Riverside Trauma Center Newsletter
Winter 2013
In This Issue
Meet Our Staff
Fostering Resilience
The Ripple Effect of
Traumatic Events
Children with Voices
Trauma Conference
Dear Friend, 


This has been an active winter for us so far. We consulted with various schools and communities affected by the tragedy in Newtown, CT. We also developed and distributed resource/tip sheets on "Talking with Your Children About Traumatic Events," "Practicing Self-Care After Traumatic Events," and "Book Resources for Children on Death and Dying" all of which can be found on our website.


We have been diligently working on the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative program − a violence prevention strategy that focuses on reducing youth homicides and serious assaults in high-risk areas of Massachusetts. More information about that effort can be found in our "Meet Our Staff" section of this newsletter. We also just recently cosponsored a trauma conference with Vinfen, which we are happy to say was quite a success.


Our goal is to provide you with an engaging and informative newsletter. If there is a topic you would like us to include, please let us know. We hope that you will share this newsletter with other people who may be interested in the topics we discuss and the work that we do.


Best wishes,


Larry Berkowitz, Ed.D.

Director, Riverside Trauma Center

Meet Our Staff 


Courtney Breen, MS

Northeast Regional Coordinator,
Safe and Successful Youth Initiative


What do you do at Riverside Trauma Center?

I am the Northeast Regional Coordinator for Riverside's role in the Commonwealth's Safe and Successful Youth Initiative program a violence prevention strategy aimed at reducing youth homicides and serious assaults in high-risk areas of Massachusetts. I am coordinating the creation of community groups within Lowell, Lawrence, Lynn, and Chelsea that are interested in supporting their communities following traumatic events. These people will be trained in Psychological First Aid and Post-Traumatic Stress Management techniques used to help individuals and communities following violent/traumatic events. I will serve these groups by being the central "dispatch" and liaison for trauma responses and by supporting their efforts in each city. Our goal is to provide compassionate trauma response to those impacted by violence in order to decrease the likelihood of retaliatory acts of violence and reduce harmful emotional consequences. This community model is based on the concept that individuals who are part of the community know best how to connect with and support people who are impacted by traumatic events.


What motivated you to go into the mental health field?

Since childhood, I have found that I really enjoy supporting others, and that it is something that comes naturally to me. Working with individuals who are having difficulty in various aspects of their lives brings much fulfillment to my personal and professional life. My focus has mostly been on supporting the functioning of adolescents through those developmental phases. The field of mental health is broad, and it includes immeasurable methods for supporting others. It was a natural path for me to follow, and I have enjoyed it incredibly.


What guided you to work at Riverside Trauma Center?

I was first introduced to Riverside during my Master's degree program at Northeastern University over 10 years ago when I collaborated with many professionals from Riverside throughout my internships and employment. Riverside has always had a reputation for professional, successful, and supportive services for individuals, and I was able to experience that first-hand. Since my Master's program, I have often thought about applying to a position within the agency. Now, during my PhD program, the perfect opportunity became available at Riverside.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I really enjoy activities with my family. My husband and three young children bring so much excitement and happiness to my life on a daily basis. We are typically found doing outdoor activities such as water sports, hiking, spending time at the park, etc. The outdoors is a large part of who I am, so I try to spend as much time as I can there. Since my childhood, I have always participated in athletic sports and events. Soccer is my favorite sport.


Courtney can be reached at:  




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Fostering Resilience    


For many years, the study of human responses to potentially traumatic events has focused on the ways in which these events overwhelm our capacity to cope and, in some cases, leave us scarred by the experiences. Recently there has been a shift in trauma research and treatment models that acknowledges that a potentially traumatic event resulting in long-term harmful effects is not an inevitable outcome.


More often, we see people are incredibly resilient in the face of horrific experiences, and some even display what has come to be known as post-traumatic growth. As Hemingway famously put it in A Farewell to Arms, "The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong in the broken places." People who weather horrific experiences often display a capacity for resilience that we can learn from. They can teach us how to strengthen this capacity in individuals, families, and communities to be more resilient before, during, and after a traumatic event.


