A lot of us who have lived through trauma and being held captive against our will found ourselves struggling with PTSD. Through it all, one common thread that binds our experiences is that inner resolve to not allow our circumstances be our defining moment. In this episode, Jennifer Whitacre is joined by trauma therapist and child and play therapist, Lorena Snyder, as they talk about Lorena’s own traumatic experiences and how she rose against it all and help other women who have experienced violence. She also helps us understand what child and play therapy is all about, what we can learn from children, and how parents can better connect with them. An indigenous woman, Lorena then discusses generational and cultural trauma, shedding light on the differences in experiences people go through and the problems they face. What is more, Lorena gives us a peek of her short story, which is set to be published in the next issue of Asylum Magazine, called “Cindy Finds Her Voice.”
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Healing Traumas: Understanding Child And Play Therapy With Lorena Snyder
Our guest is Lorena Snyder. She is a trauma therapist and a child and play therapist. She is a graduate student, a mother, and an indigenous woman who works with women who have experienced violence. She brings her own life experiences into the work she does. She helps people and children with complex trauma. She has experienced her own complex trauma, which is what gives her the gift that she has to work with her target audience. Lorena, it’s an honor to have you on the show with us. I’m excited to have this conversation with you especially about child and play therapy. I’d like to invite you to the show. Tell us a little bit about yourself in your own words.
I’m a Diaguita woman that comes from Chile in South America. I am an indigenous person. I was born in Chile. Due to war, I had to immigrate to Canada. I was raised in Montreal. That’s where I learned to speak English and French. My traditional language is Spanish. In addition to that, Cacano, which is a Diaguita language.
I didn’t realize that you immigrated to Canada as a result of the war. That must have been a horrifying and challenging experience that you went through.
In 1973, there was a coup d’état in Chile that resulted in a major social structure and changes. We were on the wrong side of that. My mom was forced to work in the hospital for three months. At that time, I went into hiding. My dad had to leave the country. He was in hiding for the next four years. I was one year old when that first happened. My first memories of childhood involved bombs, guns, shelters, hiding, lights out, having candles and trying to secure our safety.
How old were you when your family made it to Canada?
It wasn’t in bits and pieces like many people that are refugees. My mom was able to escape first and I was four at the time. I resided with my family and extended members of my family for a year. I traveled alone at the age of six from Chile to Canada in a fourteen-hour plane ride on my own. I don’t know that it was bravery. It was just what’s needed to happen.
That’s the thing about bravery. That’s what happens whenever you experience fear and you do it anyway. You do what you have to do. Bravery can’t happen without the presence of fear. It’s not possible. That’s brave and courageous. That is quite a start to life. Fast forward to where you are in life now, you’re a child and play therapist. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got from point A to point B? Help us fill in the blanks a little bit.
It’s a long story. When I first started in Montreal, my family would be like the immigrant mentality of making something of yourself, become a professional, do something for the society that you are belonging to. When I was first engaged with academia, I studied biochemistry. I was going to make something practical about myself and do something that would contribute to society’s wellbeing. I had this high expectation that science was the way to go. I hated psychology and social sciences because it was too airy-fairy, mushy, emotional, all of that. Life has a way of folding you into the domain that you belong to. For me, it included traveling to India, working abroad, getting hurt, coming back crushed and completely undone. Having to put the pieces back together and realizing that it had to do with spirit, soul, themes of psychology and themes of sociology that started emerging.
When you say getting hurt, are you talking emotional, psychological, physical?
When I was in India many years ago, I was in my early twenties. I had this great gigantic idea of making the world better. I worked in an orphanage for a year. During that time, towards the end of my stay, I was abducted. I was held captive for two weeks. At that time, I endured extreme violence, rape, torture. I lost time, space, and everything. I was able to escape to France where part of my family lives as well and start healing.
When did you know you were safe whenever you got out of that? What was the moment that you knew that you were okay or that you survived it or that you were finally safe?
It came in many different parts. I would tell you that the first time that I got on the plane and I realized I was able to escape, I had a credit card under a shoe. I had two passports. I gave one and I kept one because I had dual citizenship from Chile and France. I gave my Chilean passport to my captors and never said that I had a second one. I was able to contact the embassy and seek safety. I remember the first time that I felt safe, not truly safe, but the initial sense of safety.The antidote of harm is kindness, compassion, and love. Click To Tweet
I was on the airplane in Air Canada flying to London. I was able to have a bit of breakfast on the airplane. That was the first food I had that was solid food for about 2, 3 weeks. That’s when it hit me that I was able to go to the plane and feel safe. I arrived in France. I stayed at my aunt’s house for six weeks. That’s where I was able to access medical care. That’s when all of the symptoms of what we would now term PTSD started emerging. I was still operating on this complete adrenaline cortisol until I reached France. About 2, 3 weeks later, then it hit like a storm.
I can imagine. How did you get through the post-traumatic stress symptoms?
It took about two years for me. I know that different people have different experiences. The one thing I had was this obstinate belief that this would not be my defining moment. In a vulgar way, the only thing I had was this impeccable rage of, “You’re not going to win,” to my captors. To all of those circumstances, this is not going to be the end of me. That’s the only thing I had. It’s this obstinate belief that this would not be my defining moment. I didn’t have guidance. I didn’t have spirituality.
