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

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tuesday, July 7- Day 11


The palm trees in Trinidad do not stand too tall- at times we do. As we hustled for breakfast comprised of chow mein, watermelon and eggs during a regular morning, the Trauma team remained fluid while adjusting to changed pick up times. We waved goodbye encouragingly to the group heading early to the prison, where the reception was now open, and the remaining team members jumped into the cars of church members who had graciously given of their time during our trip to transport.

Mandated youth awaited un-eagerly at the church where they were they were taught about sexual and drug addictions. Although resistance confronted skilled counselors, their integrity pushed them to remain constant like the waves of the sea hitting the beautiful Trinidad beaches. While small groups were challenging, the youth discussed topics like faith, futures, and unexpected contrition. The team then had an opportunity for counseling serious issues the remainder of the afternoon.

Upstairs two team members worked with young girls from an international organization. The girls were taught Building Self Esteem principles and delightfully drew pictures of their abilities and goals on a Shield that would protect them through bullying and disappointments.While digging through a bag, one of the children noticed a Cookie Monster puppet. "Is that a puppet in your purse?" she gasped. "Yes," we replied, "doesn't every woman have a puppet in her purse?"  Although other schools of learning at Regent might not have a bag of tricks, having more than one tool is effective in promoting dialogue and leading group discussion.

A unique invitation also came from an organization called KIND (Kids In Need of Direction).  Committed to flexibility, some of the team members joined our fearless leader to work with children and the inspiring organizers to create a lasting relationship. "The kids kept asking for a snack because they were so hungry," one of the Regent students recalled during our nightly debriefing, "So one little girl pulled out her Cheetos and gave one Cheeto to each children sitting in the room. Even while starving they shared."  She continued to describe offering store brought bread to supplement their snacks; they were so delighted to have anything as they munched on the bread. Another child shared their last few pieces with kids that needed one more bite.  "I was humbled," the team member shared. Despite the pace, the demands, and overwhelming needs...if we are not humbled by the people of Trinidad, than we are simply standing too tall.

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Monday, July 6-

Investing and Serving

Symptoms of compassion fatigue can include irritability,fatigue, sadness, decreased focus and cognition, sleep disturbance, anxiety, etc.  At this point in this trip, it is not uncommon for the team to feel the effects of long days, lack of sleep, and lots of demanding work.  Compassion fatigue is hitting many of the members and we are having to practice what we have been preaching.  Thankfully, each night the team debriefs the events of the day, as well as reactions and emotions.  This facilitates the health of the team and our ability to work effectively for the rest of our trip.

The GCAT certification trainings at the hotel continue this week with mostly clinicians, starting out with a presentation on adolescent and child trauma.  Right away the clinicians engaged with the presenters, participating enthusiastically in small group discussions.  At the church, the team was busy with a large group consisting of boys from a residential program ranging from age 10 to 17 years, as well as male and female cadets. The team's hands were full with managing the large group and attempting to connect with them.   It took most of the day for the team to feel connected and have the students respond, but we are hoping that they are one of the groups that come back tomorrow.  This  week, Operation Salvation is coordinating counseling sessions for members of the community on some of the days.  Although the number of people who came was few, the team was available to provide encouragement and counsel.

At the prison, we continue to be impressed with the level of insight and openness that developed over the course of the last week.  Dr. Erwin has rotated three different groups of officers who were scheduled to come for three separate sessions.  The first group finished today and showed incredible appreciation for the information presented- giving the team a thank you card.  One of the leaders of the group shared that he felt that the Regent team had invested into them, and he in turn, acknowledges his responsibility to invest and serve in his men.  We were all awestruck by his humility and commitment to the men who endure such incredible difficulty each day. We also were told that the officers have been able to take the stress management and communication skills from the presentations and immediately use them in their families and personal relationships with great results!

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.
Sunday, July 5- Day 9

One Nation

Ephesians 2:14, 19- "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God."

Beautiful music once again streamed from Woodbrook Pentecostal church, the praise team dressed sharply in black and white.  Despite the thousands of miles between our homes, there is a sense of unity between the church members and the Regent team.  Rev. Williams reviewed the week's activities and reaffirmed that the breaking down of walls that attempted to obstruct the team's mission was clear evidence of God's power in Trinidad and Tobago.  He spoke of the racism that has been a recent topic for the United States and the increasing "ethnic rivalry" on their island, calling the church to be a mediator.

Dr. Keyes shared a message that morning about integrity.  He recounted the story of David with Bathsheba, contrasting David's actions with Uriah's choice to remain loyal to his standards and what he knew was right.  Our own Jeff Francis was asked to speak  at another church on the island and continued the theme of the family.  He spoke about David as well, focusing on his relationship with King Saul and how we often experience wounds from our earthly  fathers that can only be healed by our Heavenly Father.

