Hope & Healing Podcast


Al Vecchione on a Lifetime of Helping Those in Need


Al Vecchione is the founder and clinical director of The Francis Foundation, a private non-profit in Vermont that serves people with extremely challenging behavior. He’s also founder of the Francis Foundation Learning Center and co-founder of the Vermont Crisis Intervention Network. He’s been a trainer for Children’s Center, teaching how the body is the battleground where struggles around trauma, mental health and developmental disabilities are played out. In this engaging interview, Al shares with Children’s center Executive Director Matthew Butte some of the insights and lessons he’s learned over a lifetime helping people.

Episode Transcript

Matthew: From the Children’s Center in Vancouver, Washington, this is hope and healing. I’m Matthew Butte, executive director of Children’s Center, and your host. We make this podcast in order to bring you hopeful stories and should introduce you to people who inspire hope. They’ve inspired a lot of hope in me and among people here at Children’s Center, and I hope you feel the same. Dr. Al Vecchione is the founder and clinical director of the Francis Foundation, a private nonprofit that serves people with extremely challenging behavior. He is also the co founder of the Vermont Crisis Intervention Network, the only statewide crisis service for people with developmental disabilities in the country, as well as the founder of the Francis Foundation Learning Center, a school that served children and adolescents with traumatic histories and unmanageable behavior. At the Children’s Center, we have been fortunate to welcome Al as a trainer and we have learned so much from him when it comes to trauma, mental health and developmental disabilities. He’s taught us that the body is the battleground in which this struggle is played out. He’s taught us practical body based techniques that either calm or activate us depending on what we need. Techniques we share with our clients, and techniques you can learn too. And in the midst of these challenging times, with his stories of healing, his warmth and humor inspires hope in all of us. I spoke with Al vaccine over Zoom, from his home in Vermont, as we start the interview. Al, just so you know, I’m here with my standard British cup of tea, as you would expect. How about you? Do you have a beverage with you that you like?

Al: My standard Polar seltzer I don’t have my Italian soda today, but Polar is my backup.

Matthew: So then that means we’re both ready to go. You’ve been doing this work for a very long time, and we’re going to talk about the work that you do. But before we do, can you tell us how you got started?