I’ve heard this from people before. There’s a part of me where that resonates with my experience as well. I want to highlight that and point that out to the readers. A lot of us who have lived through trauma and extreme forms of trauma, abuse, inescapable attack and being held captive against your will. Those are not easy scenarios to live through. One thing that I’ve noticed in common is that inner resolve like, “This isn’t going to happen. There’s no way.”
I know that my readers have heard me in the past say that there’s this part of me sometimes that will come out and I call it my petulant teenager. When somebody tells me something or tries to force me into something, there’s this aspect of me that pops out. It’s like, “F you, watch this. I’m going to find a way.” I want to point out that no matter in the worst of circumstances, if you have that inside of you latch onto it and hang on to that. Don’t let that aspect of you go because that obstinance and that stubbornness can work to your advantage.
I have been there. When everything that you can possibly imagine is taken away from you, your agency is barely in existence. The only thing that you have freedom from is within your own spirit. Viktor Frankl talks about that in his book about man’s essence of being and having no control whatsoever about his physical circumstances, about whether he lived or died. Yet still there was a resolve of him within the spirit to continue to persevere, to look for humanity.
Before you go on, I want to note to any readers who are not familiar with Viktor Frankl that he wrote the book called Man’s Search for Meaning. He survived the concentration camps in World War II Germany. If you haven’t read that book, I highly recommend it. Thank you for allowing me to interrupt, Lorena.
I have this knowledge now of understanding my experience. At the time, I didn’t have it. In some ways, it was through a curiosity that I had to start understanding what happened. How can I survive? You were saying, and I can echo with you. The only thing I had was this big ginormous, “Fuck you. I’m not going to let this be my defining moment.” Beyond that, I had nothing. I had not even two brain cells to string together and read a sentence and remember what it was. It was gone.
Those things are things that I slowly had to relearn. In the absolute breakdown of everything that I knew, there was a reconstruction on a rebuild, which we could call post-traumatic growth, which we can call exploration. During that time for a good two years, after 6 or 8 weeks of being in France, and being medically tended to by doctors and by my aunts, and being safe. Having breakings and things heal and things place back together. The placing of my mind came at a later time when I had to return to Canada and start doing the work. The work for me involved seeing a trauma therapist. She was a Nicaraguan woman and I saw her three times a week. She was a victim of torture as well and violence. It’s that level of being able to connect, being able to disclose, being able to recall, and also being able to externalize that started piecing those things together for me.
It’s notable. You can confirm this or not. This is me thinking. I’m imagining that as horrific as it sounds, it might have been a relief to have a therapist who had a similar experience. In my life experience, there is nothing worse than sitting with a therapist who has not experienced what I’ve experienced or anything similar. There’s no relatability. There’s no connection, no attunement, no safety and sharing the story and healing from it.
It’s a hard one to gauge. At the same time, it becomes a little bit of a contest of battles. How much harm did you experience? Can I relate to you? The truth is in the moment where I was completely undone, I needed someone who would hear me in my pain and my sorrow and would be able to connect with me at that place, at that abyss. I needed someone that had enough of that experience to be able to connect with.
What I’ve discovered is people who have had similar and relatable experiences can hold space in that way. It’s when people have not had similar experiences, then you get into what you were mentioning, were competitive. That’s what you went through, listen to what I went through and this is my experience. It can get into those types of conversations if you’re working with somebody who doesn’t truly get it. If somebody gets it and they’ve gotten to the other side of it. If they’re still struggling with their trauma, then you’re going to have a dysfunctional therapist and they exist. There are dysfunctional therapists out there. There are subtle ways that we can recognize whether those therapists are a good match for us or not.
It’s a terrible thing because when we’re sometimes the most vulnerable is not the time or the headspace that we have to be shopping around for therapists. It’s a bit of an exercise of trying to open up and then closing back up because the connections aren’t real. They’re not authentic and we’re not growing. That can incur more harm to us in the process of healing, which we go through. A few years later, I start to get my mind back in the sense that I’m able to read and retain information again.
I’m able to walk alone without feeling terrified. I’m able to take the bus alone without being terrified and slowly but surely, I start gaining agency. I went back to school again, then I studied more biochemistry, biology. At the time, I was completely terrified of having children because in part of the experience I had, but also because of the earlier childhood experiences that I had during the war with my parents. My parents both suffered from the effects of war. They weren’t exactly emotionally available people. They weren’t exactly able to connect with their own selves. They did the best they can, but that also left me in harm’s way a great deal of the time.
In time, I did have my first son and I had children. I checked out of the workplace for a time and I had my babies and I enjoyed them. I started discovering things about myself even more through them. I started seeing the magic and the beauty that is with the early childhood experience. When push came to shove, I started going back to school, but not in biochemistry or not to work as a teacher, but to go towards play therapy. Understanding that working with children with developmental differences or deficiencies or differences as I would call them, it was easier to make gains through play than it was through negotiating. I found that the same modality held true for us as adults and as children. When it came to our time to experience distress, it was easier to access parts of ourselves that are not always accessible through talk, through play.
I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about child and play therapy. Tell our readers, what exactly is that? Is it only for children? Is it something that can be translatable to adults and why would somebody want to look at play therapy? What’s the benefit? I can almost hear some of the eye rolls. When they hear play therapy, “That’s not productive. I don’t have time for that.”
