Through our healing programs, Joyful Heart seeks to transform the field to adopt a holistic approach to healing and wellness for both survivors and the professionals who support them, while promoting the belief that it is possible to not only overcome trauma, but also to thrive and reclaim joy.

Under the leadership of our National Advisory Committee, we have made significant strides toward our goal to create a formal, evidence-informed model that can be adopted by partner organizations to use and offered to survivors, professionals who serve them, and communities beyond our current reach.

Survivor Retreat Research Project

In 2013, Joyful Heart embarked on a multiyear research project with Dr. Mary Ann Dutton, renowned professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, to evaluate the effectiveness of our survivor retreat program in reducing stress related to trauma and improving well-being. We partnered with Peace Over Violence, Center for Community Solutions, The Village Family Services, YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, Rainbow Services, and Homeboy Industries. We conducted three retreats with survivors referred by these organizations to gather accurate research data. Participants completed written questionnaires following their experience. Joyful Heart is not currently providing survivor retreats outside of the research project.

About Our Holistic Healing Arts Retreat Program

Survivors of trauma may experience its effects long after the distressing event has passed. Though each individual will respond in their own way, the effects can range from feelings of depression to feeling distrust for others, making it difficult to build new relationships or maintain current ones. Trauma may influence the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of survivors. At Joyful Heart, we understand that the healing journey is a personal process without any specific timeline. Our approach to healing focuses on the whole person: mind, body, and spirit.

Joyful Heart’s signature Holistic Healing Arts Retreat program gives participants the opportunity to address how trauma affects them without the pressure to discuss the details of their experiences. During these four-day retreats, individuals engage in activities that help them learn more about themselves and on how to better cope with the effects of trauma. By engaging in movement activities, such as interpretive dance or yoga, survivors can explore how their bodies handle tension and stress and understand the deep emotional experiences that may surface. Art is also a key component to our approach to healing. Through making collages and painting, participants are able to experience an increased connection to themselves, their thoughts, and their feelings. This creative process allows survivors to discover how they can move forward in their healing journey.

Participants develop a sense of community with each other while on a retreat, which decreases the isolation and shame survivors may experience after a trauma. Survivors gain a new sense of belonging that strengthens them as they overcome the challenges of trauma.

“I am no longer just alive, I am now living.”

– Retreat Program Participant

Final Research Results

A final report on the Survivor Retreat Model project is scheduled this year. This evaluation will reveal the retreat development process, retreat experience, and post-retreat findings.

Joyful Heart plans to release the research on multiple platforms to make the findings accessible to communities across disciplines. The research is expected to be available at national and international conferences and highlighted in research-based articles and in academic journals. Joyful Heart’s website, along with our program partner websites, will also feature the retreat research results. Please check back on our website in the future to learn more about the project results.

Heal the Healers

A complementary piece of the research project addresses the vicarious trauma often experienced by field professionals working closely with survivors who regularly witness and hear details of traumatic experiences. Because of the nature of the difficult work, trauma professionals can experience secondary trauma, guilt, fear, and helplessness. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common response from professionals who provide services to survivors. The research project included a pilot study on retreats specific to counselors, advocates, and lawyers.

Joyful Heart’s Heal the Healers program offers healing professionals, such as therapists, lawyers, and social workers the tools to help them improve self-care and better manage the effects of working with trauma survivors. In Hawai‘i, through a project funded by the Atherton Family Foundation, 258 people from local organizations received Heal the Healers workshops in 2016. This two-year project is an effort to assist local organizations in developing and implementing a repertoire of practices, policies, and procedures that address vicarious trauma to facilitate and sustain an environment of health and well-being for their staff.

“I sat with my clients today and felt like I was present and attuned in a calmer, more loving, peaceful way than last week. I can actually feel the difference, and I know they can too. I so desperately needed what you so freely and skillfully gave—thank you.”

– Heal the Healers Program Participant

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