Al: I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in biology, which made me, uniquely qualified to pour concrete, which I did for a while. And then it got too cold to pour concrete. And so I came home and I said to my wife, well, we’re going to have to find something else to do because I’m getting laid off in a week. And she said, well, let me look in the paper. And she did. And she said, I found a, job in a children’s home. And she said, at the time, I was volunteering at the boys club and I like kids. Anyway, so did she. So I said, well, I’d be happy to apply, but they’ll never hire us because we don’t have any experience and we’re not a whole lot older than the kids they’re asking us to look after. And so we went into the job interview and of course we were hired immediately, not because it was a great interview but because we’re the only people who apply. And so they said it was a Friday, can you start Monday? And sure enough we did. And I learned in those early years all of the things not to do. And so when we get started they said we have an incentive program for the kids. And by the way it was me and my wife, we had a fellow who helped out once in a while and we had twelve adjudicated delinquents, all boys, all teenagers in the same house, which clearly was not a good idea. But anyway they told us about this incentive program. We said wow, incentive program. That seems like a good thing to do, give people stuff. I didn’t even know what it meant really, but it sounded good. And so what it was was that the kids were each on a level and each week they got graded on their behavior basically from the week before and that level that they got set all of their privileges, their allowance, bedtime, off campus time, all of these things. Many of them didn’t really seem like privileges to me. They seemed like rights. But anyway I didn’t know. And so we’d have a weekly meeting and you assume an incentive program. Everybody would be incentivized and happy and excited and every week a couple of kids blew out of the meeting, cursing, didn’t like their level by the way, the levels were one to five and five was the highest. If you were at a five but you did something over the course of the week that most teenagers would do like stay out late or I don’t know, whatever else. they bust you down to one. So you go from having all these privileges to having to be in your bedroom by 06:00 and not having an allowance and all these crazy things. So after a couple of these meetings the psychiatrist was sitting next to me and I leaned over to him and I said after two kids blew out of the meeting and when I mean blew out, they didn’t just say excuse me, I’ll be back in a few minutes. I mean they got up, they swore at the people and they ran out of the room, which was better than hitting somebody but still it was not great. And I said to the psychiatrist I don’t think this is working and he said, yeah, this doesn’t work at all. And that was it. Anyway, we did a few things at the house, and changed things around because, first of all, it was a lot of violence and, nobody feels safe. There’s violence in your home. And I was young, but I was fairly big and strong, and these guys were younger than me. Anyway, I said, boys, there’s no violence in a house, and that’s it. And, if there is violence, I’m going to put you out. And the deal is you got to walk around the house to the front door, knock on my door, come in and talk to me about it, and then it’s over. And the first weekend, I think I threw kids out of the house over 100 times. but by the third or fourth day, we never had very little violence after that. And they didn’t get in trouble. I didn’t bust them down or do anything to them. I just talked to them and said, look, fellas, we live together and blah, blah, blah, and it went great. And, we had a couple of days of the week that were pretty tough for the kids and pretty tough for all of us. And that was Friday night and Sunday night and Friday night. I think, like most of us, we’re off. We’re done with the week of school or the week of work. And we come home and we want to relax and kick back and enjoy our weekend. Except if you’re on a level one, you’re supposed to be in your bedroom at 06:00 right? And so that really didn’t work. So I said, okay, boys, this is what we’re going to do. No levels on Friday night. we’re going to get pizzas, we’re going to play pool, we’re going to watch movies, and we’re going to hang out together in peace. And everybody went m. Okay. And so Friday night went from being one of the worst nights of the week to one of the best nights of the week. so Sunday was still an issue. And I think, again, it was a transition back weekend relaxation, back to school on Monday. And all of these kids went to an on ground school, which at the time I really couldn’t appreciate just how traumatic would be to go to a school where if you talked back or if you walked away, people would muckle on to you and restrain you and time you out and do all kinds of miserable things to you. anyway, Sunday night was a tough night, so we did the same thing. We said Sunday they had a gym and facility and I said, we’re going to go to the gym. They had a pool, indoor pool. We’re going to have contests, we’re going to win prizes, we’re going to barbecue, we’re going to hang out and have a good time. And Sunday became the first or second best night of the week. So all of the things that we were taught to do that we thought was treatment made things worse. And just, a little human kindness and consideration, made things better. And so I guess the lesson I learned, and I was only 22 when we left there and, my son was a newborn and we came back to Vermont to build our house and make our gardens and raise our animals and family and all that stuff. And, I guess I learned a lot about what not to do. And one of the things, I probably didn’t think about it this way then, it’s the simple things that are the most profound. There’s CBT and DBT and all of these teas. I got nothing against any of them, but, they’re 50 minutes in somebody’s office once a week. What about a life? What about a little kindness? What about a little bit of support? What about, we’re asking these kids to reach out to us and that’s the solution to their behavior problems? Reach out, don’t act out, don’t check out, don’t run away, don’t fight over it, don’t shut down, become avoidant associate. Just come over and say, look, I’m having a hard time with this. Well, you got to trust people in order to be able to do that. And the roots of trust are not in DBT or CBT or EMDR. Those are good things, but they’re in human relationships. And so I think we developed over time this really a trauma informed, relationship centered, not a person centered, but a relationship centered treatment where, if people feel safe in their bodies and they feel safe in their relationship with you and they develop trust, they behave pretty well.

Matthew: drawing upon that experience where it all began, fast forwarding to today, what does your work look like now and how are you drawing upon those lessons and so many more years of experience?