The interesting thing is when we are playing, we’re engaged in play, we’re engaged in it in a way that our brain activates a different part of ourselves that is not necessarily subject to all the large emotional fortresses that we’ve built. We tend to disarm that. We tend to be more flexible and take more risks. We engage our creativity and our intuition. It also has this huge benefit of having fun as well, more often than not. That feeds into all of those good endorphins that people like and need. It’s a cool technique to go beyond psychotherapy and to be able to engage the whole person.
As I have grown older, it’s more akin to my indigenous understanding of life, engaging the whole person as opposed to engaging the cognitive part and the body part that may remember part of your trauma. It’s somehow still segregated from the spirit part, which is often not understood in psychotherapy. Through play therapy and an indigenous worldview, it integrates those concepts in a way that for me makes sense. Some of the rules of thumb are that in fact, through play therapy with a proper play therapist, you can achieve the same level of gains that you can in about six sessions of psychotherapy. The person is a little bit more open and apt and less resistant. You’re not making the changes for them, but rather they are able to gain their own insights. The transferability is huge.
I heard Brené Brown in one of her books. I don’t remember which one, but it talked about an anger and rage therapist. I can’t remember his name at the moment. I just remember the discussion. She said that this anger and rage therapist ended up changing his title to a play therapist because he discovered that the antidote to anger and rage was play, which is beautiful.
If we think about some of the neurobiology involved in play, it’s complex. Children learn intuitively through play, but we also intuitively learn how to relate to this world through play. It’s not surprising to me that the antidote of harm is kindness, compassion, and love. In that flexibility is play. It feeds into it.
What population do you work with? Do you work with families? Who do you work within your practice?
I’ve worked with children that have experienced trauma. I’ve worked with children that have been sexually abused for instance. They may not have the vocabulary to even tell you, “This is what occurred.” They’ll be able to in some ways engage with you through play. It doesn’t necessarily seem as explicit as it is, but it’s rather indirect. It has to do with a little bit of that psychotherapy that you had alluded to as well. Understanding that sometimes repetitive drawings, repetitive play are indicating a position in our soul, which we’re stuck. If you play therapy, we can engage in dislocating that together.
You come alongside and you partner up with a child in all of their being with their spirit, with their mind, and you help them in a safe way, feel connected, feel in many ways love, feel safe enough to take those risks and to be able to find solutions for themselves. It’s like grounding themselves and displacing that anger with curiosity. That’s what I love play therapy for that. I’ve worked with young children. I’ve worked with teenagers that engage in self-harm. I’ve worked with teenagers that have been sexually abused as well. I’ve worked with teenagers that are suicidal as well. I’ve worked with women who have longstanding legacies of abuse through themselves or through addiction. I’ve also worked with family systems. I’ve worked with families that simply quite don’t know how to relate to one another in this mechanized world that we have. Sometimes parents don’t know how to connect with children.
That’s been a lot of our experiences in life. I don’t feel like my parents knew how to connect with me and when my son was young, I had some hesitation about my ability to connect with my own son when he was a young child. The hesitation was not feeling like I had the knowledge, the competence, or the confidence in myself to be a good parent because I didn’t know what a good parent was.Complex trauma is something that is a little bit more common than people understand it to be. Click To Tweet
One of the things that I’ve often said is that when we weren’t modeled certain sets of behaviors when it’s not something that comes intrinsically, we have to create that for ourselves. At that time, it’s difficult to find what works and what doesn’t. I’ve worked with parents and I myself have experienced that. I remember, when I was 25 or so before I started having kids, one of the dovetail signs is I’m never going to have kids because I have no idea how much I’m going to fuck them up. I have no premise to mess them up. I have this fear of having a child and then being 15 and 16 and them going to a therapist and complaining about how much I’ve completely screwed up their life because of all of the errors that I made. That was something that I had to overcome. It was a schema that I had. It was terrifying.
I still have some of that schema in me because it was maybe a few years ago. My son’s a young adult now. I went to my son and I’m like, “I’m finally starting to see all the ways that I went wrong as a parent and all the horrible things I did that I shouldn’t have done.” I sat down and apologized for all this stuff. We had a conversation. What was surprising about that conversation, because I went into it tail tucked between my legs and teary-eyed. He’s like, “Mom, I don’t know what you’re talking about. The stuff that you’re talking about is not what traumatized me.” When he told me the things that were the most traumatizing to him from his perspective, I’m like, “I made those decisions in order to improve our life. We moved from point A to point B because I got a better job. I was able to spend more time at home.” Those were the moments that he found more traumatizing. Being able to see my faults as a parent brought us together much more closely because I was able to see from his perspective and I realized that I was projecting my thoughts and my experience onto him. Have you ever had that experience? Your kids are a little bit younger than mine? I don’t know if you’ve had those conversations yet.
My oldest is nineteen so I’ve had some conversations about that. One of the things I had to overcome through my own knowledge is that I had this idea of parenting perfection. I didn’t have things that are intrinsically modeled. I put so much pressure on myself to be the best possible parent. I remember when my son was little, I would make sure that he had all the nutritional food groups and all of the right this, all of the right that. I’ve tried to do things that I never lived through, to model behaviors that I was never given, and that was exhausting.
