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Experts at conference weigh in on what makes us resilient

What does it mean to be resilient, how does it connect to mental health and addiction issues and how is it attained? These were the themes presented to over 300 health practitioners at the 11th Annual George Brown College Mental Health Conference. The forum was presented by George Brown College’s Centre for Preparatory & Liberal Studies in partnership with CAMH.

Keynote speaker Dr. Gabor Maté, a staff physician at one of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside clinics, seminar leader, public speaker and bestselling author believes that resiliency may depend on having an emotional witness.

Keynote speaker Dr. Gabor Maté.

“Why do some kids grow up okay and others not, while both were traumatized?” he asked. The difference he said is that one may have had someone with who to share his or her pain, thereby altering their trajectory for future possibilities.

For Dr. Maté, it isn’t whether or not someone is traumatized or if that situation can or can’t change, it’s finding an emotional connection to someone that enables the possibility of overcoming dire circumstance.

Nick Doukas, an addiction therapist in CAMH’s Drug Treatment Court and Cheryl Peever, clinical workplace safety manager, participated in the panel discussion moderated by Lisa Schmidt Winsor, director, Organizational Development, and shared insights alongside Dr. Maté and other professionals working in the community.

Cheryl Peever speaks to the relevance of connection to recovery.

On the importance of feeling a connection to someone, Cheryl spoke about how it felt when she was in recovery from addiction. “All the degrees in the world don’t matter when you’re giving therapy, what heals is having someone to see how scared you are and how much pain you’re feeling,” she recalled. “I remember the person who gave me hope and a genuine connection.”

The importance of developing an honest rapport and trying to make a connection was a sentiment shared by all the panel members. Whether it was a teacher trying to connect with students or a family social worker trying to give hope to children whose primary caregivers are affected addiction and mental health issues, possibility was the underlying theme.

Earlier in the day Dr. Maté acquainted the audience with the new science of psychoneuroimmunology by illustrating the relationship of the emotional centres in the brain, the nervous system, the immune system and the hormonal apparatus. He stated “nothing happens to us on the emotional level – consciously or unconsciously- that does not have a physiological counterpart. There is no possible separation of mind and body, emotion and physiology.”

Dr. Maté’s message to the audience is that resilience is not a set of skills to be learned, but a human attribute to be fostered.

“What we all got was that resilience is not a set of skills to be learned, but a human attribute to be fostered – a reminder of the importance of understanding our own vulnerabilities as the building blocks to resilience,” says Lew Golding, manager of CAMH’s Substance Abuse Program for African and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY), and a conference organizer.

“We were encouraged to work toward understanding key elements of our own lived experiences of stress, emotional triggers for physiological stress response and implicit memory – when we are influenced by past experience without any awareness that they are remembering.”

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