Al: Well, so we can’t put aside the lessons I learned in between because, I spent my life, the last 50 years or close to it, of my life with my friends and family, many of whom have developmental disabilities and mental health problems and many of whom have challenging behavior. And on a day to day basis, they were teaching me things that I needed to know in order to be good at doing that. And at some point in the early 90s, we developed a statewide crisis service for people with developmental disabilities, which is the only one in the country, which sounds better than it is because Vermont is a small state and all that stuff. but anyway, I got to see new people every couple of weeks who are really challenging and had to support them in person. So I had to learn how to do that. And some of the lessons I learned early on were don’t, punish people, be kind, smile and do things with them that they enjoy. And those things worked really well. And then I learned a lot about developmental psychology and whole lot of stuff that we currently apply in the treatment. But anyway, those were the fundamentals. If people were in good relationships, we used to say, the right person when they were writing behavior plans. In the old days, we’d say the right person doing the wrong plan always did better than the wrong person doing the right plan, our current work. So we did this for well over 40 years, probably 45, 46, where we had the statewide crisis service. But we served people in the developmental home model, which means that we put them in houses, single houses, because I learned early on, you put twelve people together, one person has a bad day every twelve days. It’s a bad day every day, right. so we didn’t do that. And we put people in individual homes and they’re not foster homes, but they’re sort of like foster homes. So you could be with a wife and a husband and a couple of kids, but you could be two guys or you could be with one guy or one gal or two gals or whatever really worked for the person. And then we really put our time into fostering good relationships. So what, the model that they were using then and is still used widely, the most widely used model and the worst thing you could do, particularly to a traumatized person, is the direct threat, and punish model, right. Cut it out. Don’t do that anymore. If you don’t stop doing that, I’m going to do this and then you do this. I just had a meeting with a kid the other day and he has problems at school and lots of violence, but he never has violence with this one teacher. And I said, do you really like her class? He said, no. I said, well, how come no violence with Mrs. Williber leave us? He said, well, one day I was having a hard time in her class and some of the kids said, kick them out, kick them out. Get them out of here. And she stood up for me. And she said if you guys don’t like it, you leave, he’s staying. And I mean there’s your trust, right? One event and you build trust and build trust with people. Not in the good times, the good times you have fun and that’s all great. It lays the foundation. But it’s what you do in the bad times that tells people who you really, you know. My son Leo says the key to our business is being kind to people all the time. And when they’re having a really difficult time, be even kinder. And that seems like a pretty darn easy to follow rule. Pretty simple, but pretty profound.

Matthew: There was something that you said. Well you’ve said a lot of great things. There was something, I want to go back just a little bit. You mentioned about people feeling safe in their body and you’ve done a lot of training for our staff here at Children’s Center that we’re so grateful for around body based techniques to help change behavior, its impact on mental well being. But someone might ask what’s the body got to do with all this? Can you tell us more about that?

