May 08

Intermountain Moment: 17-year old Kevin

“Kevin” recently returned to public school after serving a sentence in residential treatment for sexually abusing another child. The director of Intermountain’s school-based-services says that everyone was afraid of Kevin: the schools, his probation officer, his therapist. Even experienced staffers at Intermountain were afraid of Kevin.Kevin-guitar

However, Kevin was what people call a “paper monster.” On paper, he looked like he would be a monster. The school’s plan was to assign an adult to him throughout the day, to never let him out of their sight. It would be as if he was back behind bars.

Through working with his Intermountain therapist, Kevin is beginning to shed the “monster” label. He has discovered that he’s a talented songwriter and has begun seeking out leadership roles within his therapy groups. His music is helping him heal.

He’s working on two main goals: First, to be a safe person for other people to be around; and, second, to look at his own history of abuse and work through his pain.

He’s now not only making a difference in his own life, but he’s helping his therapy group to improve while sharing his music with the wider school community. The difference in his life now, his therapist says, is that Intermountain was willing to enter into a sincere relationship with this “paper monster.”

“You have to be able to see him as ‘Kevin,’” he says, “and not as ‘what Kevin has done.’”

Thank you for partnering with Intermountain to bring healing and hope to young people like Kevin.

Chaplain Chris Haughee

 

P.S. You can click HERE for a bulletin insert to share Kevin’s story with your congregation!

May 04

Handling Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in a trauma-informed church

Mother's-Day-GiftI recently had two events that caused me to think purposefully about what a responsible approach to the upcoming holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may be for a church that is seeking to be sensitive to the trauma histories that their worshipping community may have. The first was an invitation to preach at a church in my community that has done a great deal to advance the faith communities awareness to the effects of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and mental health needs within the community. I was invited to preach on Father’s Day, and I asked if the church had any traditions around the holiday. It sparked a wonderful cascade of insightful emails back and forth as to what kind of message would be best received by that worshipping congregation. The second was an instant message I received from a local children’s minister asking about how she out to approach Mother’s Day with the large group of children she serves, knowing many of them have high ACE scores and may be coming from families of divorce, separation, loss, or incarceration.

 

So, what would a trauma-informed approach to ministry on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day be? I am not sure I can offer a definitive answer, but I will hope to provide some insight, guidance, and a few leading questions that will hopefully help your church or faith community honor the mothers and fathers in your midst without also unintentionally doing harm to those that may struggle with these holidays for a myriad of reasons.

 

Building on the framework of SAMSHA’s definition of a trauma-informed organization, I have previously written about my working definition for a trauma-informed ministry. A Trauma-Informed Ministry intentionally shapes a culture within their worshipping community that:

 

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma–those deeply distressing and emotional experiences that leave lasting effects–and provides practical ministry interventions as well as support for ongoing mental health interventions.
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in the children, youth, men and women it ministers to as well as the effects that living with a traumatized individual has on all relationships–marriage, family, work, and social.
  3. Responds to the need within its worshipping community and the needs of its neighbors by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into church and ministry policies, procedures, and ministry practices. And,
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization that can occur when appropriate recognition and intervention is not wed with compassion and a commitment to stabilizing relationships and supportive structures that destigmatize mental health issues.

 

Furthermore, it is characterized by the six key principles of a trauma-informed approach to service. They are:

 

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

 

So, let’s review the subject of observing or recognizing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the church using the “Four R’s” of the definition while “sprinkling in” the six principles above. For the sake of clarity and segmenting this into points of discussion that might be helpful for a church to explore, I’ll use a bulleted list to accomplish this.