This focus on resilience has been a cornerstone of Riverside Trauma Center's approach to responding to traumatic events. Our model of Psychological First Aid and Post-Traumatic Stress Management aims to build resilience rather than prevent pathology. It is a privilege for those of us who do this work to witness the incredible strength, compassion, and even growth that we see in people in the immediate aftermath of potentially traumatic events. Some of the skills we help people learn and access in difficult times include the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry out those plans, and to have positive views of themselves and confidence in their strengths and abilities. We encourage use of communication and problem-solving abilities, and offer strategies to manage strong feelings and impulses.*


There are countless ways for people to build these skills and at least as many possible ways for these skills to manifest themselves in peoples' experiences. One of the best ways we have found to help support people is to truly encourage them to take care of themselves in the immediate aftermath of a potentially traumatic event, and give them the tools to be able to do so. The model of Post-Traumatic Stress Management that we use is very much based on this idea of promoting self-care in people as a way of fostering resilience. Our "coping groups" allow people who have experienced a traumatic event to learn from each other's self-care techniques and think about how they might be able to find similar outlets and capacities in their own lives even in times of extreme stress.


Our upcoming annual conference, which is scheduled for October 4 of this year, will focus on the themes of resilience and self-care, and look at more concrete skills that people can use to build resilience in themselves, their clients, their families, and their communities. The keynote speaker will be Donald Meichenbaum, PhD, author of Roadmap to Resilience: A Guide for Military, Trauma Victims and Their Families. Dr. Meichenbaum, one of the founders of cognitive behavioral therapy, is an expert both in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and intervention with people who are in suicidal crisis; a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada; and currently serves as Research Director of the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention located in Miami, Florida.


-Joanna Hooper, LICSW
Clinical Services Director


*American Psychological Association (2012). Retrieved from www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx#.


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The Ripple Effect of Traumatic Events


After any traumatic event, the immediate concern is for the individuals and community directly impacted. The response of emergency personnel and mental health professionals is designed to help those affected recover physically and emotionally. But for many years trauma experts have noticed the impact of such tragedies often reverberates far beyond the devastated community.


No more powerful example exists of how a traumatic event can echo throughout the nation than the shooting of 26 innocent school children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14. As people watched the story unfold in the media, they were often surprised by the intensity of their reactions even though they were hundreds of miles away from the full force of this tragedy. People were frightened and outraged. They were scared for their own children, and families were at a loss to explain what happened. Some parents picked their children up from school early and canceled after-school activities. Some children became anxious and refused to go outside or back to school for several days. Their immediate world no longer felt safe.


In the early 1980s, psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman labeled this phenomenon "Shattered Assumptions." A traumatic event undermines our sense the world is a safe place and we are in control of our lives: "If such an unspeakable tragedy can occur in a safe, middle-class community in Connecticut then maybe it could happen in my community as well" or "maybe it could happen to me and my family." Once people are forced to imagine they or their families could be victimized, they often feel detached, powerless, or out of balance with the world.


As early as 1979, psychologist Urie Bronfenbenner studied how such tragedies ripple throughout society at large. Not just individuals and families are consumed with emotional distress. School systems, healthcare institutions, local and state governments, as well as the mass media struggle to understand what has happened and what their new role should be in keeping the community and country a safer place.


Most people would be quick to point out how our culture and attitudes have been transformed since the horror of September 11, 2001. Our world view and our policies toward other countries have shifted, sometimes dramatically. We are willing to stand in long lines as we go through airport security, and many citizens have altered their views of different cultures and religions.


Within hours of breaking stories about Newtown, schools across the country revised policies in an attempt to make schools safer; local, state, and federal agencies reviewed policies and proposed legislation in the hope their efforts could prevent such future tragedies; gun control advocates renewed their vigor for tighter and more comprehensive weapon restrictions; newspapers sought out experts in the misguided hope there was some logical explanation for what happened. TV anchors asked, "what was the motive?" when no rational understanding existed.


Unfortunately, traumatic events happen too frequently and people need to develop the skills for managing their reactions and finding a suitable balance so they enjoy life yet stay safe. Although most traumatic events are on a much smaller scale
(e.g., individual assaults, serious auto accidents, sudden death of a family member), according to the National Morbidity statistics, at least 75% of people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime.


So how do we keep ourselves safe and learn to recover more quickly from such experiences? There are some incidents and natural disasters that we may not be able to prevent, but we can certainly develop policies and programs that will mitigate the consequences ranging from airbags in cars, violence prevention programs in cities, hurricane barriers in low-lying shorelines, and school resource officers.