That perfectionism is drilled and hammered into us especially in North American culture, Canada, the United States, look at your commercials and what comes through on television. You’re a good parent if you do this. If you don’t, then you’re not. There’s so much pressure that comes to us and it comes into us implicitly. It’s not within our conscious awareness. It’s like the implicit our mind is absorbing this over and over that we have to be perfect. It does put a lot of pressure on us. It does cause us to put pressure on ourselves.
As women, it’s even more. As women, we have this expectation of being a well-formed professional, being a perfect mom, being an attentive person and being a certain size, a certain weight, a certain color, a certain ethnicity. It’s all reductive of our human experience.
It is as if there are some parts that are acceptable and some parts that aren’t. We then wonder why we battle and struggle inside our minds all the time. We suffer from anxiety, stress and depression.
Several years ago, when I started exploring play therapy, I started to understand the myth of the perfect parent, the myth of the perfect woman. I started deconstructing that for myself and doing my homework, applying it to my life and doing myself the freedom to be weird, indigenous, and complex. That was liberating probably for my children to the point where now they’re not surprised by a whole lot of the shenanigans I put them through.
When you look at how our children learn non-verbally from us because anybody who’s a parent or even if you’ve been a child, which we’ve all been children at some point. If your parents ever did the “Do as I say, not as I do” approach to parenting, you realize how much BS that is and how as a child, you could see right through it. If you’re doing that as a parent, I guarantee your kids see through it as well as you did. You can see your parent’s hypocrisy and how are they going to take you seriously if you’re parenting with hypocrisy? If you can be who you are like you’re saying, let your freak flag fly. Your kids will learn to be who they are so that they don’t have to go through the same bottoming out that we did.
One of the things that I find with parenting too is when I started learning about play therapy and studying play therapy, understanding different models of parenting from authoritative to permissive to this and what that looks like in terms of the brain development of the child. Even my son, Gabriel, at the time, he was about eight. I owed him a fair bit of apologies because I believe that compliance was the ultimate form of parental success. That was a lot of yes. Thankfully, I was able to backtrack on that one and understand that it never felt right being the, “I told you to do this.” It felt like I had to do it. I felt that is the expectation. It’s to comply. I realized that it never did fit. I’m thankful to have been able to study play therapy. I was able to explore and see different ways of being.
I noticed too that you and I both have learned a lot about generational trauma and some of that trauma that gets passed down through the lineage. When it comes to generational trauma, cultural trauma fits in there as well. One thing I’ve noticed is that different family structures within different cultures, the trauma manifests collectively quite differently. It’s similar and quite different.
If I could speak to that, when I was tiny, fear was something that was embedded into me as a means to procure safety. From the time that I can remember, our little nursery stories involve telling you to be afraid because the white man will come and he will bite your feet and steal you. Your mom was working in the fields and she has no power. She’s trying to give you food and sweet treats, but you stay in your crib, stay silent or you are robbed.
Do you know the origins of the biting the feet? I haven’t heard that before.
I can send you the song. It’s a common Spanish song and the nursery rhymes that we have. They are intended to protect our children, but they speak to the intergenerational trauma. They speak to embedding fear within us. They speak to placing us from the earliest age at the defensive to a world that is going to harm us. That can be taxing to hold when you’re trying to grow, when you’re trying to exist. In essence, it’s intended to support the fact that you will be marginalized as an indigenous person. It’s intended to support your understanding that it won’t be fair.
A lot of folk tales and fairytales around the world are similar in the fear that they try to instill in people. In Caucasian cultures, we have the Grimms’ Fairy Tales and the origins of their fairytales were violent in the way people are portrayed in a lot of fairytales. You can let me know if this is true in the Chilean fairytales or not. What I notice in fairytales is like the queen archetype. Anytime there’s a queen, she’s often very mean and like that off with her head queen of hearts stereotype. That’s not what the queen represents archetypally. These stories were written by men. Whenever you put a woman in a position of power to a man, that might be how she seemed or maybe that was intentionally written to try to knock her down a notch. I don’t know. When you think about how much of our history and fairytales and folktales have been written by men, there seems to be this distortion that was almost intentionally put in for a very specific purpose to mold what we imagined a certain role to be in society. Is that the same type of approach to fairytales?
There’s different lore that we carry. In our traditional indigenous lore, our people are matrilineal. They don’t have patrilineal like a patriarchal approach. In our stories and our tales, women are not demoted. They’re not featured less than. They are the people that work cooperatively with men to find the harder solutions, to be the givers, the thinkers, the life-givers, the water. That’s the essence of womanhood. It’s different. We listened to the cycles of the moon as being important. Those are some of the things that as indigenous people we have. The other ones are folktales that are contemporary and they’re designed to keep you safe. They’re designed to instill fear. That is a legacy of colonization. There are two arms to this. Some traditional stories have a lot of harmony within them. Some of the more contemporary stories are designed to try to preserve your essence and your culture.
I’ve always heard that indigenous peoples around the world on every continent where indigenous people live that the indigenous peoples are the record keepers of the true history of the Earth. It sounds like maybe through the lore, the real stories were passed down, but then through the folk tales, you’ve got the stories on, “Here’s the real story, but here’s how you survive in the world as it is now.”
