Healing ・Empowerment ・Awareness・Regulation・Trauma-Informed・Strengths-Based
Big HEARTS is a short-term psychosocial program for children aged 5-12 years old with a focus on social and emotional learning. Big HEARTS uses trauma-sensitive yoga (TCTSY), movement, rhythm, mindfulness and kinaesthetic art and crafts to address self-regulation, impulse control and self-expression in children while offering space for healing and growth.
Utilising a range of somatic bodywork, mindfulness and kinaesthetic learning tools, Big HEARTS supports children to:
Increase their capacity for affect regulation
Explore body-based practices to manage emotions (rhythm making, mindfulness, breathing exercises, yoga and movement)
Have the opportunity to be active participants and practice making choices to meet their needs
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Big HEARTS was developed by Jemma (MSW, TCTSY-F) and Merve (Clinical Psychologist).
Social Worker and Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) Facilitator
Jemma holds a Master’s of Social Work from Deakin University, Australia, is a certified Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator (TCTSTY-F) accredited through the Centre for Trauma and Embodiment in Boston, USA and is a registered hatha yoga teacher. She has a background working with refugees and people seeking asylum, as well as survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). She has also delivered training and capacity building programs for non-government organisations and TCTSY training for mental health practitioners and yoga teachers. Jemma specialises in cross-cultural social work with extensive experience working with refugee and migrant children, young people and their families. She delivered dance movement therapy programs to refugee children in Istanbul in 2015-2016 alongside a multi-disciplinary team of therapists and psychologists at Maya Foundation’s Project Lift; worked as a social worker in settlement services and integration programs for newly arrived refugee young people with the Centre for Multicultural Youth in Melbourne, Australia; and provided domestic violence counselling and crisis interventions for survivors of SGBV at Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia. Jemma currently practices under Embodied Healing, delivering somatic bodywork programs to women with Complex Trauma and PTSD, those living with eating disorders and body dysmorphia and children and young people. She also offers programs addressing vicarious traumatisation and burnout for mental healthcare providers. Jemma is committed to trauma-informed care and delivering programs that are strengths-based and client-centred, ensuring the rights and dignity of service users are at the core of her work.
Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Merve graduated from Istanbul Bilgi University with an honours degree in Psychology and holds a Master’s of Clinical Psychology also from Istanbul Bilgi University. Within the scope of her Master’s dissertation, Merve examined the impact of the dyadic relationship between the mindful mother and the infant in the context of intersubjectivity and explored the importance of the first year of development on development across the lifespan. Merve’s experience includes individual and group work programs as well as research. She undertook field work at Bakırköy Psychiatry Hospital, Şişli Etfal Hospital Child Oncology and Haematology Department and Ege University Hospital. After her specialisation, she developed content for a play group for babies and children between 18 months and 3 years old in a private institution that supports early childhood development, and provided counselling to families. Continuing with her work with children, Merve spent 2 years working for Maya Foundation’s Project Lift supporting traumatised refugee children and their families. In this role, she delivered expressive arts therapy programs for refugee and asylum seeker children aged 6-12 years. Additionally, she has given expressive arts group therapy to young adults at Boğaziçi University’s Student Psychological Counselling Center. Merve applies psychoanalytic projective tests and child developmental assessment tests and is an experiential play therapy practitioner. Committed to ongoing professional development, Merve continues her psychotherapy studies with children, adolescents and adults with a psychoanalytic orientation. Since August 2017, she has been leading the Psychological Development and Counselling Center and Disability Support Unit at Izmir University of Economics and conducting psychotherapy studies with the students. She is a member of the Turkish Psychological Association, Rorschach and Projective Tests Association and is a member of the Supervisory Board of Existential Psychotherapies Association.
Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is an evidence-based, trauma-informed intervention from the Center for Trauma and Embodiment at JRI in Boston, USA. TCTSY has been developed to support healing for those living with PTSD or Complex Trauma and other emotional conditions including anxiety and depression.
