help them grow as academics. She is very careful to direct, challenge and comment, as in her words “that is a part of being a teacher”. 

The concept sounded simplistic and yet profound. Feedback helps a student grow, and yet self reflection and being challenged is often resisted by those who need calm in the midst of change. Psychology students, and counselors often coin the term being present in the moment in order to help. This trip to Trinidad reminded those bold enough to self reflect, that God wants us to be present in the moment with Him, too. Eventually as the evening sun slowly wained and darkness permeated the island, the glow of knowing God is present in the moment with us twinkled in our sleepy eyes.

By Paula L. Henderson
BA Public Administration, MS. cert in Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Management

 Saturday July 11th- Day 15


It is always best not to squish the bugs in Trinidad that crawl, stealth-like, between your keyboard keys, especially, if you are borrowing a team mate’s lap top. Twenty five team members from their different spheres of influence, having their own local customs, united to operate as one. Squeezing might be an accurate word to summarize some aspects of our two weeks together. We fit in as many teachings, trainings, conversations and counseling sessions as time allowed. Saturday morning while members were packing, a group went into town to shop. Upon return, while many were transporting their luggage down the elevator to the lobby - it stopped. The team regrouped, and some used the opportunity to carry their suitcase down the stairs as a productive workout. One might get the impression that the Regent Trauma Team resembled olives being tightened in a press. Perhaps, that is the process in which God uses to produce Holy oil?

We arrived early in the afternoon at the Ferry Terminal to ensure our passage to Tobago that evening. Starting with a wait, where the team debriefed “frontlines style”, some members looked apprehensive about the two and a half hour voyage to Tobago, and embraced the advice to take anti nausea tablets. Many within the team were amazed during the group debrief to hear that there was a warm welcome for Green Cross training to all those on the Island that work with trauma. They have embraced relationship and mitigated future community security. Emergency Preparedness and Trauma care on the Island shifted to the next level and challenged our own leadership to raise the bar back home.

“With every good” the Tobago bus driver hollered, “there is bad”. He was merely suggesting we not go to the beach closest to us alone, and go in groups of two or three to be safe, since we did not know the area, but he most definitely had a point. True strength does not come from loving those who love us back, or even produce instant results. According to the Lord we serve, He is calling us to love the imperfect. Loving the imperfect starts within the team. Witnessing begins as we model behavior that honors God. As we slowly pack, and take one look back at all that we accomplished In Trinidad, we have to ask ourselves, did we produce any oil? “You are from God,” the owner of the hotel exclaimed, “that man on your team spoke with my grandson and one conversation inspired him”.

It became evident as the mission spread like sea waters splashing against the reef, that regrouping, reorganizing and strategic training would be needed to grow as an organization, and team members would need roots in order to remain grounded. Trainers would need to multiply, and a passion to help others must be protected by self care and utilizing coping skills. As the vision expanded to internationally focused, clarity clasped the hearts of those searching for their next step. Some will stay local, others will travel to countries where trauma never ends. As we unwind and embrace a slower pace, sitting in a heat slightly broken by the Island breeze, listening to the birds sing with excitement, it is hard to finalize closure when each of us knows in our hearts that the press …has only …just begun.

By Paula L. Henderson
BA Public Administration, MS cert in Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Management

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Friday, July 10- Day 14

At the finish line

After years of planning, months of training the team members, and days of long hours and intense experiences, we finally can say that our work here is done...for now.  I am awestruck at the impact that a diverse group of people, with one vision, can make in such a short period of time.  On the last day, Dr. Keyes and Lemuel Williams wrapped up the EMDR training, and the end of the day was full of attendants, one after the other, publicly stating their gratitude for GCAT coming to provide such relevant and timely training and education.  Dr. Erwin's team at the prison ended on a "mountain top" after contending with high levels of anger, defensiveness, and suspicion initially.  The team members were given beautiful sculptures of flowers, animals, and fish in a reef, made out of soap, created by the inmates.  The prison officers relayed their own feelings of thankfulness for the team members who listened when no one else would and for additional skills to enhance their personal lives and family functioning.  Dr. Harris closed out the week with Operation Salvation with a full day of counseling with individuals and a large group of girls.  Everyone was able to use their therapy skills as the community rushed to use the last day we were available.

During a debrief, Dr. Keyes shared momentous news.  The government of Trinidad and Tobago has opened their doors to the Green Cross and is going to begin requiring their trauma workers to obtain certification through GCAT.  They are partnering with GCAT to deploy disaster relief workers from their country and from America when they are needed.  Not only that, but Dr. Keyes is going to assist in facilitating the establishment of a licensure process for counselors in Trinidad and Tobago.  In the states, we take it for granted that our medical and mental health professionals have an across-the-board standard to which we are held.  There are regulatory laws and steep consequences when we do not follow our code of ethics or the law.  In Trinidad and Tobago, however, those processes are not in place, contributing to a general feeling of mistrust of those who are in the mental health field.  The team is amazed at the fact that the government is taking these steps.  Not only this, but Dr. Keyes shared that GCAT has been invited to Boston to participate in discussion regarding the atrocities being committed in Sudan.  Multiple chapters and training centers are going to be opened across the country as more GCAT  members become official trainers.  The work is finished for this trip, but there is much more to come.

