Thursday June 1st and Friday June 2nd of 2017 I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Care Conference held at Humber College. With this opportunity, i was granted access to 240 working professionals who are passionate about making a difference, and enhancing their skill set. I was able to make connections with people from across the province, people who I probably never would have met without the encouragement of a few of my profs to even make this step. I participated in workshops that challenged social norms, and the policies that challenge our field like The Marginalization of Racialized Youth in Care, Lets Take a Look at Trauma for 90 Minutes, and Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) Should be a Therapeutic Drug Option for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now, as controversial as that last one sounds, especially if you keep in mind that these are workshops for Child and Youth Care Practitioners, believe me, it was an experience that you should keep reading for. 

Lets start with The Marginalization of Racialized Youth in Care. This workshop was interesting as there were perspectives not only from the Afro-Canadian community, but also from CYC’s or CYW’s who are professors, and have worked in and around the field for years. The small portion of the group that did not represent a visible minority shared some fantastic insights and were very open to the opinions of those who are directly affected by societal marginalization.  We focused mainly on how services that are intended for certain minorities, but are framed as handouts of good will. As though Afro-Canadian parents don’t know how to educate thier children on sex-ed, or how they need help managing thier children. It was interesting to see the different levels of communication and the hidden messages in just one phrase. How this one phrase tells parents that they only need to follow these 9 simple steps to becoming a good parent. Steps that are so vague and indiscriminate that the information is basically useless. Its not that the information isn’t there or accessible to parents, but rather how the information is presented and communicated.  The main question throughout the workshop is how open the doors for working professionals as part of the Afro-Canadian community to take the lead in providing services and awareness. By the end of the workshop it was agreed that members of the community should have access to information and services provided to them by working professionals who are also part of the community. Somebody who knows how to best communicate certain messages culturally. 

Lets Take a Look at Trauma for 90 Minutes was the one workshop that I had looked forward to the most. From before I even knew I wanted to be a CYC, I knew that I wanted to get into trauma care. This was also the most full workshop that I attended, so it was great to see so many other professionals working to be more trauma informed and open to more intrinsic practice methods. There were 2 things that I wanted to share with the general public, especially from someone who is just starting to learn about trauma care. First, let your body shake. If you have been, or are ever in any sort of intense situation where you experience an adrenaline rush and freeze, let your body shake. Your first instinct will be to get someone to hold you, or get a blanket to swaddle yourself with, but wait. Your body experiences a rush of adrenaline and cortisol when under extreme stress. Both of these body chemicals are responsible for your body’s fight or flight response. During a traumatic event, your frontal lobe (responsible for processing events and logical thought) is not functioning, and the body is incapable creating a proper response; hence you freeze. In order for the body to release all of the adrenaline and cortisol that it has built up, it shakes. If you stop your body from shaking, or releasing all of the pent up adrenaline, then the sensations that the body experienced during that trauma remain trapped in the adrenaline and cortisol. Because the frontal lobe was not functioning, there was no processing of the event. So every time that your body experiences a sense similar to that of the traumatic event, either smell, sight, taste, etc., the rest of your senses become flooded with the memory of that traumatic event. So in short, let your body shake; let your body and eventually your mind process. 

Second, be aware of the symptoms of trauma. Many of the symptoms are shared between trauma, and ADHD, but the treatment for ADHD will not do much to help address the symptoms at its supposed to. Hyper-vigilance, dissociation, and self-destructive behaviours are the 3 top symptoms that don’t seem to be managed when wrongly diagnosed with ADHD and if you are or know someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD but are still struggling, then it may be something to look into. 