Al: The body is the repository of all experience and the springboard of all behavior, right? Everything that ever happens to you gets stored in your body. And when I say your body, I mean your body, your brain, your central nervous system, your autonomic nervous system, all of you. It’s all in here. It’s in procedural memory. It’s how to respond to things, right? And so the body is then the springboard based on your experiences, springboard for how you think you should behave and think you should behave is a bad way to say it. How you unconsciously have learned to behave in certain situations. So for example, I would say the key driver of the behavior we’d love to change in people is fear, right? People feel in danger and under threat most of the time, especially if you’ve been traumatized, right? we know that it changes the whole way your body and brain function. in fact is the definition of PTSD is long term changes in the way you think, the way you feel in these intrusive things that keep coming back to you. But the most significant pieces are explosive and avoidant behavior, right? So trauma is defined by explosive and avoidant behavior. What are the behaviors we’re trying to change in all these kids and people? Explosive and avoidant behavior. Right. So they’re afraid because they learned to be afraid. your autonomic nervous system has got to be fast on its feet. In other words, if it’s going to save you, it better do it quick because there’s no second chances. So when you think about how a person responds to threat, the first thing it does is shut off the thinking part of your brain, which includes your memory, your short term memory, and it shuts off your language center, right? So when people are really struggling, we’re so verbal as a society, what do we do? We go in and talk to them. We start telling them things. If you do that, this is going to. Happen. Well, here’s the consequence. People should be able to say, by the way, my language center is not on. and also my memory center is not on, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. Instead, they get even more irritable and attack you. Right. So I think it’s widely accepted, that the core of behavior problems is dysregulation. If we believe that, then what is the solution? regulation, maybe, right? And I think people get this some part of the time. but they regulate by telling people to go take a walk. go take a deep breath. and they also tell them to stop, because no language center, that doesn’t work. If you tell people to take a deep breath, guess what happens? Your heart rate speeds up. So that’s no good. And, take a walk. I mean, have you ever taken a walk when you’re upset? it takes. For me, if I go for a walk in the woods when I’m upset, it takes a solid 20 minutes or half hour before I stop. just repeating in my mind how bad the other person is and what he should have done. That and how I was mistreated doesn’t help. Maybe at the end of the hour, after I’ve been out in the woods for a while. Yeah. Then I’m okay. When I come back, we need regulation activities that go to the core of the brain stem, which regulates all your arousal and all the activities and heart rate and blood pressure. We need things that settle the dysregulated body down quickly. Right. And so take a walk. don’t do it. Take a deep breath or go color, or why don’t you listen to music? I mean, these are all good things, but these are not going to the core, to brainstem and stopping things in their tracks, like some of the techniques we talk about. So, breathing, for example, as everybody knows, terrific practice, increases your heart rate variability, which means that it turns on your parasympathetic rest and digest system, right? it lowers your heart rate, it lowers your blood pressure, it changes the hormones, it changes your brain function, it shuts off your amygdala, which is the alarm system of your brain. it stops the drive to put blood in your large muscles, right? Because if you’re going to hit somebody or run away, your blood’s all out there. So things like, swimming, we do some, technique where we just put, our face in water, or you put a wet rag on somebody’s face. Well, what happens is it triggers the mammalian diving reflex right, to the brain stem, and it lowers your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, lowers your cortisol, which is your stress hormone, and, even changes your oxytocin and vasopressin levels. so, yeah, be nice, take a walk, that’s fine. All right? But it is going to help somebody who’s dysregulated. And those practices that we do with people, we have to institutionalize, right? So, I know I’ve told you the story about tapping in Rwanda. So these people tapping researchers go into Rwanda and they’re supposed to do some tapping, and they go to a school with traumatized kids. 100% of the kids have PTSD, and, they do a couple of rounds of tapping and whatever they’re doing. And, at the end of the time, you go from 100% with PTSD to six or 8% with PTSD. Now, how does that happen in two weeks? This is one of the worst things that can happen to a person is they get this escalated nervous system that goes on and on and on. Right. well, something happened at the school, and I think these kids were treated savagely and saw horrific things. the researchers had to leave. But part of the design of the study was to come back in a year and see what results held. Right? So they come back in a year, even though they’ve only done a couple of sessions at the end of the year. at the end of the first two weeks, 94% no longer meet the criteria for PTSD. They come back in a year and 92% don’t meet the criteria. Now, that’s ridiculous. That’s not possible. anyway, of course, it’s the schoolmaster, the principal, or whatever they call, he sees the effect of the tapping on the kids and he institutionalizes it, right? He says, oh, my God. this really works. So then every time a kid has an episode, everybody’s tapping on everybody tapping on themselves. And at the end of the year, they’re still in really good. You know, the lesson for me is, we have to institutionalize these practices, right? And they don’t start with the kids or the people we’re trying to treat. They start with, you know, Barack Obama, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, he said, they asked him, what’s the next step in your career? And he says, I’m going to go out there and change the world. I’m going to train people to go out there and change the world. That’s the first and only time I’ve ever disagreed with. Because you got to go in here. You got to go inside to change the world. It starts in here, and it starts in here for every person. And so the suffering these people have can, only be alleviated by settling their bodies and doing that, with other people. They co regulate. Like the big term these days is self regulate. Teach kids to self regulate. Who self regulates? Not me, right? You have a problem, you go looking for a friend, right, because you trust them and they make you feel better, right? Turns off your limbic alarm system. Anyway, for me, it all begins with the body. And I have seen dramatic changes in people when they settle their body down in their capacity to reason, be compassionate to others, perspective. Take, do all of these higher order executive things we want them to do. but you got to start with the body.

Matthew: How are you listed in some of the examples there of some of those techniques? The swimming is really good for this. The breathing, the, washcloth over the face tapping. You’ve got a website that describes ten these and then other examples. And we put this, on our website so folks can find yours. But if, as a parent or I’m a teacher and I recognize, I want to institutionalize, as it were, this in my classroom or in, my home, which of those ten would you say try or maybe one or two of those would you say? These are kind of easy, even if the kid’s not buying into it yet. Do this around them. What would you point us to?