 

  • First, the trauma-informed community of faith is intentional about shaping its culture in a way that recognizes the effects of trauma and adversity in childhood within its community. Everything that the church does is examined in light of wanting the “Good News” of Jesus to be accessible to the one-fifth to one-fourth of individuals that have experienced significant trauma or adversity in their communities. How will you honor the exceptional mothers and fathers in your community, while including grandparents that are parenting, foster parents, and adoptive parents? Will you keep in mind that some will have had very difficult relationships with their parents, and the lifting up of the “ideal parent” within the congregation just may cause them enough pain to choose to stay home those Sundays? You increase a sense of trust and transparency every time the church displays sensitivity around these issues, because people can be real and authentic instead of having to pretend to be something while in a faith-based setting.
  • Second, in recognizing the signs of trauma in individuals—the anxiety that can result from simply being around larger groups of people, for instance—does the church have a clearly articulated plan for ministering to those that may be overwhelmed at some point in the worship service or surrounding fellowship times? Are there entrances and exits where a person can discreetly come in or out without having to pass a line of “greeters” or those for whom the traumatized individual may feel they need to explain themselves? Is there a quiet room if an adult or child is needing a sensory break? It helps communicate physical and emotional safety to have thought through these questions and make accommodations. If you know that there are children in your Sunday school class or Children’s church program that have a complicated relationship with a birth mother, will this change the way you message your lesson or design a craft project? Having a conversation with the class around the special women in their lives and discuss who might be deserving of a special gift you are making together would be less likely to cause strong emotional reaction than just assuming everyone in the class has a parent they can give their gift to.
  • Third, take a look at the church’s policies, procedures and practices. Do sign in forms for the nursery only list a place for the “mother” or “father?” Could you add or replace those designations with the term “guardian” and avoid unintentionally harm? Do the mothers get carnations on Mother’s and are their special treats for the dads on Father’s Day? Do you ask them to stand during the worship service? Consider the role of cultural, historical, or gender issues that may be unintentionally causing decisions to be made in your fellowship that are hurting those that need your support. I have sat by my wife in the pew as she cried in service when the mothers were asked to stand, because having just lost an adoptive placement to the “system,” she felt she didn’t qualify as a mother and shouldn’t stand. Choose to empower those often overlooked and be sensitive to the pain that is often ignored or minimized for those with such experiences.
  • Fourth, the church can do a lot to help prepare a church for a different way of observing Mother’s and Father’s day by talking about issues of adversity in childhood, trauma-informed ministry practices, mental health issues, adoption/foster care, infertility, miscarriage, and many other very real and tangible issues for your congregations. In doing so, you help to normalize these discussion in a faith setting and reduce stigma. Most importantly, it can help your church from re-traumatizing an individual in a worship or church education setting! Give a sense of choice, power, and voice to those in your faith community to those from a variety of backgrounds so you can increase your awareness and compassion towards all children, individuals, and families.

 

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be special observances within a church setting, and by intentionally working through some of the questions and issues raised within this article, I hope that many more children, men and women will feel included and embraced within those observances.

 

Even if you and your congregation should choose to change nothing about how you observe (or don’t observe!) these holidays, perhaps the conversation started about a “trauma-sensitive” approach will make you and your church more compassionate and aware of those that come to worship with you on these Sundays.

 

© 2019, Chaplain Chris Haughee

May 01

Calling all Quilting Groups and Sewing Circles… cushion covers needed!

When the chapel space in our new Van Orsdel Commons was designed, we intentionally left the spaces as wide and open as possible in order to accommodate as many different uses and as many little wiggly bodies as we could! I started to think creatively about seating arrangements and seats that could be used outside as well as inside. I wanted something rugged, but not too heavy. I hoped we could use them for games as well as seating for lesson times. I settled on a favorite of some elementary school teachers: milk crates!milk-crates-w-cushions

Now, your standard milk crate is not particularly comfortable… and that’s where I am hoping those in our faith communities that support us can help. We could use about 40 cushions to go on the milk crates to make seating more comfortable. I have the foam to put in the cushions, but I am needing the cushion covers created out of colorful and durable fabric. The plan is for these covers to have zippers on them, so if a cushion gets dirty I can easily wash the cover and put it back on the foam once it is clean again!

Ultimately, I’d like to start sending a milk crate (with cushion) home with each child that discharges from our care and heads home or on to their next placement. I envision this being a practical way from them to carry with them some of the crafts and other treasures we’ve created during our time together, as well as a handy place to store their folder with their lesson sheets and coloring pages, too. This means that I would need to keep restocking my cushion and milk crate supply, so the more your group could make, the merrier!

