Episode 1: Resilience and the frontline staff / first responder family
Within this episode Dr. Trudy Gilbert-Eliot introduces us to resilience, emotional intelligence and what it takes to be a resilient family.
- Doherty, William (1997). The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties. Harper Publishers: NY, NY.
- Dweck, Carol. (2007) Mindset.
- Dr. Trudy suggests searching YouTubes and Podcasts about mindset, resilience, communication skills and Emotional intelligence.
CASAT Podcast Network.
Welcome to our first episode of CASAT conversations today, we will be talking with Dr Trudy Gilbert-Eliot about resilience and the frontline staff first responder.
Family resilience is the ability to accept and adapt to challenging and stressful situations.
Trudy will share with us ways to build resilience within the family union so that family members and frontline staff first responders can better meet the demands of life as we dive in.
I’m thrilled to introduce you to Dr Trudy Gilbert-Eliot, a licensed psychotherapist living in Las Vegas Nevada.
She received her master’s of Science from California State University, Chico and her PhD from Capella University in Minnesota.
She specializes in working with first responders and is a contractor with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
She has worked with Trauma survivors throughout her 25 year career including abused Children, survivors of domestic violence, psychiatric patients, persons, persons living with substance use disorder.
And most recently personnel veterans and first responders.
She has also provided psychological support for those impacted by critical incidents including mass shootings, hostage situations, suicides and armed robberies.
Trudy wrote a book called healing secondary trauma, proven strategies for caregivers and professionals to manage stress anxiety and compassion fatigue.
We are delighted to have her on the podcast and we welcome you Trudy.
It’s very nice to be here.
So as we get started we’d love to um just here we we heard your um formal bio but tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into this work.
So I knew as soon as I entered my for my first graduate degree, I knew I wanted to specialize in trauma.
And so um as a result, I I’ve worked in almost every different area of trauma.
There has, there is um I worked with Children who have been sexually abused or emotionally or physically abused, I’ve worked with adults and from those same backgrounds I’ve worked with domestically battered women.
Um I’ve actually worked with batterers who also have quite a history of trauma.
Generally speaking, many of them do have worked with addicts and alcoholics who have comorbidities, comorbidities for alcoholism and drug addiction, trauma is a very, very highly likely to be an experience for them.
And uh and then um about roughly 10 years, 11 years ago now I had the opportunity to work for a few years with the military, which was probably of all of the jobs I’ve had has been the most um exciting, um and dissatisfying experience I had and um and so at the end of that time I knew that I wanted to um I wanted to have an experience that was similar to that, but obviously when you’re not working for the military because it is a closed system, so it takes a while to get really integrated into it.
So that’s when I hit upon starting to work with law enforcement and it took me about actually volunteered, volunteered, I’m doing um doing a part of a workshop for them for about a year for free in order to really get known by them.
And then as time went by, I was able to see more and more of them in my private practice and started contracting with them directly.
And um, and that working with first responders fire and police, they’re very, very similar to the military and that they have that same sort of courage and they want so much to be issued to be fixed or to be better.
Like they will use the word fixed, they’re not broken, but they just, they want so badly.
And to me that’s an incredibly satisfying situation to be in as a clinician is to be able to work with people who come in and will launch right into the work.
I mean there isn’t really a lot of, I I just feel like it’s effortless.
And so it’s just it’s a, it’s a really great experience, that’s wonderful.
It sounds like you have a lot of trust within the community and a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with us.
Also, since this podcast is focused for the families of first responders, can you tell us a little bit about the work that you’ve done with them?
Yes, very frequently?
Um, certainly because of the nature of their jobs, um they, there is a lot of stress and strain on the family and so usually it’s not unusual that when a first rounder comes in for treatment because of their own trauma, that their family has been indirectly, sometimes unfortunately directly impacted by that trauma.
And so I do see quite a few couples after the original member is stabilized, their traumatic experiences.
They, if they had been diagnosed with PTSD that they’ve stabilized and and then then we will start working on the couple’s system and then you know, by extension on some of the, how it trickles down into the rest of the family as well.
Wonderful thinks, Hey trudy and tell us about you wrote a book that came out in 2020, right about healing secondary trauma.
Can you tell us a little bit about maybe the process or what led you to write that book?
It was, it was actually really interesting.
I’ve always wanted to write a book well and uh I’ve been told by many people, you know, you really need to write all this down and you need to write a book and uh out of the blue, I got a call from someone who claimed to be a publisher.
Now of course I’m going to be skeptical because I figured oh this is a good one, this is a good scam.
