Creating A SAFE PLACE For Attachment | 2011 Boston Symposium: Sensory Processing, Emotion & Behavior

On March 24, at Microsoft’s offices in Waltham, MA, the Spiral Foundation will present “Utilizing SAFE PLACE for Professionals.” Attachment (the affectionate relationship that binds a child to a parent or caregiver) and sensory processing (the ability to take in information from our worlds and stay regulated and able to perform our daily activities) are critical for building a foundation for subsequent emotional development in children. Over the last few years, Spiral Foundation President Jane Koomar, Ph.D, OTR/L, and clinical psychologist Daniel Hughes, Ph.D., have worked together to increase awareness of the importance of these dynamics in early childhood.

With additional work by their Boston-based colleagues Deborah Rozelle, Psy.D., and Stephanie Shellie, LMSWC—who trained with Dan in his Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP)—and Jane’s occupational therapy colleagues at OTA-Watertown, there is growing evidence that a combination of sensory occupational therapy and psychological counseling can best address the needs of a child who has experienced attachment issues due to abuse, neglect or multiple foster placements.

To provide an overview of their work, Jane and Dan developed a two day course for parents titled “SAFE PLACE.” While the intention of this model is to create a literal “safe place” for children, the name stands for additional concepts. Sensory Attunement Focused Environments or Sensory Attunement Family Enjoyment derive from the OT’s fun and physically stimulating sensory integration work. PLACE stands for Playfulness, Love, ACceptance and Empathy, the core concepts of Dan’s DDP model. In the SAFE module parents learn how to create environments and activities at home to help their child with sensory regulation, and to stimulate rhythmic, mutually enjoyable interactions. The PLACE module offers the ability to develop strong interconnected relationships as the basis for all other parts of development.

SAFE PLACE works best when mental health professionals and occupational therapists work together with parents and children, providing co-treatments when possible, and sharing their observations with the family. This weaving-together of support for the child and parent in multiple developmental areas creates support and respect for what can often be felt as deep pain when working to parent a child who has trauma and attachment difficulties.

An introduction to SAFE PLACE is available on DVD for $25.00, and contains excerpts from the one-day workshop presented by Dan Hughes and Jane Koomar. The event on March 24 is the pre-conference institute for Spiral’s 2011 Boston Symposium titled “Sensory Processing, Emotion & Behavior: Clinical Innovations & Research.” The symposium gathers nationally recognized speakers on SPD, attachment, trauma, bullying and sensory integration-based therapeutic interventions. In addition to Dan and Jane, speakers include Spiral Research Director Teresa May-Benson, Dr. Marty Teicher, Tina Champagne and Deborah Rozelle.

For more information on the video or events please contact the Spiral Foundation at (617) 923-4410, ext 102.


Becoming OT Innovators

By Jane Koomar, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, President of the Board of the Spiral Foundation

One of my greatest joys is teaching, but over time clinical work and research increased to the point where I had less time to mentor students. Fortunately, this past year I was invited to join the Boston School of Occupational Therapy at Tufts University as their Professor of Practice. The appointment has been personally rewarding because I have had the opportunity to work with outstanding faculty as well as with truly excellent and dedicated future OT practitioners. Professionally it was an opportunity to share with the students some of the great work we have going on at the Spiral Foundation and our sister clinic, OTA-Watertown.

The group’s enthusiasm was especially evident when we visited the clinic for a hands-on lab. The wide variety of equipment—especially suspended equipment—is something OTA prides itself on. Seeing my students try some of the equipment themselves, reminded me of the importance of continued training and education for all OT practitioners, wherever they may be in their careers. Getting back into the classroom on a regular basis in 2010 also reminded me that teaching is often the best way to learn, and I learned a great deal from my students. To this end, the Spiral Foundation and OTA are planning to resume our intensive practical trainings for OT practitioners

When we have students or practitioners in our clinic, I like to share with them the Sensory Challenge Protocol Lab, designed by Dr. Lucy Jane Miller of the SPD Foundation. In it a subject—either a child or adult—is presented with a series of sensory experiences while we monitor his or her heart rate and skin conductance response. This unique space has been used in my own research through the Spiral Foundation, and by Dr. Roseann Schaaf at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

The clinic and the lab represent two important aspects of our work: the clinic at OTA-Watertown is already well recognized as a place where children and adults with sensory processing challenges can find caring, dedicated and skilled therapists to help them make sense of their senses.

Spiral, while less known, is no less important. Research Director Dr. Teresa May-Benson, statistician Alison Teasdale and I are engaged in numerous research and educational projects to help push the boundaries of treatment for SPD. Our work, combined with that of research colleagues from around the world, is put into practice at the clinic.

The convergence of research and clinical practice is the truly unique aspect of the relationship between OTA-Watertown and the Spiral Foundation. My hope for my students at Tufts, as well as for others who train with us, is that they take away from their visit what we strive for every day in the clinic and the foundation: the enthusiasm for developing the creativity and dedication involved in becoming an OT innovator.