CVT Hosts First Event of its Kind on Trauma-Informed Health Care

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Photo, from left to right: Matthew Gehrke, Leslie Szmanda, Laura Gueron, CVT clinical advisor for physiotherapy, Drew Lukes and Austin Moore.

“How many of you have encountered survivors of torture in your clinical work?” Laura Gueron, CVT clinical advisor for physiotherapy, recently asked a room full of physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, speech language pathologists, nurses and physical therapy students.

A few people raised their hands.

“We’re bound to encounter survivors in our careers,” Laura continued, “Whether we realize it or not.”

Laura’s presentation occurred during the first event of its kind at CVT Headquarters: a training session for a broad range of health care professionals about special considerations when working with survivors of torture. 

Physiotherapy (physical therapy) is a vital component of CVT’s integrated, multidisciplinary approach to treatment. Because the physical effects of torture can interfere with even the most basic functions of daily life, many survivors require massage or physical therapy to help alleviate physical symptoms of their torture.

A group of seven doctoral physical therapy students from the University of Minnesota with whom Laura has been working during the academic year – Matthew Gehrke, Jessica Hansen, Lily Jilk, Drew Lukes, Karl Meunier, Austin Moore and Leslie Szmanda – planned the physiotherapy event. They chose CVT from a handful of organizations to volunteer with for a clerkship class.

“Before I came to CVT, it never occurred to me that commonplace activities and movements can adversely impact a survivor who is receiving care,” one of the students, Drew Lukes, mentioned at the training. “Something as simple as shutting the door can be triggering.” Factoring these considerations into his training helped him acquire a trauma-sensitive approach to care that will be indispensable to his career as he advances.

During her presentation, Laura explained that at CVT, therapy is client-driven and guided by health care professionals, who must be careful not to foster dependency in clients. Providers guide clients, teaching them as much as possible so that they know how to decrease their distressing symptoms, and to re-engage in favored activities.  

A professor from Concordia University was so impressed with the program – which in addition to Laura’s presentation included remarks from CVT’s clinic nurse, Erin Mehta, MS, RN, PHN, and Leora Hudak, MSW, LICSW, psychotherapist with CVT’s St. Paul Healing Center, about the transformational impact of CVT’s physiotherapy work on their clients – that she invited Laura to speak to the University’s physical therapy program next year.

The students were pleased with the turnout and their efforts. “I was humbled and honored to a part of something that is such a worthy cause,” said Drew. “I hope to continue to volunteer with CVT in the future once I graduate and become licensed!”

- Sabrina Crews, CVT marketing and communications specialist

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