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A review of the Wellspring Conference (Encounters with Trauma, Hope and Healing)

“Spread the conference info to other health authorities, thank you, excellent”  
                                                                                             – Participant               
The Wellspring Conference was held at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on October 24-25, 2013.  With over 200 participants, it was a potpourri of health practitioners, researchers, outreach workers and activists with a passion for exploring different ways to support individuals and communities affected by trauma. 

The conference was a grassroots initiative to provide “frontline” staff working with marginalized populations the opportunity to learn about the latest trauma research and developments in both trauma informed and trauma specific practices.  Keynotes, panels and workshops focused on theoretical and experiential learning.

Trauma research

The research component included presentations by Dr. Thomas Kerr on the impact of trauma on the health of injection drug users, and Dr. Christian Schutz on the possible epigenetic effects of childhood trauma that may contribute to a range of adult mental health disorders. 

Dr. Gabor Mate delivered a keynote speech on the neuroscience of attachment and the need for compassionate engagement with trauma survivors.

Trauma specific practices

Trauma “specific” practices are focused on the treatment of trauma through therapeutic interventions.  The conference provided an opportunity for participants to explore diverse treatment modalities, including yoga therapy, somatic therapy, art therapy, first nation cultural practices and mindfulness-based approaches.

Trauma informed practices

Trauma “informed” principles include trauma awareness, safety and trustworthiness, choice and collaboration, and the building of strengths and skills.  Trauma informed practices are based on these principles and work at the client, staff, agency and system levels.

The conference included a panel that presented on trauma informed practices (TIP) in the areas of programming for women, mental health services and youth services.

  • Terri-Lee Seeley, program coordinator at the Heartwood Centre for Women, provided a workshop to discuss the implementation of TIP at conference participants’ work sites. 
  • Elaine Miller-Karas, from the Trauma Resource Institute in California, provided a two hour workshop that included both trauma informed and trauma specific approaches focused on building individual and community resiliency. We hope she will return to Vancouver in 2014 to offer “Train the Trainer” workshops.

Other highlights

The conference included a number of presenters who bring together community activism, advocacy and direct services to their work with populations affected by trauma.  These included Women Against Violence Against Women, the Positive Women’s Network and the Maximally Assisted Therapy program. 

A panel on the “Lived Experience of Refugee and Migrant Communities” was offered. In addition, an educational tool called the “Downtown Eastside Monopoly” game was presented by the Carnegie Outreach Program and demonstrated the significant social and economic challenges faced by DTES residents living on an inadequate fixed income. 

The trauma “perspective” which has developed since the late 1970’s is an expanding area that includes advances in biomedical, clinical, health service and population health fields of research and practice.  The Wellspring Conference was an attempt to explore these different fields at work in our local community.  The conference’s greatest achievement was its embodiment of the conviction that hope and healing can emerge from the devastation caused to individuals and communities by traumatic events.

“I thought the entire theme of trauma, hope and healing is so relevant to our work. I learned so much from the speakers. It also helped me reframe some of my work and acknowledge that we do not work from a trauma–informed practice.”