Real Life Heroes provides practitioners with easy-to-use tools including a life storybook, manual, creative arts activities, and psycho education resources to engage children and caregivers in trauma-focused services. Tools and procedures were developed and tested with latency-age children in a wide range of child and family service programs including children with symptoms of Complex PTSD who lacked stable relationships with caregivers they could count on to provide a safe home and work with them in therapy and children referred for high risk behaviors that threatened the safety of children, families, organizations and communities. Real Life Heroes helps practitioners reframe referrals based on pathologies and blame into a shared ‘journey,’ a ‘pathway’ to healing and recovery focused on restoring (or building) emotionally supportive and enduring relationships and promoting development of affect regulation skills for children and caregivers. To do this, the model utilizes the metaphor of the heroic quest and stresses the importance of engaging caregivers and a collaborative team of caring adults working together with an integrated trauma and resiliency-centered framework to help children with complex trauma. Creative arts and shared life story work provide a means for children and caregivers to develop the safety and attunement needed for re-integration of traumatic memories coupled with development of increased security and affect regulation.
Real Life Heroes focuses on three primary components for strengthening resiliency skills and resources: Relationships, Emotional Regulation, and Life Story Integration. These components frame developmentally-based assessments, service planning, session structure, fidelity and evaluation measures. Learning about heroes includes sharing stories of how family members and people with the child’s ethnic heritage have overcome hard times and encouraging children to develop their own strengths, resources and coping skills, building on strengths in their family and cultural heritage. In each session, children learn to recognize clues in their own bodies and how to share these safely. Sessions include sharing feelings nonverbally on thermometers for stress, self-control, and feeling mad, sad, glad, and safe. Magic and centering activities utilize movement, focusing, and mindfulness activities to engage children and caregivers to learn and practice skills and to reduce stress. An activity-based workbook helps to engage children and promote the safety needed in sessions for children to work with practitioners and caregivers to build the skills and interpersonal resources needed to re-integrate painful memories and to foster healing after serial traumatic experiences. The workbook helps children share experiences and develop affect modulation skills with art, rhythm, music, movement and theatre arts. Practitioners help children (and caregivers) transform their drawings into ‘three-chapter’ stories (or movies) with a beginning, middle, and an end so children learn they can move through both good times, and later ‘tough times,’ and make things better in their lives instead of feeling helpless, stuck, ashamed, or overwhelmed.
Chapter by Chapter, practitioners help children and families strengthen skills and resources to reduce the power of the ‘monsters,’ including multiple and serial traumas, that have afflicted their past and shaped high risk behaviors. Shared activities helpchildren grow stronger than their fears and to change old ways of coping that got them into more trouble. The workbook helps children change how they see themselves from feeling hurt, unwanted, damaged, or hopeless, to feeling that they can move through the traumas of the past to experiences of security with emotionally supportive adults committed to helping children.
Real Life Heroes is listed as an Evidence-Based practice by SAMSHA and an Evidence-Informed, Promising Practice by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.