I have modified a pattern for a zippered pillow that will work well for the sized cushions we need (12″ square) and the thickness of foam I have (3″).

Click this link for the directions: Directions for Cushion Covers – Milk Crates

and contact us if you have any questions!

Apr 26

Flashback Friday: Five Minutes with Chaplain Chris Haughee

“Five Minutes with Chris Haughee: Helping Kids Heal”

Chris Haughee is a Covenant chaplain working at Intermountain Residential, an intensive residential program for children who demonstrate behavioral challenges with campuses in Helena and Kalispell, Montana. Chris and his family attend Headwaters Covenant Church in Helena.

Who are the children you serve at Intermountain?

They may be as young as four years old and as old as thirteen. We can house up to forty children and youth in cottages on our two campuses—for an average stay of fifteen months. Our staff consists
of therapists, educators, nurses, and case managers, as well as a psychiatrist. I serve as the chaplain on staff in Helena.

What kind of situation brings a child to Intermountain?

All of our kids have pretty complex mental health diagnoses. We see a lot of PTSD as a result of significant trauma in their past. Some kids are on the autism spectrum with sensory processing issues. Sometimes they’ve been identified by the symptoms of their trauma, whether that’s ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder—there’s a whole bag of diagnoses that are necessary to guide treatment, but ultimately early childhood trauma lies at the root of their challenges.

A number of our referrals come from school districts—from educational consultants in California and other states. Sometimes we receive kids from the foster care system because facilities or families do not have the training or support in place to help care for a severely emotionally disturbed child. We also have quite a few kids who reached a certain developmental stage and some kind of mental health issue was identified that their parents were unprepared to deal with. The families are looking for help to learn how to parent their child and get them back home.

Sometimes a child’s behavior in school and at home reaches the point where the parents genuinely can’t help them, and they call 911 because their child threatens violence or injury to him- or herself or others. The kids are hurting and struggling so much that they just keep amping up their behavior as a way of saying “I need help.” When parents are afraid for their kid’s safety, Intermountain can help.

As chaplain, what kind of activities or interactions do you have with the clients?

My role with the family starts the day a parent brings their child to us. From day one, my work is to come alongside the parents and reassure them. I learn about their faith tradition if they have one. Our program is based on a nondenominational Christian perspective. Within that framework we feel called to meet the family wherever they are. Sometimes families are experiencing a crisis of faith. Some children have had no exposure to any faith background. I come alongside all of those families.

We have chapel on Tuesday afternoons from 4 to 5, so I see the kids in that setting once a week. Chapel is like a vacation Bible school where we sing songs and play games and have snacks—it’s fun, so most of the time the kids are pretty jazzed to see me. We also have discussion time where we talk about spiritual themes that connect to their treatment. In that context we focus on relationship—loving God, loving our neighbor, and especially loving ourselves. Kids are working on all three areas through their treatment.

The rest of the week I try to make time to be at meals or spend time in the classroom with them. Sometimes they need somebody to talk to who is not a therapist or a direct care worker that is making them talk about their difficult feelings and relationship issues.

How do you connect with caregivers or parents while their child is at Intermountain?

We do weekly family therapies, so we try to video chat or talk on the phone with parents who live far away. Most of the time I am not directly involved with family therapies, but can participate at the invitation of the therapist or family when spiritual issues are involved. We also have an onsite apartment that families can use when they come to visit. We do quarterly trainings for parents on campus, which is a chance for them to talk with other parents and understand that someone else shares their experience. We also invite parents to come see their kids participate in a program at our school. For some of them, it’s the first time their child has been able to successfully participate in something like that.

The kids we serve have learned to survive a chaotic internal (and in some cases, external) life. At Intermountain, we offer them hope for a new path. We come alongside parents to help them learn ways to parent their children in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way.

How did you end up doing this work?

I was in between calls, having served as associate pastor in Helena at a Presbyterian church. I wasn’t sure what I would do next, and then I heard about this position from my predecessor, Dana Holzer. At the time I knew that Intermountain existed in my own backyard, but I didn’t know much about the ministry. 