Al: Does anybody want to do these techniques? No. And kids who act up, do you want to be singled out? Okay, now go breathe. No, of course not. So, God was wise enough to install mirror neurons in our brains. And so mirror neurons mean when I do something, I have a certain pattern of firing. When I watch somebody else do something, I, have the same. I’m sorry. When I do something, I have a certain pattern of firing in my brain. Right. When another person watches me do that, they have the same pattern of firing in their brain, right? So I never push anybody to do this. I just do it, right? Just do it. And, I have never, ever had a single person who didn’t join in, right? So always begin with that and then make it model. Be the person you want them to become. So do it with them. I just had this meeting again the other day with somebody who said, well, we got to teach this kid to regulate himself. No, you have to regulate with him. Why would you ever miss the opportunity to build trust between you and him by doing it together? Right? Regulate together, always. And some people will learn how to do that on their own, which is fine, but the power is in people, right? The power is in relationships, and we really don’t have a relationship based treatment model. we’re still muckling on to kids, right? And old, people, have been restrained in our country, in this country, the United States, in every town and city and every state and probably every day. Right. what’s the rationale behind that? If my wife didn’t do something I didn’t like her to do or talked back to me or told me and told me, whatever, if I restrained her for doing that, I’d be in jail. So where’s the rationale that we could do this to children? The other part of the problem is, I often see kids around the age of 15 who have developmental disabilities or autism who are kicking ass. Well, when you ask them, anybody ever knocked you on the ground, dragged you down the hall, stuff you in a room? Of course, look at their records. What is the message? The message we’re teaching these kids is the biggest person wins. And so when they become the biggest person, they’re just doing what we taught them to do. And so those things are just, increase people’s suffering and make life worse for everybody because nobody enjoys doing it. But it’s just that people convince you that this is the way to help people.

Matthew: So it’s so crazy, I’m thinking, and you may, I think, have answered this question in some ways. On your website, you’ve got some great quotes, one of which is, from Emily Dickinson’s poem Hope is the thing with feathers. And I’m curious, in the midst of the suffering that we see, particularly right now, with, an epidemic, a mental health crisis, increase in suicide, so many things we’re all concerned about. Where is it? What gives you hope in the midst of all this?

Al: what gives me hope, Matthew, is that you can reduce people’s suffering and you can reduce children’s suffering. and you can do it pretty quickly if you know what you’re doing, and you can do the opposite if you don’t know what you’re doing. So some really basic stuff just drives me. I meet a new kid who’s suffering and I think so. So, you know, I start from the point where I understand it’s suffering. I don’t think it’s bad behavior. I just saw this little guy with autism and he’s clearly overwhelmed, with his situation. And he sort of runs down the middle of this trailer and turns around, runs away from his mother and then turns around and runs back and bites her. So what did I just see? I saw an attempted escape, attempted manage his arousal not to be so high. Couldn’t, get away because there was no place to go. And then it’s freeze flight, fight flight didn’t work. He turned to fight and bit his mother. Right. I, ended up doing a bunch of different things with him. but anyway, by the end of the evening, he was sitting calmly. so we said, well, what are the things that makes the kid feel calm? And she said, well, one of the things that makes him feel calm is, getting into bath. She said, but, I was told kid seven, he’s nonverbal. He says a few words, but not much. and the autism specialist, I think, watch out for people with the specialist after their name. they told her that she shouldn’t give him a bath because he likes it. and this is all attention seeking behavior. You can’t know anything about child development and think any of that is true. And if you look at this little guy, he’s sweet as can be. And I’ve done a number of times, I’ve been over the place and helped out with, hm, him a little bit. And the last time I was there, we put on some low, frequency, sounds in the background. Audiovisual entrainment is what it’s called. but your brain entrains to the sounds it hears and pretty quickly, within a couple of minutes. So we put some, low alpha, high theta. So Delta is the lowest frequency. Then theta delta is sleep. Theta is kind of like between half sleep and half wake, where you’re just waking up in the morning. Incredibly creative point. alpha is calm and, low beta is thinking and processing and all of that. High beta is anxiety. And then gamma is on the top there and does a whole bunch of stuff as well. But we put on high theta, low alpha tombs and, oh, my gosh, the whole trailer settled down in just a couple of minutes. His language improved, and, he doesn’t like to be touched, really. Some of the techniques require touching. while he was sitting and he sat for 45 minutes, I, used some acupressure points on his neck and rubbed his head, and he tolerated that for 45 minutes, and he held my hand. he’s regulated the authentic self that we find in every person is this person who needs to be in relationship with others. And when they get dysregulated, they don’t trust, they’re in fear, they can’t engage. So, we got to get those bodies settled down, the brain settled down. I, also tried to do this, was sort of fun. I brought a bunch of cups over. Now, did you ever meet a kid who don’t like to blow bubbles? No. Put chocolate milk in air, put a straw in, put a cap on it so it doesn’t get everywhere, and before they’re drinking, they’re blowing bubbles. Right. so that’s a technique we use with a lot of little guys, gals, and, anyway, I was with his brother, who’s probably four, his sister’s probably nine, and one of us had cups who were blowing in, and he got really excited and kept coming over and drinking the water out of the cups. We couldn’t get him to blow. But again, something as simple as a long exhale and a short inhale, six breaths a minute, and your arousal is down, your heart rate is down, your blood pressure is down, your heart rate variability is up. So all those markers work really well. So you just got to figure out whether it’s pinwheels or sometimes we blow on soup or do things like that that, the kid already has in their procedural memory, they know how to do.