That’s the legacy of the intergenerational trauma that I was saying about. It’s hearing about stories of alcoholism. It’s hearing about stories of Jesuit priests that do terrible things to children. It’s stories about violence. It’s stories about women that go missing in the night. It’s stories about minds that come and develop these large megaprojects. Our girls are hurt and start to go missing. These are parallel stories to Chile and Canada, which is where I feel a kinship to Canadian indigenous people here. I’ve recognized that the stories of colonization are parallel. We do suffer through women that are going missing. We do suffer through social determinants of health that include poverty, which include higher risks of addictions, of mental distress or harm. They are resultant of colonization.
It’s my understanding that a lot of the people that you work with are the indigenous population in Canada.
I do work with indigenous people. I wouldn’t say primarily but certainly. It is an important part of the work because it allows me to connect with people that have suffered in similar ways. Also, it’s a completely underserved and misunderstood people. The indigenous people have such little voice and agency.
It seems to me that we share the planet with indigenous people. We live in vastly different worlds even though we might live right next to each other. I’m wondering if you might be able to speak to that and how it’s such a different experience. It’s strange how that happens.
I’ve been in Canada for a long time and I understand this landscape like I’m at my cousin’s house. That’s how I would think of it. I’m an indigenous person from Chile. Here I am staying in Canada at my cousin’s house, but I still relate to the same process by which I am staying at my cousin’s house due to colonization as well. In Canada, one of the things that happen and I can speak to is what I would probably call it geographic apartheid.
That has to do with the fact that in Canada, there’s a reserve system where indigenous people can stay and that’s considered a federal territory. In its surrounding, you may remain within the state of a province. The distance between the two spaces can be as little as 20 kilometers. Yet on a reserve, you won’t have access to clean water for no other reason than the infrastructure hasn’t been created to provide clean water.
This, in turn, causes more distress to the people that are living there. For instance, here in Toronto, we have six nations. It still has part of six nations that have no water and a huge number of reserves that have boil advisories. Being the water-rich country that Canada is, this makes no sense whatsoever. There have been many indigenous scholars here that have referred to it as third world Canada. The indigenous people don’t have the same rights and privileges as Canadians do.
They don’t have access to equity. They don’t have access to social justice. There’s a great deal of racism that indigenous people in Canada experience. One of the things that I’ve been looking at as well as the fact that indigenous people in general composed 4% of the population. Indigenous children are 2% of the population. Yet they sum up to 55% of the children that are in foster care. In addition to that, it’s hugely disproportionate. The number of children that are in care now exceeds the number of children that were placed in residential schools before. This idea of communities that are getting slowly withered away by children that are being lost to a system.The big thing when it comes to trauma is to be patient and be gracious with yourself. Click To Tweet
Instead of removing children from their homes and putting them in residential schools, they’re removing them from their homes and putting them in other homes?
At this time, there are some studies that are trying to create more justice around that theme. There’s a child in Canada Welfare Society here, Indigenous Child Welfare Society, which is investigating that and has successfully sued the government for about eleven years standing on these cases.
If somebody decides to take in an indigenous child that’s been removed from their home, here in the United States, we will call that foster care or foster parents. Do the foster parents or the equivalent in Canada also get some subsidy from the government?
Yes. The cost of care for a child in foster care is much higher than the cost of care if the child were to remain with their families and receive support on a social structural level.
What is happening if the government is removing children from their homes and then paying people to take them in? Is it truly in the best interest of the child? Is there something deeper going on that we’re not seeing?
My feeling is that it contributes to erasure of people and it is genocidal in nature. One of the people, Pam Palmater, that I follow closely. She’s a scholar at Ryerson University. She speaks about the genocidal nature of erasing people by slowly withering away at their children. If you look at the UN Constitution of what constitutes genocide, one of the first things that it will list is being able to remove the next generation and their capacity to live, to be free, to reproduce. That’s essentially what you’re doing because by taking a child away from their community, you’re removing them from their language and culture. You’re slowly erasing their identity.
Not to mention the generational trauma that comes from removing a child from their home or the developmental trauma that can lead to generational trauma down the line.
There are huge attachments and connections between grandparents and children that are also being removed. Those include the stories, the lores, the knowledge. That gets removed as well. There are remedial steps right now to attempt to have children being placed in indigenous homes. There are legal steps whereby we have an emergence of legal scholars. They’re suing the government for this injustice that is quite stapling. This is not to our wellbeing. This is to our demise. We are closing this. There are remedial methods.
Let me speak on one more theme with respect to child welfare. There’s a huge connection between the number of children that are in care, foster care, that are in group homes and such that are removed from their community. Their ability to move forward in life is greatly reduced. Those children oftentimes, they’re harm is huge. They don’t have access to higher education. Their rates of homelessness are enormous. Mostly because by the time they reach the age of eighteen, they’re dropped out of a system.