Now for some rest and relaxation after traveling to Tobago...

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.

Thursday, July 9-  Day 13

Do it anyway

As our week is wrapping up, the various teams spread out again over the city.  Dr. Arveson and Jenner Cotton's teams visited the Youth Training Center (YTC), which is the juvenile detention center that houses boys ranging in ages from approximately 10 to 18 years.  Some boys have committed crimes and are serving their sentence, some are still awaiting their court date, and some are not guilty of illegal activity, but sent by their parents for problematic behaviors.  Woodbrook Pentecostal Church has members that faithfully visit YTC and conduct services weekly.  It was with this group of boys that our team met.  Because of the foundation already laid, the group was very receptive to our presentation about developing a sense of self-worth in spite of negative messages from others, their families, society, and themselves.  They readily participated in the small groups and art project.  All in all, a very rewarding experience.  Operation Salvation focused on informing police officers from the Laventille area about compassion fatigue.  Counseling was also offered afterwards.

At the hotel and conference center, the last two days of training cover Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a technique that has been proven to be extremely effective in treating anxiety and trauma-based symptoms.  The clinicians and emergency workers were skeptical of the protocol initially, but after practicing with each other they soon recognized the results that they were seeing even with each other.  While Dr. Keyes and Lemuel Williams taught the main sections, the rest of the team members in attendance coached the clinicians as they practiced.  It was very exciting to think that after tomorrow, dozens of individuals in Trinidad and Tobago will have this tool in their arsenal.

At night the team split into two groups with one attending the church for one last evening service that was focused on the youth in the church.  Dr. Harris-Keyes presented on how to be a success- self-discipline, kindness, perseverance, confidence in self, faith in God, etc.  Her presentation was well-received as she talked about her personal experiences in her easy and humorous manner.  The other half of the group finished up the Compassion Fatigue Therapist course, which focused on how to be therapists who assist other helping professionals when they experience burn out or compassion fatigue.

"People are often unreasonable and self-centered,
If you are kind, people may accuse you of having ulterior motives,
If you are honest,  people may cheat on you
If you find happiness, people may be jealous,
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow,
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough,
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway."
- Mother Theresa

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.

Wednesday, July 8th- Day 12


Social media has imprisoned us. Even in remote countries, while walking through an airport children will be humming Let it go...more...than once. The only people that might not have heard of Elsa, a blond frail fictional character in the movie Frozen, are the students from Regent who brought their books to study every spare minute they were given as they desperately searched for a plausible positive cognitive statement for the remainder of their week. A counselor's explanation of why the snow man keeps dividing after Elsa shakes with each sneeze in the new preview for the sequel, would bring calm to those not attending the school of Psychology. Clearly, fatigue is setting in. It is the middle of the week on the last lag of the group's trip. Although the team members are pulling on their energy resources and implementing their coping skills, they are still united in their passion to accomplish what needs to be achieved in Trinidad.

The Green Cross training resumed, and even though some who consistently attended look weary, a joy radiated from their faces. "I am taking this back to Laventille", an elderly church woman chanted as she gave us a hug, "I am taking this teaching back and I am going to help them all". The goal of the Green Cross trainers was not just to hold the bow and arrow while aiming at the target with precision. The Goal was to aim and hit the mark. Dr. Keyes and Lemuel Williams, with determination and a soft spoken approach, did just that. Their team was skilled and patient, making a substantial impact, leaving the locals empowered. Not only is there enough interest to start a chapter, but murmurs of reaching internationally were surfacing. At the end of the sessions, the global vision for people care became evident. The team's excellence in presenting and methodical training gave credibility to their field.

As the group returned from the prison, a picture of Dr. Erwin sitting on the desk started to circulate amongst the students. A spider almost the size of one's foot had been crawling around the room while the prison officers listened to the presentation. When our leader was asked about her emergency response, she simply stated with Southern dignity that the move was part of her presentation transitionwe. Her audience, delighted by her genuine personality, simply chuckled with Trini graciousness.

During the evening, those not attending the church service which ended in group sessions, stayed back to complete their Compassion Fatigue Therapist training. In one those classes led by Helen Kwak and Dr. Vanessa Snyder, participants were challenged to sign a promise not to join the front line workers who do not value their much needed wellness plan, and encouraged us to implement steps for self care. "You will have to drop some balls you are juggling," said Dr. Snyder sternly, "In order to recover your health and protect your mind". As we are nearing the end of our stay, perhaps Elsa was onto a good thing when she twirled with freedom on the mountain while singing...Let it go.

By Paula L. Henderson
BA Public Administration, MS cert in Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Management