After I began this work, we also became clients of Intermountain. My six-year-old son, whom we had adopted when he was eighteen months old, began to display some significant emotional and behavioral challenges as a result of trauma experienced in his first few months of life. He entered Intermountain’s residential program for fourteen months.

Through our family’s experience, I learned how to empathize with parents who find themselves in a similar situation in a completely different way. I get what it’s like to try to care for your child and provide for them but what you’re doing isn’t working. Through his stay my son learned some ways to break out of negative and destructive patterns. He started to engage his trauma history and gain ownership of his story, including his abandonment as a baby. He has begun to really see what an amazing kid he is. While there is plenty of work ahead for us as a family, we are grateful for the healing work God has done in our son and our family through Intermountain.

Apr 10

Guest post: Family Therapy… You are worth it! by Phillip Quinn, M.Ed., LCPC

Living with a family member that is struggling—whether from trauma, depression, anxiety, cognitive delays, or anything else—takes a toll. It can feel like a hopeless situation. This is where family therapy comes in.

Family therapy isn’t about getting blamed or identifying the problem person. It’s not about finding a scapegoat or finding an ally to prove a point. It is about learning how to communicate with each other, accept each other’s feelings and experience, and developing the skills to support each other. It is about learning that, contrary to the cliché, we do often live on islands but strive to keep them close together and need to work to keep those connections.

When the islands separate, the counselor’s job is to help you connect and bring those islands together or at least Family-walking-on-a-trail-in-the-fall-1024x703build bridges and ferries back and forth. And like so many other things our children need us to lead the way because they don’t know how. They don’t know how to be vulnerable until they see us do it. They don’t know how to manage their anger in a healthy way until they see us do it. And if we aren’t sure how to do it, then we need to experience it too and let the therapy relationship teach us. Family therapy is the safe place to do it. It will be hard, there will be tears, there may be anger and yelling, and hurt and sadness will almost certainly come out. But in the midst of that hard work, there will be laughter, joy, and a closeness your family longs for.

If there is something I can guarantee, it will be worth it. It will bring you closer together, even though you all may want to push away at times. When all is said and done the islands will be connected by bridges, boats, planes, and smoke signals and the family will enjoy these connections. There will still be arguments and frustrations and hurt, but there will also be the skills and willingness to heal, to open up, and repair.

If your family is struggling, or even certain relationships within the family, it is time to consider family therapy. It is time to bring the islands back together, to find your path to your family’s happiness. Family therapy will undoubtedly be hard and uncomfortable at times, but…You are worth it.

– Phillip Quinn, M.Ed., LCPC

Intermountain’s Family-based services

Mar 18

IM Moment: Changing attitudes towards mental health and the church

 

 

“In this life you WILL have trouble,” Jesus said, “but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The troubles that come our way are various and sometimes complicated. Physical, mental, emotional, and relational difficulties can intertwine themselves into a big, BIG ball of overwhelming force that threatens to shake our faith at times. So, what can we do to create a supportive community where people can authentically present their difficulties–especially around mental health and parenting traumatized children–without fear of judgment? How can we come alongside those who are struggling with a message of hope, even when their prayers for relief from depression or anxiety have seemingly gone unanswered?

In my conversation with Joelle Johnson, LCSW, LCC, we spoke about the power of changing the language around the various struggles those in our churches might face. There is a tremendous potential healing power that comes from connecting an individual’s trials and tribulations to the larger narrative of their faith tradition. However, if the attitudes and behaviors in a faith community suggest that it is up to them to figure things out on their own before they can fully participate in the fellowship of believers, the pain and shame of a mental health crisis can be compounded.

So, what can we do to help… especially when we might not have the whole picture or the individual might be pulling away from fellowship because of their expectations of how they will be treated or perceived if they reveal what their struggle might be?

