TALK LA: Supporting Survivors' Healing though our Signature Retreat Program

Thursday, 10 March 2016
Los Angeles, CA

On Thursday, March 10th, Joyful Heart board members Jenny Belushi and Heather Mnuchin hosted a TALK event in Los Angeles at the Belushi home. Over 30 guests gathered with our Los Angeles Committee for a presentation and conversation centered on Joyful Heart's survivor retreat research project with Georgetown University.

Sherisa Dahlgren, national clinical consultant, and Heather Masterton, Joyful Heart’s Director of Development & External Affairs for California, led guests through a presentation on Joyful heart's signature survivor retreat model and the promising research results it has produced to date. This retreat program is a four-day intensive experience for approximately 20 individuals designed to directly address the neurobiological components of trauma recovery, as well as the social and emotional dynamics that contribute to the recovery process. The retreats are guided by practitioners who have cross-functional expertise in trauma and holistic health, and are supported by specialized professionals whose expertise include nutrition, advocacy, mindfulness, creative expression, bodywork, and more. The retreat offers 16 key workshops that integrate traditional and alternative healing methods and provides survivors with tools that they can implement themselves after the retreat experience to promote regulation of the nervous system and healing of the body, mind, and spirit. Participants are also provided with nourishing meals, bodywork, time for reflection, and space and direction to create their own personal action plans for change and healing. As Sherisa described:

"The model itself is simple. At its core is the element of love and respect for one another. At its core, it honors that each person has what they need already to heal. We don't need to teach anyone to heal——and we don’t "heal" people. When people are given the space, support, and information they need on both a biological and a psychosocial level then they naturally—and permanently—heal.  This may seem simple, but from the mental health world this is actually a pretty radical concept."

When early findings pointed to sustained reduction in PTSD symptoms and a renewed sense of hope for survivors, six-months post retreat—an outcome that typically would require months of counseling to achieve—Joyful Heart began exploring national replication of the model so that more organizations could offer this healing pathway for survivors, and receive support to do it.  

“The work of Joyful Heart is to be of service to the wider movement to end domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. We've had the opportunity and the spaciousness to take on a project that other organizations in our field have not had the time or resources to do. In partnering with a research university like Georgetown, we will be able to offer the field an evidence informed model that can be replicated to meet the needs of the survivors they serve.

"For agencies that have been using holistic approaches to healing-- trauma informed yoga, self regulation techniques, mediation, creative arts--and have seen the impact it has had on survivors--they can now say, here is the research and data to support the positive changes they are seeing--they can use these findings as a tool to leverage new funding for these healing interventions." – Heather Masterson

Guests participated in an engaging conversation on how the model could be implemented in different communities and how the approach works to heal the body, mind, and spirit. At the core of the TALK was the recognition that in gathering together to discuss these issues, we build community—a community that honors the experiences of survivors and provides them with the support and care they both need and deserve. 

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