Oftentimes, I hear stories of children that are dropped off at a bus stop with no money to their name and no education and no training to be able to move forward in life. The rate of addiction is much higher amongst children that have been in care. The rate of suicide is so much higher for children that are in care. What I mean by geographical distribution, take a look at our map of Canada. It’s enormous. We have children that are from Nineveh, from the high Arctic North that get displaced all the way in to where I live close to Toronto. They are a ten-hour flight away from their home. They’ll be placed at a bus stop when they reach the age of eighteen and expected to make it out on their own. The rate of homelessness amongst children in care is enormous, staggering, which then leads to the rate of incarceration of indigenous youth is enormous, which then in turn leads to the whole carceral system. We have a ridiculous over-representation of indigenous people in our carceral system.
What’s the percentage of incarcerated versus the percentage of the population?
I could be wrong on stats, but I believe for indigenous men that it ends up being about 27%. For indigenous women, it ends up being 35%. Even a higher percentage of indigenous women are incarcerated. If we compare it to the total population, which is indigenous people, it only represents 4%.
Do you know why indigenous women are over-represented in prisons much more so than indigenous men? I’m curious if it’s related to human trafficking because it’s common to throw the “prostitute” in jail.
In part but I don’t know if exclusively. It has to do with the fact that the judicial system is much harder in terms of its punishment on indigenous people. That has to do with systemic racism. Two people with equivalent charges won’t get the same sentencing depending on their cultural background and ethnicity.
We have that in the States as well.
Instead of saying causal to addiction, causal to prostitution, causal to modern crimes, what we do see is that women are often the caregivers of children as well. Their punishments tend to be more acute because they have children in addition to that. We’ve seen that as well, but I’m probably going to go towards the structural racism.
I know, at least here in the United States, that indigenous women are more likely to be pulled into human trafficking against their will. A lot of times when the women, not so many children anymore, anybody under the age of eighteen who’s discovered in human trafficking in the United States is automatically considered a victim. However, if you’re over eighteen, that’s a crapshoot. You might be charged with prostitution even if you were trafficked against your will. Minorities are more susceptible to end up in prison for that.
I wouldn’t speculate on that because that’s not quite my area of expertise, but I do know that the sentence rules are distinguished by ethnicity, unfortunately. We even have mediations and remedial steps towards that. The Canadian government acknowledged that because we have over-representation of indigenous people, we have this principle called the Gladue Principle. The Gladue Principle looks at mitigating legal cases that include indigenous people, that are exclusive to indigenous people in a way to understand that there are systemic patterns of harm that have been created through time that create these social determinants, which in turn lead to the conditioning that leads to sentencing. The Gladue Principle is based on the case of Cindy Gladue. It had to do with understanding that the person that does result in a violent outcome, in this case, was resulted in her experience longstanding trauma for an extended period of time. That is the normalized state of most indigenous lives.
A lot of people don’t realize what it’s like to live with an overwhelming amount of trauma coming at you every single day. Complex trauma is hard to understand if you’ve never lived it. There’s a lot of judgment that comes from people that’s unwarranted because they don’t get what that experience is.
One of the things I found with complex trauma is that complex trauma is something that is a little bit more common than people understand it to be. We’re starting to get a grasp of what that all implies. We’re starting to understand the harm that has done to the spirit and the soul from a young age. There are still a lot of people that will deny the impact of complex trauma, but I feel a lot of broken people walk around denying their trauma.
I do a lot of shadow work with people. The medium that I work with is subtleties. I don’t work with the big heavy diagnoses of trauma. I refer that on. I work with the subtle stuff, the stuff that we write off as personality traits or behavioral quirks, “She does that sometimes,” or “He gets that way.” A lot of times those little things that are subtle, “She’s in a mood,” or “There he goes again.” We write it off as normal and okay. We excuse it when it’s really a result of past trauma. A lot of times they’re surface things. We write them off as normal, okay and acceptable when they’re toxic. Think about standing around the water cooler at work gossiping and complaining.
Gossip and complaining, they’re not across the board. They can be behavioral addictions in people. We don’t talk about oftentimes behaviors as being addictions. We don’t look at the addiction to power or the addiction to control or things like that. We look at addictions oftentimes as the substance like addiction to alcohol or cigarettes or opioids in this country, or even gambling or pornography. Beyond that, we overlooked behavioral addictions.
In our society, we can mask a lot of pain if we’re good at it. If our set of competency skills that we’ve developed can mask our pain includes being a high achieving, high-performance person, that certainly looks like shining success. Meanwhile, the person feels completely hollow inside. They feel like they are echoing with nobody. I’ve met people that seemingly have it all and that feels nothing.
It’s not the only way, but a possible way to tell if somebody has that emptiness and hollowness inside that you’re talking about. If they are addicted to getting the accolades, the high fives and the, “What a great job,” because of the high achievements that need to accumulate more. It’s like, “Where’s the end? Where does it stop? When are you satisfied? When are you fulfilled?”A great deal of overcoming trauma is learning to accept yourself, love yourself, and be your own best self-advocate. Click To Tweet
It comes back to a little bit of Gabor Mate’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, where you’re continuously feeding that hunger within you because it’s an insatiable hole and space of your spirit because it feels hollow.
Are you familiar with Caroline Myss and her work at all?
I don’t think I am.