  • Don’t wait until a mental health crisis occurs in your church or faith community to talk about mental health in your church! Add those struggling with mental health (in a general way) to your prayers or petitions in worship. Preach on mental health or look for stories or illustrations in preaching and teaching that touch on mental health issues. Include Intermountain Moment bulletin inserts to keep the subject before your congregation. Look for resources from your denomination on issues of mental health. [NOTE: there probably already IS a mental health crisis going on in your faith community, but could be disguised as something else]
  • For those “pulling away,” practice a stance of compassion, just as if that individual had had a physical health crisis like a stroke or injury that caused them to be a shut in for some time. Why mention this? Well, my experience suggests that sometimes those who find themselves in a sudden hospitalization and have to be home bound for some time are appreciative of the visits that members of the church make and the outreach the church mobilizes around their need. What if we organized a “meal train” or regular visitation for those experiencing a mental health crisis (and their families) just as we would for a new baby in the family or a physical health issue, like recovering from a surgery?
  • Be careful around the conversation of “healing” for mental health issues. Often, these conditions or illnesses will be continuing issues for them, without a “healing” in site. If someone with a mental health diagnosis senses that they “should be healed” after they pray with us, it creates an expectation and culture that inhibits authenticity. Because the illness is hidden, the “healing” can be faked… out of their desire to please us and be healed, not based in their reality and true experience.

I’d love to continue the conversation that Joelle and I had around these issues with you and your community! If you haven’t engaged the curriculum Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks, it can be VERY helpful in building a culture within your church that addresses mental health and trauma in a way that is healing and redemptive. You can also contact Intermountain and arrange for a speaker, training, or additional information.

 

 

Mar 08

Intermountain Moment: Elaina’s story

At age four, “Elaina” remembers wandering the streets of her hometown on her own. Her parents were using drugs and severely neglecting her. She has just a few fuzzy memories of that time: “I know that the refrigerator was green,” she says, “but it didn’t matter, because there was never anything in it.”

To make matters worse, her mom got in a car accident when Elaina was five or six. Her mom was never the same again. Elaina remembers her mom reaching towards her when she woke up in the hospital. “Call grandma and get me my heroine,” were her first words to her little girl.redhead-girl-Elaina

Elaina was removed from her home and placed with her grandma and uncle who also used drugs. Tragically, Elaina’s grandma died soon after that placement. Elaina was then placed with her other grandmother. This grandmother adopted Elaina, but almost unbelievably, she soon passed away as well.

Elaina then moved in with her grandpa and an aunt and uncle. By this time she was in 6th grade. She says she would often cry alone in her bed, but no one would come to comfort her. She knew they could hear her through the thin walls, but they didn’t come. She felt like no one in the world cared about her. She had lived in eight different homes with eight different families in her 12 short years.

Last summer, Elaina moved in with another aunt and uncle who have a few young children of their own. Intermountain is working hard to make sure this will be Elaina’s forever family. Elaina is convinced that her aunt and uncle will either reject her at some point or pass away unexpectedly, and it’s easy to see why she feels that way. At one point, Elaina was so uncontrollable she had to spend time in a psychiatric hospital. She was terrified to be there because, she says, her sister had gone to that facility before, and she never saw her again.

She’s back at home now and in therapy at Intermountain. She has a love-hate relationship with her therapist in that she both loves and hates how he’s able to see through the walls she’s built around herself and help her be emotionally vulnerable. There’s been progress at home as well. “She’s to the point where she’s wishing she’d been born to this family in the first place,” her therapist says, “and that’s a huge step forward.”

Thank you for supporting Intermountain. For more information or to find out how you can help children like Elaina, call 406-457-4804.

 

For a bulletin insert to share Elaina’s story, CLICK HERE

Feb 21

Learning how to help others & loving our “neighbors”

“It is more blessed to give than to receive…” (Acts 20:35)

Recently, our children assembled hygiene kits for students in Africa as part of a special service project. These hygiene kits are given to students that come from far away to attend the International Evangelism Centre in Salika, Tanzania. At the Centre, these students prepare to be church planters and pastors to a number of countries in East Africa. The relatively few supplies—all fitting into a 1 gallon Ziplock bag—are a tremendous blessing to these eager, but often impoverished, students.

