Thursday, December 12, 2013

Learning from International Travel

Chrysalis has invested heavily in international travel with students over the past 15 years. I must confess that a part of the motivation to do this, originally, was selfish. Mary and I love to travel, and moving around the planet to explore different cultures and see beautiful places was gratifying to us. That being said, it's also entirely true that we felt strongly that this global exploration and exposure would be the best possible education for our students. Too many kids in our dominant American cultures have no real understanding of, or appreciation for, the people and places beyond our borders. If we're going to be good citizens of planet Earth, it seems critical to journey abroad whenever possible to learn how the rest of our planet's inhabitants socialize, work, play, eat, learn, and live. True cultural exploration, beyond the typical tourist haunts, can shape a kid's future in ways that would never be possible in our classrooms in Montana. Some things just need to be seen, heard, or touched in person, with one's own eyes, ears, and hands. Several examples come to mind as I write this: towering pyramids, vast canyons or thundering waterfalls, classic works of art, mysterious sites of ancient and vanished cultures, great tropical reefs full of amazing marine life, African tribes, the Sahara, Kilimanjaro. The list goes on and on. There really is no substitute for being there.

And then there is service. Nothing in our human experience brings one's own life into focus, and cuts through narcissism, like good old-fashioned service work. Our students often begin a service experience wondering why in the world they would want to do something difficult for someone else, for no remuneration, and no promise that the recipients would ever do something for them in return. Then, slowly but surely, across the process, they begin to understand that even though the service project may be ostensibly and directly for someone else, the real reward comes back to us, the giver. When we've traveled to foreign countries and done a variety of service projects (we've cleaned, painted, built structures, cared for orphans, taught younger students, picked up trash, developed gardens, created fresh water systems or sanitation, and delivered food and clothing among other things) everyone in the equation benefits, but the service provider leaves with the greatest prize of all. Our hearts are full and our bags are lighter on the way home. There's nothing like it, and no one can steal from us the sense of honor, blessing, and accomplishment that comes from doing something wonderfully important for someone else. It lives in our hearts.

Cultural immersion, education, adventure, service. These are the building blocks of our international travel experience. When we do it right, in a moment of absolute clarity, students seem to find themselves completely open to self-discovery and some universal truths. They realize for the first time that many of the poor, impoverished people of the world are much happier and more content than relatively wealthy American youth. They say something like, "I've got everything that my parent's money can buy, but I'm depressed and anxious; these people have almost nothing, relatively speaking, but they're bright and smiling. There's something wrong with this picture, and there's something important here that I need to learn." Amen to that. That's what makes international travel so important, so brilliant, and so worth the cost. That's why we plan and execute two international trips a year. And that's why, starting this year, every student at Chrysalis is able to choose to participate in one included international trip during her enrollment (and pay extra for others if they choose.)

International travel is life changing. We're never the same after we return. The people we help along the way appreciate it forever, and the world becomes a better place to live as a result. It's hard to beat that chain of events. I'm hoping, by this time next year that we've successfully collaborated with other InnerChange programs to build a school building in Zambia. We'll do a floating safari in canoes on the river while we're there. Won't that be something?

To find out more about our international service trips, please visit or call us at 888-317-9297. 

By: Kenny Pannell, Executive Director 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Utilizing EMDR at Chrysalis

EMDR is a treatment modality typically used with people who are suffering from symptoms of traumatic events that happened in their history, and which continue to beleaguer their current lives. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and works with the brain hemispheres to reprocess life events that have become caught or stuck in the person's memory in a dysfunctional, maladaptive way. Typically, when we experience an event in our lives, it gets stored in our memory in a way that, when we recall it, it is simply a picture from a story book that doesn't contain all the same sensory experiences we may have had at the time of the event. When we experience an event in our lives that is traumatic, however, the memory of it can get stuck with all the original images, thoughts/beliefs, sounds and physical sensations that happened at the time of the event. When this happens, it means that the brain hasn't processed the memory properly so that the person can move on with their life without being haunted by the event. The common example here is the war veteran who hears a car door slam while walking down the street, confuses that sound with a gun shot or bomb, and is suddenly triggered back to a battle scene during their service in the war; they become ridden with panic and fear and the inability to stay attuned to the present moment.  
EMDR originated decades ago and was used with soldiers coming back from war. What we've learned about the treatment since then, however, is that it works for those suffering from major trauma or what we refer to as "big 'T' trauma", as well as minor trauma or what we refer to as "small 't' trauma". A person does not have to have undergone an obviously traumatic event to benefit from EMDR. It has been used in family therapy, addictions treatment, for people with eating disorders, and with various other clinical issues whose roots are found in upsetting or traumatic life events that are causing problems in the person's current life. The goal of EMDR is to take the traumatic event and transform it into a historical memory by means of desensitizing the upsetting experiences associated with the memory, and reprocessing the negative belief connected to it. By engaging in this process, the person may be free of the post-event distress that occurred at the time of the event.

EMDR has been shown to work with a large number of people but is not successful for everyone. Some of the students who have participated in this treatment describe the process like a fast-moving train, where many thoughts, images, and physical sensations happen in quick succession of one another. Those thoughts, images and sensations are described as seemingly unrelated yet connected to the event somehow. The human brain is complex and capable of networking many criterions to any given event, like the smell of mustard while eating a hotdog at the ballpark--the smell of mustard may later cause a person to remember a time they were at a ballpark. Similarly, during the EMDR process, the brain recalls many associated factors of the event and begins reorganizing them in order for the event to become more functional and not upsetting or triggering. What's wonderful about EMDR is that we don't have to know exactly why or how all of the associations are networked the way that they are, as long as the memory becomes increasingly adaptive, functional, and absent of distressing material. At the end of a 90-minute session, clients often refer to the formerly distressing event as "just a picture, now" or "just something that happened that I'm not chained to anymore". This is a treatment approach that many clinicians find useful to add to their tool box when an issue occurs that can't seem to "un-stick" itself with some of the more traditional methods used in standard practice. It is a tremendously effective and powerful intervention with which many people who seek mental health services have found success; they come to live with a greater sense of ease and freedom from events that formerly kept them from happy lives and healthy relationships.
To find out more about how EMDR is used in treatment at Chrysalis, or how EMDR may benefit your daughter, contact us at 888-317-9297 or visit
By: Haley Kliefoth,  MA, LCPC, NCC