Um and so uh, but they had listed what the name of the publisher was and so of course I googled them and they were legitimate.
And so I did make the return the phone call and ended up having this uh extensive conversation with this gentleman who said that they had actually found me online because of the topic that I’ve been teaching workshops on for other professionals in regards to secondary trauma, compassion, fatigue, burnout, that sort of thing.
And uh so we ended up um he ended up offering me to write this book.
And they had actually they have a really unique way of approaching it.
And so they already really had a very solid outline for me, which I was then able to give them some feedback on maybe as far as like adding a few different things or changing the order around a bit.
But so then I ended up getting to write the book and it was a very, very intense process.
They only this particular publisher only gives you about a about a four month turnaround.
So in addition to working my regular job, which obviously I’m usually booked pretty full.
And um so I would go home at night and I would write and all weekend long I would write.
And uh and then I and then you go into all the different levels of editing, which is also really interesting.
And then, before, you know, I mean, that was it was exciting people have asked me like, so, so, so what what do you think about writing your first book?
I said, oh no, no, that’s the book, it’s not the book, don’t say first, because then that would imply there would be a second and I don’t know, I don’t know about that, maybe if it was a six month turnaround instead of a four month though.
Right book number two could happen.
Yeah, it’s a quick turnaround.
It was, it was that sounds like an intense process.
Well, we’re delighted to be able to share some of the wisdom or have you share some of the wisdom from your book, healing, secondary trauma, proven strategies for caregivers and professionals to manage stress anxiety and compassion fatigue with our listeners.
So let’s get started as we, you know, are here and want this to be a resource for families of first responders.
How will a first responder family know if they are resilient and what are some of the components of resilience?
So to break it down in simple terms first, we have families need to have resilient beliefs and so one of the most important pieces of this is that they would want to see their challenges and the problems they have in their lives as opportunities to grow to learn and become closer in a sense.
It’s a way of framing challenges as evidence that, you know, we are an amazing family.
Um, we pull together, we don’t pull apart.
It speaks to their mindset overall that we see challenges as as roadblocks or do we see challenges as opportunities to grow.
So we really want to have that be our beliefs and how we tell the story of us as a family, has that component of growth in it.
Um also Brazilian families tend to be organized.
There are processes in place that creates structure, regular connection and the ability to roll with the changes that happen from time to time.
Structure in the family creates security.
It allows us to depend on each other.
And the opposite of this would be a family with little structure and are lots of chaos and lastly resilient, resilient families are good communicators.
They have really open communication.
They have the freedom to express their opinions.
There’s acceptance of emotions within the family and they also learn to separate emotions from behaviors.
So we recognize that an emotion can be okay while the behavior is not okay.
Um and then approach problems and difficulties with a sense of family strength and empathy.
So that’s those are just the basics.
You talked about communication there.
Trudy and let’s talk, can we talk about that just a little bit more?
What are a few areas of communication that families would find most useful to develop or strengthen?
It’s really important to develop the ability to listen to one another.
And sometimes that’s hard.
Uh it’s one we all feel like, oh no I’m a good listener but when you really break it down into the skills that it takes to be a good listener, sometimes we could certainly use some improvement.
Good listeners are nonjudgmental.
They seek understanding of the other person’s position.
Now they may not agree with the other person’s position, but they still seek to understand the other person’s position, they let the person speak without interruption and they don’t interject their own agenda into the conversation until the other person has felt heard.
And they attend to them in ways that focus on their body language and that they’re empathetic.
That’s those things like head nodding, eye contact, you know, small little things you say like oh my gosh or oh no.
Um or and even facial expressions that let you the other person know that you’re tracking with them.
You have those empathetic looks on your face, like maybe your eyes get really wide when they’re telling a part of the story so that the other person really knows.
Like, wow, you’re really, you’re really there with me.
And then certainly as the person winds down their story to be able to paraphrase what you heard and to get their agreement, like yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying before you necessarily launch in and start your oh, you wanna hear about my day and that sort of thing, which we tend to do another one that’s really good for families is assertiveness skills.
This is a really, really big construct.
Um Probably in particular, learning to share very clear i messages with each other.
An easy way to remember the rubric of the eye messages.
I feel blank when you blank.
So I’d like you to blank.
And so how that would look is uh you know, I feel a feeling.
So I feel maybe in this case, maybe I feel frustrated when you and then you fill that blank in with a specific behavior.
So when you leave your stuff on the family room floor and my positive need is, or so what I need is for you to pick all of the things off of the family room floor and put them in your room and certainly we can add 1/4 step with sometimes with younger Children we might attach a consequence to it.
