Childhood trauma in looked after or adopted children: 1 day forum theatre course
These trainings were developed in response to what we felt were inadequacies in the existing preparation trainings being delivered to prospective adoptive parents and foster carers. In particular, we were aware of how the reality of the experience of children who have come from trauma and how this manifests in their present day relationships was something which we felt needed to be explored in much more detail and from a much more experiential position. We felt that there must be some way to introduce the real, visceral experience of this trauma and its manifestation into the preparation for adoptive parents or foster carers. But also to give them the opportunity to understand that these experiences can be worked with and it is in working with these most difficult experiences and being present to the painful nature of these experiences that we are able to offer our children the first glimpses of containment and transformation that are so important in facilitating any sense of belonging for all involved.
Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons within this course, is the idea of children who have come from trauma having to rely on ‘communication through action’ in the hope of getting their needs met. How this and other more unusual behaviours, can so often be misinterpreted, or through no fault of our own, force us into a position where we feel the need to act out against the behavior, rather than being able to understand the motivation behind it. From this position the needs of our children can be left unmet and unfulfilled. This in turn leads to great frustration, shame and sometimes much more serious issues.
We believe that In exploring some of our own experiences, we can become more aware of how we relate to these more challenging situations and also how it is possible from this position to better navigate the tumultuous nature of some of these interactions in a way that enable us to remain present enough in the moment to reach our children in a meaningful way.
Our main aim is to allow our trainees to have as real an experience as possible whilst at the same time allowing them enough distance from the situation to allow for exploration and mentalization rather than a shutting down or a need to defend themselves against the disturbing nature of these difficulties.
Essentially, we are trying to offer the experience of a third position from which our interactions can be viewed more therapeutically and therefore considered, thought about and contained. This is the position from which we believe parents can effectively meet the needs of their children in more challenging situations.
As a part of the course, we deliver real life scenarios which are experienced from an audience or witness position as an observer by our trainees. These scenarios are based on the real life experiences of looked after and adopted children and their families. Each scenario allows our trainees to experience the development of a difficulty, or an impasse, or some kind of breakdown in the relationship being witnessed. Our scenarios ordinarily run to the point of the breakdown, where upon we stop the action and we turn to the group to explore what we feel may be occurring with a specific focus on what the trainees experienced themselves emotionally as they were witness to the scenario.
These thoughts and feelings are explored and then we utilize a range of forum and other theatre techniques to further explore what is happening in the scenario. This may be running the scenario again with new directions for the actors involved based upon some of the themes explored in the group, or it could mean running the scene again from a different perspective or from the perspective of a different participant in the scenario such as the child’s perspective as opposed to an adult perspective. Or it could mean exploring what occurred beyond the disruption and how the scenario is completed.
These explorations highlight certain re-occuring themes which we record and which we then explore in smaller groups. Each group led by a course facilitator. In these smaller groups we are able to explore with our trainees, what feelings or memories or experiences are evoked in them as we consider the impact of these themes on us as families or as individuals and how these feelings and experiences have an effect on our interactions and relationships in the present.
These explorations can take the form of reflective improvisations as we ask our trainees to consider times in their lives when some of these key themes have been present for them, however superficially. We can then utilize improvisation techniques to further explore the context of the experience and to tease out how these personal experiences can be drawn out to inform us in the present as parents to children who have experienced trauma.
Throughout the delivery of the course, our main aim, and the one theme we constantly return to, is the emotional experience of the child in any given situation. This includes; where it may come from, how it may manifest and how we may find ourselves responding to it both consciously and unconsciously.