All Kinds of News for July 12, 2017
Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program for teens ages 10-17, is putting the spotlight on Tai Kulenic, MPS, LPC, ATR-BC, a Primary Therapist at Trails Carolina who works with young people struggling with trauma.
Before joining the Trails team, Kulenic spent over 13 years working with adolescents in a variety of therapeutic settings. As a board-certified art therapist, Kulenic utilizes her art background to help teens express themselves in ways that are not accessible through words.
Several years ago, Kulenic was involved in a research project in the Gulu District of Northern Uganda where she carried out trauma-based art therapy with ex-child soldiers. The project grew out of an unrelated research project the previous summer, when the research team had innocently given village children paper and crayons to use while they waited.
“Almost every child drew a violent, trauma-filled drawing, and the research team did not know what to do or how to help,” says Kulenic. “They decided to find an art therapist and develop a research project that looked at whether creating art was healing for these children. That’s when they invited me to facilitate art therapy as a part of their project.”
Kulenic spent two summers in Uganda. The boys and girls she worked with were 14-19 years old but had been kidnapped and forced to be child soldiers when they were as young as 7. She carried out daily group art therapy with children from several villages, as well as a boarding school for ex-child soldiers.
“I did not speak Acholi, but art is a universal language, so the language barrier was never an issue,” comments Kulenic. “What proved more difficult was teaching them how to use the art materials because they had never seen such things. I will never forget the first therapy group. The kids were given the directive to ‘draw a day that you'll never forget.’ They could draw anything they wanted-- but EVERY child drew the night they were kidnapped and forced to kill their parents.”
Although such unimaginably horrific events occurred in these teen’s short lives, Kulenic worked with these teens to help them process their experiences. Kulenic’s work in Africa has influenced her in many ways.
“The most profound effect of my time in Africa has been having to let go of any preconceived notion of what someone needs or feels,” says Kulenic. “In the West, we are all about the individual, at the expense of the community. In Africa, it is all about the community, at the expense of the individual. I went there wanting them to process what happened to them because that is what I believe to be healing. The elders in the villages wanted the kids ‘to just forget what happened’ and not talk about the war at all. So, I left Africa questioning whether I did more harm than good. At the end of the day, I have to believe that processing our trauma is healthy and necessary. What that experience taught me was to be curious, provide the container, and listen for the story.”
At Trails, Kulenic utilizes her many years of experience helping young people to inform the work she does with students at Trails.
“I use a couple of different approaches when working with kids at Trails who experience trauma,” comments Kulenic. “I will use Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies by teaching stress management and relaxation skills to help cope with unpleasant feelings. Creating a trauma narrative about what happened is helpful because the retelling of the story helps master painful feelings and helps resolve the impact it had on their lives. I also lean on my art therapy background. It takes a lot of effort for the brain to deal with trauma because the traumatized brain is constantly on high alert. Art therapy helps because a picture can tell a story about their internal life that isn't accessible in words.”
About Trails Carolina
Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program based just outside of Asheville, North Carolina that offers a multi-dimensional wilderness therapy model to troubled adolescents, ages 10-17. Trails capitalizes upon the profound effects of a student’s wilderness experience, and then combines that experience with strong clinical assessments and therapy. For additional information about Trails Carolina, please call 800-975-7303.