So I might say something like, and if it isn’t done by dinner then I will.
So that would be the consequence at the end of it.
Um, sometimes a child does need to know that there’s going to be discipline attached and, and so we would want to do, we would want to make sure that they are aware of it ahead of time, so that I always told my kids, I guess you’re choosing to be disciplined because they knew it ahead of time.
So I felt like it was a choice.
Um, and then lastly, I think problem solving is really important.
Family meetings can really be a great opportunity, a new thing for families to add.
It can be somewhat a ritual of connection, but also it’s a really functional way of making sure you’re solving Problems as a family meeting once a week with a clear agenda and a set time schedule.
I usually suggest when people start, you only maybe have it, the meeting be depending on the age of your Children, maybe a half hour or 45 minutes, something like that.
And then when the timer goes off, you’re done until the next time you would allow all family members to add to the agenda, which can be kept in a public place like in a kitchen or something.
We used to have our family council agenda on the, on a white board in the kitchen and so anybody could add an item to the agenda that we would, when we would hold our meeting.
If there are a lot of issues on the agenda, you can decide as a group which one you guys want to start with and then you go through the problem solving steps, you know, basic ones, you share your thoughts and feelings about the issue, you determine as a group, what the actual issue is, your brainstorm solutions, you decide on which solution to try for a week and you determine if a consequence is needing to be attached to this, if it’s if that’s appropriate.
And then you check in the next week to determine if the solution was working, I hope my own kids don’t listen to this podcast because I’m going to share a story.
So so when my kids were growing up, I have one daughter, bless her heart and she has all brothers and so every six months to a year, pretty much sure I would say easily 10 years She would put on the agenda, two words toilet lid and she would, so she would bring it up in a family council that you know, she would just share this very impassioned speech about what it was like to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and to fall into the toilet and her brothers were always so wonderful listening to her and then they would just brainstorm the best solutions and they usually worked for a while and then like we are all tend to do, they would get a little bit slack and and then of course it would come back on the agenda and they would recommit, they usually came up with something interesting, you probably 10 different solutions for the same problems, so different things they would do and I thought gosh good on them because that’s really the way families work, right?
We, we have problems that resurfaced and resurface and if we could just keep approaching it it’s like okay, yes, we have gotten a little lazy on that we want to fix this and so we would just solve it again and again.
So now tell them what podcast, I love that too.
I um I am the only female in the house of boys and so this is a constant um piece of communication and my husband recently said, well why is it that we have to adapt to you, like there’s more of us than there are to you but it’s that falling in the toilet in the middle of the night.
It’s very unfortunate.
I still hope you’ll share this podcast with its part of Good communication right?
Trudy you know we hear a lot about emotional intelligence.
Um what are some ways that families can develop better?
So emotional intelligence is a really huge construct.
It includes skills like empathy, communication, assertiveness, self awareness, emotional regulation lots and lots and lots more.
Um and it’s a it’s an interesting one because it is one that you can continue to grow and develop throughout the course of your entire life.
You can continue to have more and more okay eq emotional intelligence throughout your lifespan.
Um so let’s say you want to help your Children communicate better with each other, you might teach them my messages we talked about earlier.
Um if you want your Children to become more empathetic, you might want to start with labeling emotions you feel and helping them label their emotions.
So you actually have increased the language of emotion in your own family.
This is going to help them with emotional awareness and in themselves but it also helps with emotion awareness and others too.
So this is a really huge building block for empathy and you can actually make it fun to, I like for example if you’re watching a movie to be able to stop the film during a time when like the main character is feeling really strong emotion and say, what do you guess?
And so they have every, the whole family guess what’s the emotion and that way they get a chance to kind of practice that and then maybe you’ll have already decided and you know, people maybe points or something, but sometimes just having that, so that, that becomes more of a something that you’re openly talking about.
Also emotional intelligence built throughout your life.
You can practice it in every area of your life.
It’s not just in your family.
Obviously, adults with higher Eq tend to have high, higher self confidence and can be more successful in relationships in their work, relationships and personal relationships.
So it has a lot, a lot, a lot of advantages that, and so it’s a really important thing that we can work on with her within our families.
Can you suggest some tips?
Trudy to help create some of these adequate structure, traditions and rituals of connection you’ve talked about?
Obviously each family is going to be different because every family is an individual, an individual entity and there’s going to be different needs in each family.
Um, so, flexibility, curiosity and openness are important here to continually reevaluate the family’s needs.
Um, some of the basics of structure, take a look at your family processes overall.
So if you’re gonna sort of, almost as if someone was videotaping you for a week, just, just sort of imagining it that way, um would you want to show the video tape to the whole world?