I follow her work because she gets into archetypical work. I love archetypes and the symbolism of the unconscious realm. She talks about addiction as being a 4th, 5th, 6th chakra issue or power center. I call them power centers, not chakras. Our fourth power center is our heart. Our fifth one is the throat. Our sixth one is the head. She said, “The head and the heart have to agree.” This is our choice. She said, “Whenever the head and the heart are not congruent and they don’t agree, then the fifth chakra doesn’t know what to do. It makes it hard to make decisions. We go along with things that we don’t want to go along with. Until we can get congruent, we’re going to continue going on with our addictions because she says that one thing that our head and a heart can agree on is numbing and going into the addiction. It might be, “I’ve had a bad day. I need a drink. I’ve had a great day. I need a drink.” They’re happy to agree on that if they can’t be congruent about anything else.
When it comes to addiction and when it comes to satisfying that hunger of our spirit and our soul, the other thing that has to do is our personal schema. Sometimes you can be immensely competent, but still have a personal truth, what I would call the essential truth of being valuable, of being wanted and of being worth it. When those schemas play, you can behave yourself to all the success that you want and it still will result in the person not being able to truly feel joy. That’s why I like childhood trauma work and working with children because it’s a lot easier to help children develop a personal schema of their truth.
They have a lot of fewer years on them where they build this immense shell around them that you have to go around and navigate because we build up magnificent and well adapters complex schemas. At the end of it, we’re terrified sometimes of not feeling like we’re enough and not loving ourselves or hearing. I’ve met immensely competent people. At the end of the day, they still hear that voice of their parents tell them that they are as valuable as gum at the bottom of someone’s shoe. Their center of belief is rooted in that. Their whole growth is on the spots premise and that becomes dangerous for our spirit.
Exactly what you said is one of the reasons why I say repeatedly question your beliefs. We have to examine our beliefs because I’ve had that same belief that I’m not worth the bubble gum on the bottom of a shoe. That wasn’t my parents’ words. They use the sentence enhancers in their words a little bit more like a piece of shit was thrown in there. Whenever that’s your belief and that’s what you hear over and over again, if you don’t at some point in your life butt up against that belief, question that belief, examine it and pull it apart.
It’s not fun. It’s not comfortable to do this. If you don’t, that belief is going to be your guiding light in life. That’s where some of this work is valuable in helping people move forward and get beyond those stuck places that hold us back. I haven’t been doing play therapy, but officially with a play therapist that I’ve been incorporating more and more play into my life in the last few years. Does it make a difference? It’s one of those things that’s like, “I don’t want to stop doing this stuff. I don’t want to stop doing these activities that I enjoy doing.” That’s been hard during COVID because I haven’t been able to engage in it.
I’m trained in body language and statement analysis. I’ve been trained by interrogators. One thing that we say in the body language trainings is one of the sayings is to move the body to move the mind. What interrogators have realized is they’re more likely to get a confession after the interrogation is over. Whenever they’re walking the person back to their holding cell or whatever, they’re more likely to get the confession on the walk back oftentimes than they are in the interrogation room. People are up there moving. Their guard’s down a little bit. You’re not looking at each other. You’re both looking the same direction. You’re side by side facing it alone or facing it together instead of facing it alone.
I can relate to what you’re saying in view of play therapy because it almost feels like you have to tangentially approach the spirit before it gathers up all of its energy to protect itself. Gently nudge up to the spirit before it became aware of you and start attacking you. Some of the rules of thumb that I’ve used in parenting. That’s to the benefit of my kids and to my enjoyment as well is when I feel like I want to be an authoritative parent. That’s the only model that I have referred to. I take a step back.
One of the rules of thumb that I have is to engage with my kids in play before finding a solution. What that means is play therapy is not looking at dolls and spending a lot of time at Playmobil. It is putting on loud music while you’re cooking and having everybody dance. Engage in that process of freeing up some of those restrictive thoughts so that you can get the fresh breath of healing that can come because you’re still always fighting against some of those large structural narrative exoskeletons that have kept you safe all this time. It doesn’t come undone because you want them to or you’ve thought of them or you read a good book. You have to slowly disarm them. Some of the best ways to do it are through somatic movement. It’s through movement.
Whenever you think about how the body retains memory and how the body holds memory, and it’s not explicit memory, it’s not a memory that we can recall. It’s not saying, “Tell me about the day you got married and what was the weather like?” It’s not recalling the details. It’s more of our procedural memory. If I hand you a bicycle and you can get on it and ride it, that’s procedural memory. You don’t have to think about it. A lot of the memory from our past traumas is in our procedural memory. If we can learn new procedures because I’ve been doing dance lessons for the last several years. The better I get at a dance, then the more my trauma drops away because I’m committing to procedural memories in my body that I want to be there instead of the ones that I don’t want leading the way. It’s a powerful way to shift it. This is what I call metabolizing some of that trauma because I’m taking some of that old trauma. I’m taking the energy from that trauma. I’m turning it into something that I want and enjoy for myself, and that I have a lot of fun doing.
Essentially, you’re engaged in play therapy.
That’s what I said. I’m not officially in play therapy. I’m not working with a therapist.
Coming at it from a tangential lateral view, a softening of our spirits.
I teach resiliency classes, which is a way to be trauma-informed and resiliency informed all at the same time. I bring the science of trauma into it. I’ve been nudging for a long time at my dance instructor to become trauma-informed. I said, “Think about the people who come to see you. Tell me the average demographic.” He said, “A lot of times it’s somebody who’s gone through a major change in life. Somebody went through a divorce.” I said, “You’re directly dealing with trauma and you don’t even know it. You guys need to be trauma-informed. Trauma-informed is quite the buzzword. You might even be able to attract more people if you’ve had trauma-informed dance instructors.”
