The 2016 Trauma and Dissociation is proud to present its third conference. 'Survivors' who have been involved in, or heard about other 'survivor-type' conferences, should be aware that this conference is unlike any other conference presented anywhere.
First, this conference originated by request of members of Ivory Garden DID Support Group - an online survivor group that has been successfully and actively supporting survivors with dissociative disorders (mainly DID) for over a decade. Members had attended 'survivor conferences' and were dissatisfied that they were treated as 'children' who needed 'safe-rooms', presumably incapable of attending any 'professional' sessions. They wanted to learn from experts in the area of trauma and dissociation and be accepted as intelligent and capable. They had tired of hearing 'survivor stories' and being treated as 'less than' professionals.
At the time that Ivory Garden was thinking of presenting a conference, another conference was being advertised. Besides, members feeling disappointed by that conference agenda, the expense for them to attend was out of their budget range. Other members had been involved in two SRA survivor conferences where they left feeling overly-protected, being told that they 'needed' a place to cuddle teddy bears and warned to watch every moment for 'triggers' that might upset them during the sessions. Members felt that they were being 'set apart' as weak and unstable. Many of the members could only dream of being involved in a professional conference as attendees without being identified as 'clients' in need of constant care. Professional-type-conferences remain unavailable to survivors of abuse, especially to those who have Dissociative Disorders.
There was seemingly no conferences or seminars where survivors could attend and learn about themselves, the current research, and/or from world-renowned experts in the field of trauma and dissociation. To even meet and speak to experts remained a mere dream to members. The notion that a conference could be 'about' education, and that clinicians, teachers, survivors, and supporters could all attend together as 'peers' was not only unheard of, but also controversial. Some survivors felt that they 'needed' a safe place in case they 'got triggered'. Some clinicians felt that a survivor group could not plan a 'professional' conference. The notion arose that somehow such an event would be a 'conflict of interest' - having both clinicians and survivors in a room together.
Despite challenges, conference planners moved forward attempting to satisfy everyone's needs. Knowledgeable and renowned speakers supported the idea and volunteered to speak. Sponsors came forward, excited to help with the conference. Clearly, this conference was to be something amazing and different. Unbeknownst to planners, their attention to detail would change every person who attended as well as speakers who had not previously presented to such a diverse audience.
The first conference hosted by Ivory Garden was an overwhelming success with about 180 people attending - including therapists, teachers, survivors, family and friends of survivors, doctors, nurses, and others. Attendees decided what they wanted on their name tags, and they were not 'color-coded' by designation of attendee 'status'. All attendees were able to attend any session that they pleased. Attendees had the privilege of meeting new people from all walks of life. Survivors were able to learn in classroom settings (with all other attendees) as well as attending creative, fun workshops, and participating in activities. Professionals earned CEU's, because the sessions were at Master's level teaching. And, supporters learned more about the effect of trauma on their loved ones. Speakers remained at the conference giving everyone a chance to meet them and ask questions. Everyone was treated equally in an environment of respect and validation of each other. Unlike other conferences, this conference was three full days of workshops, plenaries, activities, and folks interacting with each other.
After going through all of the comments of attendees and talking to many, the overall reaction to the conference was individual feelings of 'change' in themselves. Survivors felt empowered, and therapists amazed by the new motivation their clients showed upon returning from the conference. Survivors talked of their 'fear' to come so far, to fly (some for the first time), to stay at the hotel, and to learn so much they never knew about trauma and dissociation. They spoke of the excitement of meeting so many amazing people from all walks of life. It was an experience they would not soon forget. Clinicians could not help but admit that they couldn't tell who was who - some believing that trauma survivors could not actually sit in a classroom setting and 'hold it together'. They were proved wrong and admitted that all involved in learning about trauma and dissociation could help each other understand how abuse effects people.
Once the conference was over, attendees who had traveled from all over the world, returned home and began telling others about their experience. As with anything 'new', some folks were apprehensive, negative, and some outright and vocally speaking out against this conference. The main backlash that I heard was that it was 'unsafe' for survivors to attend. (I will return to this notion later in this article).
Last year, we planned the second conference in much the same fashion - taking into account folks needs and requests. Through our own experience at the previous conference, we had and were becoming more educated about how trauma effects people. We were also hearing new requests from our own members. Starving for information, they requested speakers present current research on different topics. More sponsors came forward and again, internationally renowned speakers immediately volunteered to present. Because this conference seemed to be moving toward the theme of 'research', planners decided to present the conference as a fundraiser for TOPDD Studies - to help them move forward on researching dissociative disorders.
As expected, the second conference was an overwhelming success again. As with any conference, it was different than the first with attendees expressing their need for more conferences. Ivory Garden, being a small nonprofit corporation did not have the funds to fulfill all the needs and requests coming from so many. At first, planners decided against having another conference until they had a budget to accommodate the amount of people who were wanting to attend.