So if if there are parts of your structure that are really chaotic, that that you can’t even really figure out what’s going on in your family, then those may be areas that you really want to start working on first.
So some, you know, to ask yourself some overall questions in that just imaginary view of your life, do we have a clear morning routine?
Do do we have good nighttime routine?
Are we regularly connecting with each other?
Is that clear in that sort of that imaginary video that we are regularly connecting with each other?
Would other people be able to notice the family rituals we have in place.
So by observation, could someone else, someone else figure out what the rituals are in your family?
Um Do we have any problems or habits in our family that we have not tried to solve that are just getting worse and worse over time.
Do we accomplish the goals of being a family together?
Do each work independently?
And that’s the thing that I think a lot of us, especially in the last year, so that we have been doing a lot more independent work and that sometimes that together stuff is being neglected and um for a lot of us, this could be a painful look, but each time we do an evaluation of how things are going, it could give us an opportunity to work on some small aspect of our family life and the key is enough structure.
It isn’t like so structured that it is rigid.
It just needs to be have enough structure so that we are able to respond to changes And two challenges without that rigidity in place.
And and one of the things we’re talking about rituals, but we talked, we do call the rituals of connection and these are basically activities that increase healthy togetherness and for the family and for subsets of the family.
So if you have a big enough family, we also want to make sure that we are including the subsets.
So the couple subset sibling subsets and then even parents with each child for example as subsets and these are activities that increase um are just that overall sense of, I like you and just some activities are like things like family dinner.
And there’s actually has some research out there about how few families are actually sitting down together having dinner anymore.
The families are eating very separately.
And so it’s a nice family ritual to have dinner together even if it’s just one night a week because you have time for that date nights for couples can be a and then even um, dates with our kids, which I’m looking back and I think that sounds kind of creepy but it wasn’t meant to be, but it was just, it was just really just be able to say like, you know, I just to be able to say like, no, I want to have time with one on one with my Children.
That isn’t accidental.
Like I’m driving them to a soccer game or something like that.
So it’s actual intentional one on one time together.
Religious ceremonies are rituals of connection, holidays, friday night, pizza and movies.
Those such things are all rituals of connection.
The structure is important.
Um, it’s also vital to evaluate the ritual from time to time because we will sometimes get, I guess we could call it just lazy about it.
We’re just sort of doing it to jump a hoop as opposed to really making it meaningful or having the impact it could.
So we want to be regularly working on that and you know, we don’t want to just have it be a chore.
We cross off the list.
We actually want to honor the connection.
Um, so, so some families, for example, away, I want to look at us for some families, dinner time has become a little bit more painful.
So finding some ways to make it enjoyable again, whether it’s that you all cook together or or maybe that you decide that one person is in charge of the topic for the night, like what to talk about or that you print out some things so that you can have some really interesting ongoing conversations that are just out of your normal range of conversations and then the last ones are those traditions and these are usually how we do some kind of ritual connection is a good way of looking at it.
An example of that might be that you allow the birthday boy or girl to choose what’s for dinner on their birthday.
So that’s the tradition of birthdays, it’s not the actual ritual of the birthday party.
Most people have traditions for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and even weekends we have certain things we will do.
Um most of us will have important conversations around traditions when we first get together with someone, we first get when we first get married or we first begin living together because it’s actually really important to determine which ones of our, each of our families of origins that we want to keep and which ones do we need to either somehow combine or that we want to come up with our own original, our own original ritual and our own original tradition rather than just sort of being just exactly like our parents.
So because that actually is part of your own unique family definition and it’s actually a really exciting time for the new couple to get to make those up.
Those are also great.
I love this idea of honoring the connection um with each individual, there’s like the family as a whole.
But then these different relationships within the family and really kind of fostering those connections Trudy, I’m curious.
Do you think that Children should be involved in all aspects of family planning and functioning.
I hope I don’t make too many enemies here.
But that is a resounding.
No, because I learned to rule early on when my Children were super young and I followed it and I really found it to be useful even in my practice which is um the people who have the ability to help with the solution of the problem are the only ones who should be involved in the discussion about the problem.
So that’s why for for example when there’s a couple problems or a parenting problem, Children should not be listening to that and should not hear it.
Not even on one half of a phone conversation.
They have no power to help you solve a couple’s problem or a parenting problem that is an adult problem and needs to be privately discussed.
Another example is if you have multiple Children and one of your Children has a problem is having a problem.
Let’s say they’re having a problem with school.
You would have a separate meeting with that child and you will exclude the other 23 or seven Children because that child that’s a private conversation you as parents and that child have the ability to solve that problem.