On our last day of rest before the plunge, the team ventured out for some R and R after church.  One group went to Trincity mall to shop and socialize or to see a movie, while others went to the Botanical Gardens that is next to the zoo.  Later that night a group of team members also went to a local restaurant to watch the U.S. beat Japan in the World Cup!

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.
Saturday July 4th, 2015 –

Time to Lime

("to lime" is a Trini term used to describe spending time with your friends and family talking and enjoying food and drink)

It was interesting to see Saturday morning how each of the team members perceived self-care in order to regroup for the following week. Even though we work “without labels” here on the Regent trauma team, members seemed to fall into four simple categories; the beach touchers, the park viewers, the mall retail therapy clients, and the invisible cave dwellers. For the Ph.D.’s who require sub categories, there were the coffee consumers, snack sniffers, and coconut crackers…however…one digresses.

The purpose of self-care is three fold. Firstly, every trauma worker should model what he or she teaches. The very people, who want to change the world, also have difficulties enjoying their surroundings. Simple questions we like to ask ourselves are…do you still laugh? Can you still cry? Have your goals over taken your ability to sleep and/or ability to reason. If there is a pause to any of these questions, it is time to slow down and re-evaluate the weekend. Our team picked their desired activity and returned with a new resolve and calm. They also knocked on the doors of cave dwellers to check for signs of movement.

Secondly, stress produces illness. Regardless of age, it would seem that every front line worker forgets his or her humanity. Very few want to embrace the reality, that if they function without sleep for too long, there will be a permanent health consequence.

Lastly, burn out is real. The common definition of burnout; is being completely exhausted by one’s work. Whether working for the pay, volunteering and or helping others, the greater the need, the deeper the desire to try harder. However, like the airlines quote in compassion fatigue training; “put on your own mask first, before helping another”.

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

Friday July 3, 2015 –

Laugh while you cry

As the pace began in the beginning of the week, the smell of fear rose like ripe mangoes dangling from the branches in the afternoon sun. Even though the newer teammates wanted to embrace "I can," and "it is possible," the severity of the island's future and a new deep love and appreciation for the joyous locals grasped our hearts, and by Friday…some were spent. Yet the Trinis were determined, and again waited patiently for the Green Cross Training to begin.

As Jenner Cotton, a trauma trip veteran, painted a picture of how healing could look, the participants during the Grief and Loss session engaged. Many, ranging in age, vacillated between laughing with her humorous speaking style and weeping over their own personal loss that quickly surfaced. She reached their heart, enabling them to identify with the material. By the end of the day, teammates who had returned from the other sites provided counseling one-on-one, regarding wounds revealed for the first time in the during the earlier group sessions.

The trauma team assigned to the school appreciated the attendance as it was the very last day of work for the teachers before their summer break. Although the need for compassion fatigue was evident in the eyes of workers drained from daily demands, equally as intense was their desire to help the children. Eyebrows rose along with "aha” sighs, as Dr. Harris gently explained the signs of trauma in children. Her style, driven by her humble passion to help workers, enabled those in the group session to voice their experiences while identifying with each other. They soon realized they were not alone, and became empowered. One of the administrators during the week admitted that in order to attend the session she worked throughout the evening, then slept on the chairs in the same building for a couple of hours to regroup for the course commencing the next morning. It only takes one person to change the system, leaders chimed, and on Friday, those on the front line left anchored by hope.

During the evening, Dr. Vanessa Snyder presented the Compassion Fatigue Educator course for the students still seeking GCAT certification, rolling forward like a college football game in the fourth quarter. Students appreciated her attention to self-care and her patience as she answered numerous, sometimes off-topic, questions followed by a gentle redirect. The remainder of the teams attended Woodbrook Pentecostal church for sessions open to members and visitors, for strengthening relationships within the family. Even though the Pastor and his wife model excellence in every task and love in their relationships, they humbled themselves for their people in order to further promote healing in their community. A sign of a strong church, they say, lay in the life of the church members. Clearly, the breath of God’s life permeates in Trinidad.

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

Thursday, July 2- Day 6

Minds and hearts

Our work continues this week as it is continuing to be evident that our presentations and counseling are timely.  At the GCAT trainings, the members of the community are coming together as a unified force for the benefit of their country.  Whereas these individuals represent a wide berth of agencies and government departments, they seem to be shifting their perspective about the ability to join together and address the effects of trauma in the Trini population. The participants are immediately putting the techniques related to self-care and compassion fatigue into practice.  One woman shared that she has already used a specific relaxation technique, Emotional Freedom Technique, personally and found it very effective.  At WPC, the team shared with a group of mostly young adults concerning conflict resolution and self-esteem, as well as counseled a few more individuals.  The team at the prison training site are experiencing even more openness on the part of the prison staff to the information that is being presented.  Our willingness to listen and validate their experience of trauma in an incredibly difficult work environment has opened the door for them to receive the tools and information we have brought.