Soon after the second conference, attendees became interested in 'Trauma-Informed Care'. This topic and research was brought up during the second conference. Survivors and clinicians wanted to learn how this concept effected them both in clinical practice and as clients. As does happen, the world view was also changing. Topics such as human trafficking, neurosciences and dissociative disorders, different styles and models of therapy, and overwhelming reports of child abuse was becoming more public. Despite Ivory Garden's need for funds in order to host another conference, it became clear that one was needed in order to provide the education people were requesting. Planners decided to host another conference this year - the theme being 'Perspective on Trauma-Informed-Care'. And, again world renowned speakers, from many areas of study, immediately volunteered to present. Upon request of past attendees, the venue has been changed to a smaller, more intimate hotel where attendees can come together and meet each other. In fact, this year's conference attendees have nearly filled all of the some 200 rooms available at the hotel.
Now, to return to the concern that has been expressed that conferences hosted by Ivory Garden are not 'safe' for survivors. The notion that the conference is 'unsafe' would be argued by most past attendees. However, I do want to speak to this in order to ensure the 'safety' of all who think about attending. Unlike other similar conferences, this is an 'educational' conference only. The view expressed by speakers are not our 'own'. The conference is organized to provide information from many different points of view in a way that attendees are able to take from it what they will. We have no personal agendas for hosting the conference except providing education.
We understand clinicians may disagree with speakers as well as continuing to believe that survivors and their supporters should not be exposed to educational material which might influence their current therapeutic experience. We also understand that survivors may be unstable and unable to participate in even a classroom environment. Planners have taken both points of view into consideration and plan accordingly.
One thing that needs clarification is that Ivory Garden DID Support Forums have been the backbone of the conferences. For a decade, the support forum has encouraged strength, moving forward, healing, and respect of members' abilities. Everyone can get 'triggered' in any situation. We have all been to school and were able to handle it to some extent. We have learned coping skills - to know what to do if triggered. With this in mind, we simply cannot encourage attendees to be 'needy' during the conference. If you feel that you 'need' a place that provides exclusive safe areas for only survivors, you should not come to this conference. That is just simple commonsense. If your therapist believes that you are unable to cope in this environment, you should not attend.
Keeping this in mind, know that we do encourage all attendees to take breaks. This conference is intense - too intense for anyone to attempt attending every session. We encourage planning your time in order to make the most of what you want to get from the conference. There is always one session running that is less intense, including: yoga, writing, creating collages, and creative workshops. There are also many areas to sit away from the activities. There is an indoor swimming pool and a park with a lake just outside the conference rooms. All attendees are welcome to come sit at the Ivory Garden or any other exhibit table if you feel a need to just talk to someone. We cannot guarantee that you will not get 'triggered' within presentations. After all, the presentations are 'about' what all survivors have experienced. Most clinicians have not been trained or ever learned about dissociation and trauma, and survivors may be hearing about their own experiences for the first time - this in itself can be overwhelming. But, planners expect this sort of thing and thus, create a feeling of 'freedom' to move in and out of workshops/plenaries at will. Attendees can get up and leave at any time. There are plenty of folks to talk to sitting outside the conference areas. The workshops, however, are tailored for all attendees and presenting material that might 'trigger' is carefully avoided.
Planners also know the need to meet folks. For this reason, on Thursday, as people arrive at the hotel there will be a hospitality room where people can gather and meet. Pr-registered attendees can pick up their bags, binders, and name-tags there as well as get to meetup with other attendees, speakers, and sponsors. This is a fun time to meet people and get settled before the conference.
If you are worried about your safety during any Ivory Garden-hosted conference, your concerns can only be based on your individual, perceived ability to cope in an educational environment where your safety has been carefully taken into consideration. Your therapist should also understand that your safety and stability during the conference is our priority. We have found that providing special 'safe-rooms' for survivors encourages unstable and embarrassing behavior for those who, otherwise, are stable enough to have their needs met within the conference setting.
The belief that 'safe-rooms' are needed is perpetuated by other survivor-type-conferences held by groups who promote weakness, neediness, and dependence within their groups. This is understandable, also. Every group is different.
Basically, the Ivory Garden conferences are not for everyone. Before coming, be aware that this conference 'is' unique. I am hoping that this article has clarified some questions and expectations before you decide whether you want to attend. I can tell you that every person who comes is anxious at first - clinicians, survivors, and supporters. The strength that it takes just to attend will change your life forever.
Thank you for reading.
Contact me for questions or clarification.
Patricia Goodwin, MA
President, Ivory Garden Nonprofit Corporation
Feel free to comment here.