Teaching children and adults to be more resilient helps them cope with unforeseen events and makes it much less likely they will be impacted in the long-term. And once traumatic events happen there are numerous ways people can learn to take care of themselves and restore connections to family and social supports that can help them weather any storm. Taking these kinds of actions help us restore our assumptions the world is a meaningful place and make us feel more in control. Ultimately, we may gain some peace of mind from acknowledging that we may be vulnerable, but we are far from helpless.


For more information about coping after traumatic events please visit our website.  


-Sarah Gaer, MA, Suicide Prevention Specialist
-Jim McCauley, LICSW, Associate Director


Children with Voices Mini-Conference


"Understanding Trauma and Caring for the Caregiver"


Monday, March 18, 2013

The Charles Hotel

One Bennett Street, Cambridge

Registration & Continental Breakfast 8:30 am

Program 9:00 am to 12:30 pm


Please join "Children with Voices: A Child Witness to Violence Program" for their 14th Annual Mini-Conference for professionals and educators working with families exposed to violence.


Featured speakers include:

Barry Walsh, PhD

"Using Cognitive Restructuring for PTSD to Reduce Self-Harm Behavior"


Tally Tripp, MA, MSW, LICSW, ATR-BC, CTT

"Art Works: The Role of the Creative Arts in Managing Traumatic Stress"


Network and learn strategies to understand trauma and how to care for ourselves. Please be advised that space is limited.


Please register online at The Guidance Center website Registration fee is $65 per participant, including breakfast. Registration forms and fees must arrive by 3/1/13 at 5:00 pm for regular registration.


"Children with Voices: A Child Witness to Violence Program" is a collaborative project between The Guidance Center, local battered woman shelters, such as RESPOND, Inc. and Transition House, and other local agencies. The Guidance Center, a service of Riverside Community Care, is the leading provider of innovative, family-centered programs for children and families in Cambridge and Somerville, MA.   



Riverside Community Care is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Riverside Community Care maintains responsibility for this program and its content.


We have also been approved for continued education credits for social workers, LMHCs, and LMFCs. CEs for nurses are in process.


Trauma Conference was a Success

The conference "Large-Scale Traumatic Incidents: Current Best Practices for Disaster Response and for Individual Treatment of Trauma," cosponsored by Vinfen and Riverside Community Care, was held on January 30 at the College of the Holy Cross. Over 150 people attended to view the 2011 film "Rebirth," a documentary about five individuals and their experiences dealing with the tragedy of September 11. The film follows these individuals over a period of nine years, and beautifully illustrates how people's lives are transformed by a traumatic event. After viewing the documentary, there was a powerful panel discussion that included two people featured in the film. Tanya, a woman who lost her firefighter fianc´┐Że, talked about her intense grief, how she coped, and the crucial mental health services she received from the 9/11 commission. The film was a window into the long journey to heal and the remarkable capacity of people to recover from traumatic events.


Engaging presentations by Riverside Trauma Center staff members then followed. Waheeda Saif, LMHC, Program Coordinator and Jim McCauley, LICSW, Associate Director, gave the presentation "Riding Out the Storm: Empowering Families and Communities After Tragic Events." They talked about best practices for assisting families and communities after tragic events, using Riverside's restorative work in western Massachusetts after the June 1, 2011 tornados to illustrate the concepts presented. In her presentation entitled "When the Storm Doesn't End: Best Practices for Trauma Treatment," Joanna Hooper, LICSW, Clinical Services Director, provided an impressive overview of current therapeutic strategies for working with people requiring clinical care to help them recover from traumatic events.


The conference was a great opportunity for people in the mental health field to learn about current best practices and network with colleagues. It was also a wonderful chance for us to describe our statewide trauma response network as well as our trainings in trauma and suicide prevention to a New England audience.


Please Let Us Know What You Think

If you would like to share some comments about our newsletter or provide us with some ideas for articles that you would like to see, please send an email to tcenter@riversidecc.org. We would love to hear from you.





Riverside Trauma Center is a service of Riverside Community Care, a non-profit organization. Services are primarily funded through donations and grants. All contributions are welcome and appreciated.


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781-433-0672, ext. 5738


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