Matthew: You have, all these almost 50 years of expertise working with a whole range of little kids to adults, the whole range, and making such an impact on them. What about the rest of us, those listening to this podcast, who want to make a difference, who want to give some hope in the midst of this really challenging time, what recommendation would you give to them? How can they be a source of hope? How can we, I should say, be a source of hope?

Al: Well, we’ve talked about compassion fatigue already, which, is really empathy fatigue, right? Compassion is about feeling for somebody, but being able to help them. Right? And compassion feels really good. Empathy fatigue is. I feel bad for you, but I can’t help you. You can help everybody. Everybody can be helped if we do it the right way. And this is not rocket science. This is simple. Let’s start with the body. lower their arousal, do it with them, and do the simple but profound things like smile. M right. what did mother Teresa say? Smiling is, the first step toward peace. She also said, we’ll never understand how a simple smile is so effective. And the fact is we, we actually do know that already. Right? So we know that when people smile at you, it turns on your left brain approach system and positive thoughts and positive feelings. it also shuts off your, right brain, shuts down your negative thoughts, negative feelings, and, desire to withdraw. So when we start seeing kids, they’re real good people. They don’t know the science maybe, but they know. Engage with somebody, smile, laugh. Ah, play. Right. Play turns off your defensive systems. Caretaking turns off your defensive systems. you want to turn somebody around real quick, ask them for help. Right? So, say, hey, when we do our sessions in the, my support group, not only are the people in charge of the group, so, that does a whole bunch of stuff in terms of learned helplessness and control and agency and all of that, but we also put them in a leadership role out of the group. So we have a kid we’re working with. The first day we breathed with him, and he’s a real tough kid. The first day we breathe with him, he decided to go back and teach his teachers at school. Yeah. So now we’re going to do this ten minute challenge with him where we’re going to breathe for this specific kind of bumblebee breathing, for about a minute every hour during school. And we’re calling it a ten minute challenge. Right. Can you change your behavior in ten minutes a day? And the answer is yes. There’s no question. The answer is yes. the other thing I think it’s important to remember is the behavior business is like the restaurant business. The restaurant business, you’re only good at your last meal. And in the behavior business, the kid is only as good as his last behavior. So as soon as something goes wrong, they’re back at the level one. Everybody’s down on them. that doesn’t build hope, it destroys hope. Right. I have never been in a situation with somebody who did something even quite violent that I couldn’t find something good to say. You got the building blocks. So we had a kid a few weeks ago. He was blown up regularly. They’re calling the police on him, a whole bunch of stuff. We started our groups with him, and after it, was nine or ten weeks before, he had another episode. Right now, it’s violence. It’s tough to handle. And m they call the police, and he goes to the emergency room and all kinds of stuff like that. the whole group gathered, and I think I started and said, you know, you proved it. You can do it, right? And a setback. Okay? But what really happened is you went nine or ten weeks without it. You’ve proven you can do it. And then, the case manager said, I met him at the hospital, and he was so compliant, and he talked to the doctor, and all of a sudden, think of his ego boost from everybody just being positive about him. So there’s never a point where you can’t find something somebody tried to do that was good. And so you got to go for the good, not for the bad. The bad you got. They’re already doing it. Right. let’s see if we can find something. And, a wonderful support group that’s part of the process is we say, what are the good things you did this week? What can we celebrate? What can we compliment you on? What can we show gratitude for that you’ve done this week? and so I had a kid, a person recently who, the team said, well, he does great in these groups, but he doesn’t do good in school. And what does that mean? I said, well, that means he doesn’t feel safe in school, and he feels accepted and safe in the group. So let’s get. Don’t criticize the group. And I got to say that these groups are about some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet. I mean, these home provider staff and case managers and all of these people are just terrific. They’re so terrific. I had a gal the other day tell the person who lives with her, she said, protect your peace, right? Not, like, cut it out, but do the things you need to do to protect your peace. And I thought, wow, what a great way to think about it. And, she’s not a sophisticated gal. She’s smart as a weapon, kind and good, but she don’t have any degrees or anything like that. But I never heard anybody with a degree say something that profound. we can help each and every one of these people, Matthew. and, we just have to figure out the ways to do that and celebrate every step in their success.