Combined with this activity, and as part of our resilience series, we talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan and just what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We discussed how it can be hard to know how to ask for help,IMG_2585 and how we can be hesitant to offer assistance, too. In assembling the kits, our children were encouraged to write a note of blessing to the students that would receive their gift, and how the note from them was just as important as the tangible gifts they were giving… because it symbolized their desire to connect on a personal level.

For many of our children, uprooted from their homes and working through some very difficult issues and matters of relationship, it was a healthy reminder that they, too, have something to give. They could see in a very tangible way that they had been blessed to be a blessing.

In the Chaplain’s Program at Intermountain, we feel it is important for the children to learn compassion, empathy, and the positive sense of self that comes from giving oneself in service to another. From the spirit and the energy that flowed from our chapel service, it is hard to argue against the therapeutic power of service and acts of kindness and encouragement. I hope you enjoy reading two of the notes that were included in our hygiene kits:

Tiger-TY-hygiene-kit3 Crosses-TY-hygiene-kit

Feb 10

Would you consider Change for Children this Lent and Easter season? (free object lessons!)

In preparation for Lent, I have written seven free lessons for your use! My hope is that you will find this resource helpful for you as you interpret the “Change for Children” campaign to the young people of your church. While written primarily for a Children’s Sermon format, these object lessons could be used in a Sunday school setting, youth CFC-logogroup, or even as sermon illustrations.

 7 Object Lessons for Change for Children 2019 – Lent & Easter

2019 marks the twenty-third year I’ve been in children’s and youth ministry, and I have found that the object lessons I have used for children’s sermon times have been a very effective way of communicating the truth of God’s Word. Many of the adults in the congregations I’ve served have told me they preferred my children’s sermons to my “regular” sermons.  Jesus taught in object lessons and word pictures, too, so it should be no surprise to us that this method is highly effective—surely Jesus knew what he was doing and set an example for us to follow!

These lessons have been carefully crafted around the stories of the Lenten season (Year C), how the Easter story impacts our hearts and lives, and the ways in which your church can connect to the ministry of Intermountain. I hope this resource blesses you, saves you time in preparation, and makes your workload a little lighter. It is my hope that our relationship will truly be a partnership of mutual benefit. As Intermountain’s chaplain, I want to be a resource to you and an encouragement in your work with children and families.

If you haven’t visited the resource page to see what is there, I encourage you to do so. There are bulletin inserts and announcement “slides” for PowerPoint that will prove helpful in rallying congregational support around a Change for Children campaign. And, if you or your congregation would like to make use of any of the videos we have produced, make sure you check out the video page as well!

[click here to jump to one of Chris’ favorites… “What If?”]

Jan 30

Intermountain Moment: Six-year-old “Lenny”

Last fall six-year-old “Lenny” moved to Montana with his mom. He had suffered horrible sexual abuse at the hands of his step-father. Like many kids who’ve suffered greatly, Lenny pretends like everything is okay and wears a steady smile. But in play therapy at Intermountain, Lenny would make up stories that always included “bad guys.” The bad guys were relentless, Lenny’s therapist says, and the good guys would play dead to trick the bad guys, but the bad guys would always come back.blonde-boy-Lenny

Lenny was getting in fights at school, in particular with another boy who resembled the step-dad who had abused him. Play therapy is working, though, and Lenny is making progress. His grades are decent and he’s discovered he loves basketball. At each therapy session, he chooses the toys he wants to use. Lenny’s therapist lets him direct the play. “His feelings come out through play,” the therapist says, “and I help him put words around what he’s expressing.”

There are still bad guys in Lenny’s play, but they’re just “there” now. They’re still scary, but they’re often placed at the other side of the room. Lenny says he sometimes feels like a bad guy inside, but that he’s choosing to be a good guy. He knows that there is evil in the world, but that it doesn’t have to destroy him.

Thank you for supporting Intermountain and helping children like Lenny move past his hurts and embrace hope for a brighter future.

For more information on how you can support the work of Intermountain, call 406-457-4804

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