Today the team that I was part of worked with Operation Salvation- a coalition of churches and other community organizations in the Morvant/Laventille area of Port-of-Spain "with a vision for community transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ".  One of their leaders had approached Dr. Keyes last year and asked him to come with a team to offer help to Laventille, a community filled with an incredible amount of trauma in the lives of children and families including crime and violence, with multiple shootings and murders.  Additionally, overcrowding, poverty, domestic violence and child abuse make teaching in this area incredibly challenging.

Our role this week has been to meet with multiple groups of teachers and give them information about the effects of trauma on children and how it shows up in the classroom.  The trainings also give them practical tools in order to provide a positive and affirming learning environment despite the difficult behaviors and emotions that their students display.  Another important piece of the presentation is informing the teachers and school officials about compassion fatigue, which is a type of PTSD for individuals who see and hear others' traumas over and over.  Social workers, first responders, counselors, ministry workers, and these teachers are at a higher risk for experiencing trauma-based symptoms due to their helper's heart and the overwhelming amount of trauma that they witness in their community and students' lives.

We were escorted by a task force within the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service who have been designated to work within this specific community and who are dedicated to seeing change.  I was struck by the police officers' and teachers' will to hope for change in their community.  One officer described his previous work as part of a SWAT team, but now he is committed to working with "minds and hearts."  The teachers talked passionately about their students and how they give and give each and every day.  Most of these teachers both work and live in Laventille and so have experienced their own traumas, making our discussion about compassion fatigue and self-care all the more relevant.

It is a privilege to work with such inspiring individuals who then turn around and bless us with their hospitality and appreciation.

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.

Wednesday, July 1, Day  5

Impacting a Nation

Everything happens for a reason; that's what some people say.  Although the plans that we may have seem to be well thought out and even inspired by God, we can be sure that it is the Lord's purposes that prevail.  At Woodbrook Pentecostal Church, the group prepared to talk with a good size group of students who were scheduled to come from a highly respected school- Queen's Royal College.  The presentation centered on addiction and conflict resolution; however, the group of students ended up not coming.  Instead our team rounded up a small group of church youth who had come to help and had a discussion about the effects of addiction in their families and community.  We believe the right people were there.  Later in the day, a woman in a wheelchair came for counseling.  She had been in multiple accidents, one resulting in serious burns all over her body and one causing her leg to be permanently injured.  She shared about her feelings of survivor's guilt, humiliation, sadness, and anger.  She felt dismissed by her family and the society, as Trinidad is not disability-conscious as far as access to public places.  In fact, she had just had to use a bucket outside to relieve herself because event the church did not have restrooms that were wheelchair accessible.  Despite the fact that she had plenty to be bitter and angry about, her overall spirit and attitude was one of perseverance.  She shared that she was working to coordinate a symposium for health care workers and other community members to raise awareness about issues regarding individuals with disabilities.  All she needed was a listening ear and the encouragement that she is a survivor and not a victim, that she possesses great resilience.

The teachers at another Laventille school praised Dr. Harris' information, again confirming that the team's arrival was timely.  In contrast to the other schools we had visited, today's school was brand new and gleaming, though the team had a traumatizing time in the elevator on the way up.  They were the first ones ever to be rescued from the school's elevator!  Good news- the team members were unharmed and were able to address their traumatization while in the elevator waiting to be rescued.

Every night we debrief after dinner, sharing with the rest of the team where we went, what experiences we had, and our own reactions to what we saw.  Tonight the two Trinidad natives, Osanne and Lemuel, shared their own insights into the impact that Green Cross is having in their country.  Trinidad and Tobago is in a pivotal time, and the fact that GCAT was invited in is testament to God's provision.  The comment was made that our work is gaining a "foothold" in this country and people, setting many of us up for future ministry and work.  Certainly, assisting in the development of the new chapter of GCAT in Port-of-Spain represents an astounding shift particularly in regards to governmental officials.  It was truly humbling to realize that we are part of something much greater than the two weeks that we are in Trinidad.  Rather, the words of encouragement and training will continue to impact individuals and agencies, and the leaders of the country, long after our team has returned home and gone back to life as normal in America.  I am reminded that my work in America goes beyond what I see day to day, and that our interactions with others can have a lasting effect.