Matthew: From today’s interview, what would you like folks to write down to remember if they were to put that on a note card?

Al: I guess it’s really back to regulate, relate reason, and realize that there are different strategies for each one of those things. If you ever want to get to reason, learning, et cetera, you got to do the first two. The first one is body based. You want to go to the brain stem, you got to do heavy duty regulation activities together. And, so go take a walk and those other things. The next is if you want people to feel safe with you. First of all, regulating together is one of the best ways, then bombarded with signals of safety, right? Help them feel safe, share positive affects, caretake. A, woman, Beverly James, she said, that if you ever want to get the counseling people, you first have to take care of them. Right. You want people to listen to you take care of them. That’s the prerequisite. Right. So think about your relationship, and then you can help people think about things. my work has been mostly in developmental disability. As always, lots of, other kinds of people, lots of mental health stuff. But, we’re inclined to put labels on. People say, you’re depressed, you’re anxious. I’m okay with that, I guess. But I think a lot of this comes from experience, right? And you call it traumatic experience. Probably a lot of it is, but it’s experience. It’s what you learn, and what your body learns to do in these situations. if you want people to feel safe with you, you have to do the things that make them feel safe. Right? You can’t say, well, so you did that. Why did you do what happened right before? What happened right after? That doesn’t make people feel know, which I know you get a salary, Matthew. Who cares what it is? But if I was your boss and I said, Matthew, I think we’re a little bit late on Wednesday, and I’m going to have to dock your paycheck this week, that’s not going to help, is it? No. If I say, Matthew, I show you were late. I showed a look on your face. I’m worried about you. What can I do for you? It’s going to be real positive, right? And then at some point I can say, master, if you’re late all the time, because you’re regulated. We’re regulated together, and we relate well. Hey, what are we going to do about your time? About coming in late and, you will overreact. You’ll say, you’re right. We’re going to talk about it, and it’s okay. But not till you do the first two. And literally, when you’re young, if you are fortunate enough to have reasonable parents who are right 75% of the time you get all that. But at some point we stop doing it for each other, right? And so people with really challenging behavior, we got to go back to basics. We got to go back to that early stuff and just repeat. you know, the other thing is what Leo said, my son be kind all the time. And when people are struggling, be even kinder.

Matthew: You can learn more about Al and his work at his website, tamingthetigervt.com. The nine eight eight suicide and Crisis lifeline can be reached in the United States by calling or texting nine eight eight. It’s free and available 24/7 Hope and Healing was produced by Jenny Hoheisel and John Moe, music by concert rock violinist Aaron Meyer. This podcast is presented by Children’s Center, in Vancouver, Washington. Children’s Center’s mission is to serve children, youth and families through comprehensive community based mental health services. For more information, visit thechildrenre.org. I’m Matthew Butte and thank you for listening.

Podcast host Matthew Butte

Meet the Host

"We make this podcast in order to bring you hopeful stories and to introduce you to people who inspire hope. They’ve inspired a lot of hope in me and among people here at Children’s Center and I hope you feel the same."

Hope & Healing with Children's Center is hosted by Executive Director Matthew Butte, produced by John Moe and Jennie Hoheisel, and features original music by Concert Rock Violinist Aaron Meyer. Our mission is to provide honest and positive stories of hope from the world of mental health.


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