So you need to be involved in that process.
But the other Children do not have any power and they need to be excluded.
Plus those, those conversations really need to be private because Children can be pretty brutal to one another in sibling ships.
And so yeah, we don’t want to give them any any opportunity to have some really good stuff to go after their sibling with.
Um, obviously if it’s a whole family problem, yes.
The whole, all of the kids need to be there as in that problem solving session.
Um, and there are some things that are kind of hybrids I guess you could say is like the like let’s say we are going to go on vacation and so the parents will discuss what the budget is and what are a couple of three options of where to go and then maybe at that point it gets brought to the rest of the family to say, you know, we have these options because there there are the adult part of that problem that needs to be discussed ahead of time.
That doesn’t necessarily need to be shared with with with parents.
Sometimes I think families come from this really beautiful place where they want to involve their Children and everything.
But there are some, there are some risks with that.
And so I think to really have some kind of rule within your family about who is involved in specific conversations and who is not.
Yeah, I think these are such important conversations because it’s, it’s things that you, I don’t necessarily think about how to resolve it.
You just come into a lot of times and I’m totally over generalizing and probably just thinking about myself, you come into like a marriage and parenting is what you don’t want to do, right.
And so you don’t really think about how to incorporate some of this stuff.
And so I think it’s to me it’s really fascinating hearing this, having, I have three daughters, The oldest being 14 and I’m like, okay, if I could go back in time, I would incorporate this in, but now how to incorporate it kind of going forward, these are just such great stuff to really, I love it.
Um what about some of the resources, what are some resources that folks could use or look up as they’re developing either some of these skills or are some of these aspects in their family?
Yeah, there’s a really good book by William dougherty called the intentional family and it’s, and it’s a book that really just shares a lot of rituals to strengthen the family and it kind of just goes through things, different ideas for a family.
It’s, it’s an older book, but it’s still very relevant.
Also, carol Dweck mindset is a great book to really help parents understand the value of certain ways of thinking and how it can help make their Children more resilient, but it also can help them as students etcetera, etcetera.
So it’s great because they do have a whole chapter on parenting and they have a whole chapter for teachers as well, but, and so they, it’s very useful and there’s lots and lots of Youtube videos and podcasts about mindset, resilience, communication skills, and emotional intelligence and those can be, those can be really, really useful as we think about action steps to become more resilient.
What, what are some of the action steps that you recommend?
So evaluating your family structure.
So it would be really, really useful because if we, if we look at the structures within our family, you could decide on one small area to begin working on in order to improve your family’s overall functioning.
So it might be your morning routine, maybe there’s a lot of chaos in the mornings and so your whole family starts out in chaos every morning and so to start looking at that and finding ways to, to make it a more peaceful morning or that you get more organized, let’s say the night before.
So even problem solving that as a family can really increase your overall positive functioning and um you could actually even decide that at a family meeting, what your family thinks, they all think would be a good thing to start working on as a family and then also really get in touch with your family rituals.
So even sitting down and saying listing five family rituals, let’s say for example, and and then deciding on if, if one of them maybe needs to be the refreshed or improved in some way so that we actually make it an even more connecting ritual than before, even if it was nice, but maybe to make it even better.
I um I have a family ritual that is a fun one that I’d love to share, and that’s that my son takes forever to eat dinner, so it’s like an hour long process for him to eat dinner, which is great and also challenging at night when there’s so much to do.
And so we used to like get up and we get busy and he’d just be sitting there and I was like, this is the saddest thing.
So um we’ve started playing family feud at dinner, so like we get out the board game and we, you know, take turns being the M.
And it’s become this lovely family ritual ever since the holidays um that we do as a family together.
And so it’s just it’s yeah, it’s fun to see how these evolved.
So there was the challenge, the problem of my son taking forever to eat and then the way that we’ve come around it is to create this fun family ritual.
So that’s fun.
And I think this is another one of those episodes that I know we’re really putting this together for first responder families, but this is another one of those episodes I’m going to listen to once, it’s all polished and out and take some more notes because I think we can learn so much from this.
Um So good.
I love this.
I love this conversation.
Um and just this idea and I think the theme just keeps coming up about being really intentional, about what you want in your family, what you want in your life, how you want to feel, how to kind of attach your emotions to the right mindset.
All of these themes around being really intentional are so important.
So thank you for for another great episode.
Thanks for all your great tips and expertise and looking forward to it.
Thanks Trudy, You’re welcome CASAT Podcast Network.
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This episode features the song “My Tribe” by Ketsa, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.