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.
Tuesday June 30, 2015, Day 4 -


The ordinary has become the enemy of unity. Yet as day two rolled in quickly as the dark clouds bringing rain in the early morning, over the mountains protecting us from winds, we began to see that the standard, compliance and the ordinary was not what those working with trauma were seeking in our sessions. Even though our teams had regrouped and prepared for a new day with challenges to overcome, those taking difficult assignments decided to pray assertively throughout the evening for a break through. Although from various backgrounds with unique expertise, the volunteers began to realize that the need was greater than imagined.

Again, Trinis, sat in the waiting room for over an hour earnestly anticipating the Green Cross training. A corporal waiting outside for the day to commence assured some of our team mates that burn out is high for front line workers, and sheepishly admitted that stress was draining her. Yet she quickly showed us pictures of her flower beds in her front yard, and smiled as she gazed upon her roses. Even in the midst of fatigue, an appreciation for life radiates from the eyes of those living on the Island. It is evident as they begin to share their stories, how deeply they care about one another. We were challenged as a team to work together and model stress free unity. We have been dared to care for one another just as the Trinis do, even though our perceptions, our own resistance to change and fear of the unknown block our path to successful teamwork. The Green Cross class focused on compassion fatigue and identifying signs of burn out within their respected fields. Each attendee, soon to be questioned about self-care, learned that helpers and front line workers often become busy taking care of others before themselves. Like the airlines insist, "put your mask on first before helping others with theirs" seemed to be the running theme in all of the trainings. Bonds were created during the group sessions and formal walls came down as openness to a new norm in stress management ensued.

Go with the flow and learn to be fluid, chimed our leaders as we drove to our assignments. These words of wisdom seemed to anchor us as daily changes awaited our arrivals. Yet, the presenters tailored their courses to meet the current needs of those attending. In the end, it was about them, not us. The team at the prison was relieved to have Dr. Erwin at the helm during one of those changes as she simply redirected effortlessly and connected with her audience. "We are doing something different today," she warned, "Just follow my lead." Members of the team marveled as they saw the fruit of staying consistent with the principles used in trauma training. During lunch she even managed to make us laugh as she told us a story about "Mr. Good".

Little did the group know that waiting in the airport was going to be the easier part of the trip? Working together, learning to process, and quickly adapting were part of the learning curve facing the newer members of the team. Yet, character drove us to engage, and a genuine need to help humbled us to learn. As each presenter became vulnerable and shared their stories, walls of resistance and pain in the hearts of those traumatized began to fall, making room to build a stronger community.

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

Monday June 29th 2015, Day 3 –

Building a connection

So it begins…as the Regent Trauma teams were preparing for their assigned daily roles, diligent locals were already waiting outside the hotel ballroom where Green Cross training was scheduled. Years of challenges and difficulties radiated from their gracious eyes. Upon discovering their titles and personal experiences- Police, Emergency Preparedness, Teachers, Prison guards, Social workers, Church members, Youth and Military- it became evident that what we were doing here on the Island is far more than the natural mind could comprehend. The atmosphere was different than those of the trainings given and taken in the past, reminding the volunteers that unity and connection were imperative to cultivate.

In the school, after arriving with a police escort, the team along with Dr.Harris began working with local attendees to identify trauma in children and how it affects their learning skills.  During the power point presentation, community workers and teachers present became reflective, remembering former students and children that the system would simply identify as “problem students”. Regret and interest surfaced in the discussions. Many during the closing remarks embraced the philosophy that they cannot always change the demands placed on them by an organization, but they can control their learning environment.

Concurrently, youth with military schooling were at the church learning communication and conflict resolution skills. With each presentation, mistrust subsided as the students identified with the speakers. Many of the young men were taking notes and genuinely engaged in discussion despite their initial disappointment that girls were not invited. Others watched from the peripheral, yet they were the group members who thanked the leaders for sharing. The day closed with a group hug, prayer for some, and counsel for others. Seeing smiles on formerly hopeless young men was rewarding.

As we met with a wall of resistance from front line workers who were feeling hopeless in the prison, the skilled and trained Regent team simply moved in with compassion while presenting their material. They slowly gained trust, and encouraged relationships with the understanding that people are valuable.

Hearts melted, skepticism remained…yet the desire for connection continued. As small groups formed with each of the teams, the various members of organizations attending began to see comforting similarities. Often, locals commented “you understand us,” sighing “you have your own traumas”. Sharing in a safe place created within the small groups brought about healing and common ground. As the trauma team debriefed in the evening some remarked how renewing it was to see eyes fill with hope, and hear appreciation on a deep level.  Fatigued from the travel and a new environment, we stood resilient.

