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Q&A: Phyllis Traficante of Restoring Resilience shares the importance of mental health awareness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

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Restoring Resilience

Phyllis Traficante and Anna Skolarikis are the founders of Restoring Resilience, a partnership aiming to help organisations and individuals in the treatment and resolution of stress, overwhelm, and trauma. Both are trained psychotherapists and have been conducting workshops all around the country to help promote mental health awareness.

In this first of two-part series, we talked to Phyllis about the challenges of doing their work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and how taking care of one’s mental health is just as important as combating the effects of the virus.

Third Sector:

You are known as a psychotherapist, gestalt therapist, and somatic experiencing practitioner. Could you give us a brief overview of the nature of your work? How do these concepts work in practicing self-care?

Phyllis Traficante:

At the core of my work is a perspective that considers the human condition as inextricably connected to their context. Behavior is viewed via the polyvagal theory, a nervous system perspective derived from the latest research in neuroscience. It posits that behavior is a person’s best attempt to keep safe, to protect themselves and reduce pain.

From this premise emerges a practice that values inclusiveness, reciprocity, attunement, grounding, relational safety and genuine care. Support is provided to the whole system the individual or organization is in connection with, rather than in isolation. This is where the gestalt premise of “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” comes alive. The entirety of the person or organizational context is the ground from which experience and behavior emerges. Therefore, we respond to the entirety of the system which supports connection, regulation, healing and growth.

Deepening individual or organizational self/ other awareness, from an interoceptive and regulating stance enabling relational safety, emotion regulation, healing and in turn growth. This fosters space and capacity for connection to self or organizational needs. Self-care is about recognizing when we have a need and noticing what we do to attend to it or not, and the impact of our responses. At the heart of individual or organizational self-care is awareness of, and capacity to adjust, our boundary setting patterns when required; capacity to engage resources and bring the systems into self-regulation.

TS: You’ve been in the industry for 30 years. What would you say are the biggest hurdles that you have encountered in your industry?

PT: I have been in the training sector for 30 years. The biggest hurdles have been my own. My own concern about the participant’s capacity to retain and integrate information. What I have come to understand is that a participant’s capacity to absorb data is a two-way, reciprocal thing. It takes the facilitator to be settled, grounded, connected to self, the content, and the participant. It is in this attunement that the opportunity for learning and growth occurs. My own grounding and settling before delivery enables self-regulation, supporting co-regulation within the training. It is within this co-regulated space that a sense of relational safety emerges, increasing and supporting the integration of the learning.

It was from this space that I developed and delivered support to parents, mental health care teams, and schools. I developed a lunchtime mindfulness program that due to the positive results has been recognized and published internationally.

I provided psychoeducation regarding the neuroscience of behavior and deactivating interventions to teachers within schools. This empowered teachers with the knowledge and skills to manage difficult student behavior, increasing self-awareness and capacity for self-regulation, hence student teacher co-regulation.

TS: Has the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affected your work Restoring Resilience in any way? If so, how did you go about addressing it?

PT: COVID-19 has had a huge effect on my work. The angst brought on around the impact of the pandemic; the fear created by the virus and society’s response to it; lockdowns, the shift to online work and the increased hours required by clients, supervisees, and organizations to provide wellbeing support has been taxing on my own system.

I have had to increase my own self-care and continue to track my own nervous system. Addressing when my body starts to feel stressed and ensure I regulate hours of work and type of work with social engagement and pleasurable activities. All of which supports self-regulation, internal health, and wellbeing.

TS: Where do you see Restoring Resilience and the rest of your work in the next five years?

PT: Restoring resilience will continue to be a vehicle for delivering training that touches the soul; that makes a difference in people’s lives. Fostering connection, growth, and healing for those in need by offering a unique lens on how to read behaviour and specialized skills to respond.

Our aim is to continue to support organizations and families to connect within their systems by helping deepen understanding of self in relationship to other; how to strengthen relational safety and foster good health and wellbeing.

Continuing to psychoeducate parents and support quality connection within families, with the intention to protect youth mental health and foster wellbeing.

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