I’ve seen this. I have not experienced this myself because I’m not a good yoga instructor, but I have seen great success with people that engage with yoga specifically for women that have endured physical and sexual abuse. It’s a way to reground yourself within your body in a safe way. It’s a softer way of play therapy of dancing and being in an excitable state. Even in a calm state, the somatic memory, like you were saying, and releasing some of those pain and trauma through yoga has been enhancing to some of the trauma work that I’ve done too.
Our readers out there, if you’re interested in yoga or anything, if you can find a trauma-informed practitioner, I recommend that. If you can’t find one in your area, do your yoga. Join it and do it. Keep in your mind, if anything doesn’t feel comfortable or anything doesn’t feel right to you, you don’t have to do it. I know sometimes yoga instructors will put their hands on people and say, “I’m going to make a little adjustment.” Some people aren’t okay with that. “Don’t make adjustments to me.” If that’s you, gently tell your yoga instructor, “If this is what you do, please don’t with me. I’m not okay with that.” Usually, it’s fine if you say it in a nice respectable way and set your boundaries.
I’m coming back to prisons and carceral systems. There was a famous survivor of a large Belgian pedophile ring. Her name is Anneke Lucas. She has a yoga prison for women. A lot of her work has to do with going into prisons and helping people that are incarcerated ground themselves back into their bodies. That is where a lot of the healing comes.
A lot of people don’t feel safe in their bodies. It can be quite the challenge depending on what somebody’s lived through even to get them to be present inside themselves in their bodies. Lorena, I’m wondering if there are any final tips or techniques or bits of wisdom you’d like to leave with our readers?
The big thing when it comes to trauma is to be patient and be gracious with yourself. A great deal of overcoming trauma is learning to accept yourself, love yourself and be your own best self-advocate. Be compassionate when you rise and be compassionate when you can’t. Have enough curiosity to keep seeking. One day a specific strategy will work. The next day, it won’t and that’s not a person being flimsy. It’s the nature of healing. Play therapy is the modality that I found because it’s robust enough to withstand many different problems. It isn’t for everybody. Some people are not able to engage with that playful side of themselves to heal. Some people understand healing through listening to music. Some people understand it through exercise.
Some people understand their wellbeing by running a marathon. All of those forms of healing are at times equal and at times complementary. The largest process is to be compassionate and loving with yourself. There are different spheres. There are different points in which to love the child within. Get back to your true self, all these different fads that come in. We’re living through a fad of a lot of CBT and a lot of mindfulness, but that too will pass.
The essence of healing still has to be one whereby the power of the individual to find themselves and to root themselves is returned to them, whether schemas are challenged and they can reroute themselves into new beginnings. Risk-taking is the hardest thing that we can do when we have trauma. It’s the most important. By risk-taking, I don’t mean engaging in high-risk behavior. I mean risking buying a book, risking exploring, risking asking questions, listening to a podcast, getting curious about things and not being right all the time, being okay to make mistakes.
Lorena, thank you. If any of our readers are interested in connecting with you, would you be okay with that? If so, how would you like them to reach out?Be compassionate when you rise and be compassionate when you can't. Click To Tweet
I have an email. If people want to access a short story that I have that’s getting published, they can do so as well.
Can you tell us a little bit about where they can find that short story?
It’s an upcoming publication in a magazine from the UK called Asylum Magazine. There’s a web link to it, but it should be probably coming into the September issue.
Your email is LDIMock@iCloud.com. For anybody who’s reading, there’s her email. I hope you get a chance to check out her short story that’s coming up. It’s a great story. I had the honor of having a sneak peek at it. I hope you get the chance to read it because it is a beautiful combination of both indigenous and Western styles of writing in a short story. I was blown away by it. Thank you for the sneak peek. I was honored. For all of our readers, I hope you enjoyed this. There was a lot of good information on this show.
If you’re interested in play therapy, please look it up in your area because it can be one of the most healing things that you’ll do. I know it sounds silly. It isn’t. Maybe you don’t have to see a play therapist. Maybe you can do something like I’m doing. Go find something that you love, take lessons and learn to do something new with your body. It’s amazing how healing that can be. If you found this information valuable, please share, subscribe, and pass this on to other people that you think might be able to help because this information needs to get out into the world. It’s been life-changing for me. Lorena and I talked beforehand. It’s been life-changing for her. We know that if you can face some of the stuff within you, it can be life-changing with you as well. Please reach out if you have any questions. I’ll see you all next time.
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
About Lorena Snyder
Lorena Snyder is a Child & Play Therapist near Toronto, Canada. She’s also a graduate student examining current Mental Health Policies while exploring ways for the profession to grow beyond the limits of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). Lorena works with women and children who have experienced violence and / or complex trauma.
Lorena is also a mother, a wife, an indigenous woman, and a beautiful soul who is determined to define her life herself without allowing her past do that for her. She has lived through experiences most of us would find unimaginable. Having come through it with an adaptive and resilient mindset, she is driven to help others who are marginalized and victimized, offering them a ray of hope to keep moving forward!
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