Speaking of symptom management, I want to move into the final workshop that I attended, and had the most controversial of group discussions; Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) Should be a Therapeutic Drug Option for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most people know MDMA as Molly or Ecstasy, a well known party drug. The use of MDMA in a clinical environment is still in its trial run with adults, but has been under scrutiny as research remains ongoing. The workshop was run by two students currently studying Child and Youth Care, with thier professor in the second row of the audience. They began the workshop by explaining how MDMA in a clinical setting is much more pure and safe than what the party drug stereotype claims. MDMA helps release serotonin, a chemical in the brain that is linked to trusting and openness. The idea behind MDMA assisted psychotherapy for those living with PTSD is that in a clinical setting, those who have difficulty opening up have the ability to share without re-traumatising themselves. As there are no side effects afterwards besides a few hours later, it is safer than any other drugs that are otherwise already being used. The side effects of antidepressants include fatigue, insomnia, dry mouth, anxiety and irritability. Medication for anxiety such as Xanax has side effects that also includes insomnia, muscle weakness, irritability, and memory problems. Ecstasy/molly is known to contain MDMA but may also contain other chemicals, so there is no way to know for sure what you are buying. MDMA in a clinical environment is pure MDMA and is monitored by a licenced physician. During the MDMA assisted psychotherapy there is access to water as needed, and there is no exertion or movement that would cause an over exertion of energy. 

Before we even bring kids into the conversation, the topic is controversial. Many people worry that a session that leads to a feeling of euphoria and a high would create a addiction to  MDMA, or that it will serve as a gateway into more harmful drugs. Many people also worry about the risks of re-traumatization or MDMA increasing the feelings of terror that an individual can experience. Research by MAPS.org has shown that 1 MDMA assisted psychotherapy session has allowed people with a great deal of difficulty opening up to feelings of safety and trust so that therapists were able to get to the root of a trauma and work through it with them without the risk of re-traumatization. For more information on this process you can go to MAPS.org and look under their research section for MDMA assisted psychotherapy. 

As we learnt more about the process, frequency, symptoms and risks of MDMA assisted psychotherapy, we began to put it into the context of using it with youth and adolescents.  Most of the people in the group were against it, as most sane working professionals living in the society that we do would. As we began to analyse the drugs that are already FDA approved and are common among households to give to kids as early as 3, we began to question the ethics that were really at stake here. We looked at the drugs, thier symptoms, their frequency and the recommended age that drugs such a Ritalin and Adderall were prescribed. We were also then reminded that MDMA assisted psychotherapy would be a last resort, and session would only be recommended once or twice a year; and side effects would only last up to 12 hours after. Many people in the group began to change their minds, especially when the discussion began to turn towards more of how to get it regulated, more accessible, and more natural. in contrast to the legalization of marijuana, we noted that it would be how the therapy sessions would be showcased to the general public, and how accessible it would be, especially to those without access to a psychotherapist. We considered how it would be regulated, and if these session could be done under the guidance of other kinds of trusted professions if they were to obtain the required certification, such as spiritual leaders. We discussed how the MDMA could be extracted more naturally, eliminating the chemical element.  What seemed to be more of a bigger concern now was the emotional competency of the child or youth that would undergo an assisted therapy session. We know that the brain does not fully develop until about age 25. Around the age of 15 is when adolescents begin to think critically and more logically. So it is within this age group that we thought would be more acceptable to consider for MDMA assisted therapy due to their understanding of their own emotional reactions. The group discussion ended with many people being on the fence or completely switched sides, but also with a sense of possibility and openness. Everybody was able to participate and discuss different arguments and have thier points validated and challenged. When the presenters finished their slides, everyone in the room encouraged them to publish the research that they had done and their work. Thier professor in the audience looked over at them with a look that I interpreted as an “I-told-you-so” that leads me to believe that they are working towards bigger aspirations. As we were all packing up to leave, it was incredible to see people leaving in groups that they had formed in the dscussion, continuing the conversation and thanking the presenters as they left.

The closing ceremony of the conference left us all feeling as though we have the tools that we need and as long as we are open to new ideas, remain passionate about the work that we do, and keep advocating; then we can make a change. After spending 2 days volunteering with all of the amazing professionals throughout this conference, I checked in often with one of my profs that got me involved in the first place. Through this opportunity I am, as of next month, beginning the process of becoming a student ambassador. This experience was just the beginning and it was something that I wouldn’t trade for the world. In 2 years after I have graduated, I will be attending the next OACYC conference as a full member of the OACYC and entering into a new phase of my life. I look forward to the ideas and challenges that I face ahead. 

Let the Journey Continue

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