TCTSY aims to build trauma survivors’ experiences of empowerment, agency and control and cultivate a more positive relationship to one’s body through choice-making and remaining in the present moment.
“Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.”
- Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
Mindfulness is a present-moment practice which acknowledges, without judgement, one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. As Daniel Siegel states, when we are aware of our thoughts and feelings we are no longer controlled by them. Through exercises such as breath awareness, mind jars for mindful moments and movement and yoga practices, children are exposed to a range of tools to increase their capacity to be aware of their thoughts, feelings and sensations.
“For a child or an adult, it’s extremely powerful to hear someone say, “I get you. I understand. I see why you feel this way.” This kind of empathy disarms us.”
- Daniel J. Siegel, No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind
Trauma-informed practice, at its core, “actively resists re-traumatisation” (Child Trends). It is an approach to practice that is aware of and responsive to the widespread impacts of trauma. This includes recognising behaviours as forms of communication and seeking to understand a child’s needs in any given moment.
Trauma is a fundamental lack of choice, where survivors have no control over what they experience or witness. Empowerment practices seek to reverse this power dynamic, placing choice and control at the heart of the work. In the context of programs with children, this means communicating with children to understand their needs and allowing them to be active participants in decision-making processes that affect them based on their age and capacity for understanding.
Children develop the capacity for affect regulation within the mother-child dyad. Our understanding of affect regulation is strongly informed by attachment theory and we recognise, as Dvir et al. state, that, “emotional regulation appears to develop in the context of responsive caregiving and peer involvement in early life” (2014, p. 8). Affect regulation is a learnt process which takes places within relationships. When these early attachments are disrupted, children may develop ‘hyperactivating strategies’ and negative senses of self and worthiness of love and support, as well as learning that distress is unmanageable and that stressors which cause distress are not necessarily able to be overcome. Through the use of tools such as rhythm making, building connections and relationships and trauma-sensitive yoga (TCTSY) practices, children are offered opportunities for co-regulation in order to develop their capacities for self-regulation.
In each child we recognise the strength and resilience they possess. We hold at the core of the program a strengths-based and person-centred approach with a belief that children have developed resources and skills to survive and that these strengths can be nurtured in order for them to thrive.
This program seeks to offer children the opportunity to recognise and value their own strengths and their capacity to respond to challenging circumstances. This is achieved through the language of hope and encouragement in every interaction, through collaborative problem solving and fostering empowerment and change.
TCTSY “aims to cultivate awareness of the mind-body connection and to build self-regulation skills to address the ways in which trauma is held in the body”.
- David Emerson, Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy: Bringing the Body into Treatment
Big HEARTS is designed to be integrated into an educational setting to address and support children's social and emotional learning. Self-regulation is one of the key skills children need to both prepare for school as well as be active participants in their education. This includes the ability to manage emotions, identify emotions, control impulses, stay on task and change tasks, (re)focus attention, etc. Chronic stress, mental health including anxiety and depression and trauma can impact a child’s ability to self-regulate and may lead a child to exhibit behaviours such as aggression, anger, withdrawal or clinginess.
Self-regulation is a skill learnt through experiences and interactions with family, peers and the community. There are a range of body-based approaches that are used to support children to develop their capacity for affect regulation. These include, but are not limited to, rhythm making, mindfulness practices, start-stop exercises, breathing activities and yoga. This program uses a range of mediums to offer children space to explore new ways to manage emotions, express themselves and have their needs met in a safe and healthy way.
For children who experience chronic stress or trauma, regulation, sense of self and relationship building are all disrupted. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, “for some children, exposure to traumatic events has a profound and lasting effect on their daily functioning” including trouble managing behaviour and emotions, psychosomatic symptoms, and fear and anxiety. Children also display an incredible amount of residency and capacity to adapt and adjust to challenging, stressful and traumatic experiences. Big HEARTS works from a trauma-informed perspective to hold space for all experiences and encourage and promote healing and recovery.