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

Sunday, June 28- Day 2

We arrived yesterday evening to our destination without a hitch!  Our first outing into Port-of-Spain was to Woodbrook Pentecostal Church, which is serving as a home base for us over the next two weeks.  As we arrived at the church building, nestled between homes and businesses in a seemingly busy part of town, we could hear the joyful music floating out. We entered the packed sanctuary and were entranced by the church's welcome, steel pan praise music, and their hearts for their home and for the world.

Dr. Keyes and Jeff Francis started our  work and ministry by preaching on God's creation and intent for the family and marriage.  In the U.S., we are keenly aware of the breakdown of the family, with many individuals experiencing anger, abuse, violence, and brokenness in the place where we were meant to find support, love, and guidance.The teaching addressed the issues of power and control, as well as emotional abuse, which is contrary to our Father's heart. The people of Trinidad and Tobago have experienced this breakdown as well with many young people growing up in single parent homes or experiencing sexual and physical abuse at a young age.  The Trinis who are part of our team, Lemuel and Osanne, shared that domestic violence is a particular concern, as the violence is instigated by both men and women at alarming rates.  Rev. Williams clearly cares for his people and is seeking to address these damaging dynamics that occur in the church far too often.

These coming weeks, we will be involved and sent out in smaller teams to work in various areas of the city.  One team, headed by Dr. Kathy Arveson and Jenner Cotton, will be stationed at WPC to speak to multiple groups of students from all over the island.  Some will come from the elite schools, and others are in military-type programs due to "failure" in the more traditional classroom settings.  Presentations will address self-esteem, bullying, conflict resolution,  addiction, and effective communication and relationships.  Another team, lead by Dr. Kim Harris, will be working with Operation Salvation.  She will be going to a different school each day and working with teachers on identifying effects of trauma in their students, incorporating classroom strategies that are conducive for traumatized students, and educating the teachers about compassion fatigue and their own self-care.  Another team, lead by Dr. Kathy Erwin, will be presenting to correctional officers at a maximum security prison.  Presentations will include compassion fatigue and trauma responses, conflict resolution, and crisis management.  And the last group will be headed by Dr. Benjamin Keyes and Lemuel Williams, M.A. at the hotel and conference center, where approximately 90 individuals sent by the ministry heads and government officials will be trained in compassion fatigue, disaster relief, and other trauma related issues in preparation for the opening of Green Cross in Trinidad and Tobago.

Tomorrow the fun begins....

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.

Trinidad Blog 2015

Saturday, June 27, Day 1

Building walls and wielding swords

Early this morning a team of twenty five professors, students, and mental health professionals gathered at the airport to begin the long journey to this year's destination for the Center for Trauma Studies at Regent University- Trinidad and Tobago.  Dr. Benjamin Keyes, Director of the center and Green Cross Academy of Traumatology (GCAT) is leading this group together with two of Trinidad's finest, Lemuel and Osanne Williams, to equip and empower the people of Trinidad in addressing the devastating effects of trauma in their community.  GCAT is an international, humanitarian assistance organization originally established in 1997 to provide education and practice standards for those working in the area of trauma and disaster relief.

In the last year, key leadership has been planning and many team members have been attending various trauma training classes at the university in preparation for this seventeen day adventure. Together  with Woodbrook Pentecostal Church pastored by Rev. Osbert and Angela Williams, the team from Regent is working with multiple organizations and community leaders.  The main focus of this trip is to lay the foundation for a new chapter of Green Cross Academy in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad to be directed by Lemuel Williams, M.A., a Regent Alum.  During the next two weeks local mental health workers, government officials, and community leaders will be trained in compassion fatigue, assessing post traumatic stress responses, providing appropriate treatments, and addressing issues of grief and loss.  Despite the beauty and pride that is the Trinidad people, there are deep wounds that have been passed from generation to generation because of addiction, sexual and physical abuse, and domestic violence among a large percentage of the population. A strong stigma with mental health issues and receiving help from a psychologist or counselor prevents individuals from experiencing healing.  The mental health system also is in need of additional tools to better treat those who do come to them.

In this blog, it is hoped that you will have just a glimpse into the work in which we engage.  The opening of the GCAT chapter  is only one part of the team's purposes.  Each day, one of the various sites where we go will be highlighted.

Like Nehemiah who galvanized the people of Israel to build and fight when their past had seemingly destroyed their hope of a future, the members of the Regent team hope to bring information and research-based methods, as well as the Spirit of God, so that the country of Trinidad and Tobago can rebuild their walls to be even stronger.

Amanda N. Trent, Psy.D.