(East Tennessee State University, Clemmer College Department of Counseling and Human Services)
In 2015 when first beginning to raise awareness to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study in Northeast Tennessee, I partnered with a longtime friend and East Tennessee State University Psychology professor, Dr. Andi Clements to help pioneer this work. Three years later, we had trained over 4,000 professionals from a wide variety of sectors. Among these trained were a few other ETSU faculty members who then became an integral part of the Northeast TN ACEs Community. One of these is Dr. Julia Bernard.
Dr. Bernard attended one of our first cohorts of training on Trauma Informed Approach, Key Principles and Assumptions in 2016 and immediately joined the System of Care. Several of us often describe this early period of time as “building the car while we were driving it!” Julia attended the first Train the Trainer program after I developed it and soon, she was called upon to provide training to organizations when neither Dr. Clements nor I could fulfill the request. As our work developed, we felt it was important to maintain the fidelity of the message and Dr. Bernard shared our commitment to this. In the same manner as the other university faculty who joined the System of Care in 2016, Dr. Bernard did not waste any time integrating this science into her coursework in the Department of Counseling and Human Services. Earlier this year her department proudly completed work on a Trauma and Resilience minor. This minor along with the Human Services bachelor's degree and Masters in Human Services can be completed from anywhere online.
Recently I interviewed Dr. Bernard for the purpose of sharing more about her commitment for equipping future professionals with an understanding of ACEs and resilience science.
(Dr. Julia Bernard, Associate Professor/Interim Chair Department of Counseling and Human Services)
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do
I am Dr. Julia Bernard and I am the Interim Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at East Tennessee State University. I hold a Ph.D. in Family Studies from Purdue University, and am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the State of Tennessee. I am a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. I am also a Leave No Trace Master Educator, a Trauma Informed Care Trainer, and a Mental Health First Aid trainer. I am also the immediate past president of the Southeastern Council for Family Relations. My research centers on the association between the family of origin and human service providers, specifically, the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). I am a marriage and family therapist by trade, and in particular serve veterans, military service members, and families of military in my private practice in Jonesborough.
How did you first learn about ACEs?
I first learned about ACEs in teaching one of our graduate courses, Advanced Developmental Psychology. I had read “The Body Keeps Score” and had my class read the book as part of understanding trauma and the lasting effects associated with trauma. That gave me background, so that when you and Dr. Andi Clements gave ETSU the opportunity to learn about Trauma Informed Care and listen to SAMHSA speakers, I jumped at the chance to learn more. Well, it became a very large event, and Dr. Clements asked me to help by taking notes during one of the breakout sessions….and then I was hooked. I wanted to attend trainings and teach about ACEs in all of my classes.
Since 2016 how have you participated in the NE TN ACEs Community?
I have participated in the group that eventually evolved into the System of Care since the beginning. It became very clear that my students in counseling and human services were working in the agencies that attended the meetings, so we wanted to make sure our community needs and student trainings were aligned. I took the train the trainer course with you and Dr. Clements so that I could help train my students and community members. I have done more trainings than I can count now, including train the trainer courses. In addition to my students, I train every teacher candidate that graduates from the Clemmer College (of Education), our University School teachers on campus, the Public Service Scholars who tutor in schools, and the pre-health students who are starting their healthcare training.
Have you witnessed resilience science beginning to have a regional impact? If so, in what ways?
Yes, so I think that the community at large in Johnson City and Washington County have shifted how they engage with young people in general. I think the best example that I can think of is the shifts in a visit to the pediatrician’s office with my son, where we are screened for ACEs and I know they have a number of resources for those families that may need them. I also recall a very specific experience where we were discussing moving forward in the system of care focus groups where community members were asking how to integrate new knowledge in the trainings about the Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) babies who are now over 5 and in the local school systems, and upgrading the training of foster care parents to be more current. The region is hungry for more information and ways they can help because they have seen changes in their interactions with the community. My students are better prepared to work at community agencies with ways to listen and connect beyond the traditional developmental training.
How are you incorporating this knowledge into your work as an ETSU faculty member?
So, above and beyond training my faculty and supporting continued training on ACEs, so that we can integrate it in Counseling and Human Services, Megan Quinn (PI), Judy McCook, Meira Yasin, and myself got a Building Strong Brains Innovation Grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. With this grant, we trained all of the pre-health students enrolled at ETSU in Trauma Informed Care. So, between us we covered 24 sections of the introductory course, and also trained the instructors and trainers to help this continue to be integrated into the journey of healthcare students. In addition, I am part of the ETSU/Ballad Health Strong BRAIN Institute, where we are trying to use ACEs science to build resilience throughout the university. More personally, I have recently helped develop a Trauma and Resilience Minor so that students who want a more in-depth study of trauma can enhance their major and better prepare for work or graduate school.
Do you see resilience science impacting students you work with? Faculty you work with?
So, some of my favorite stories are students who go on to work in agencies, and invite me to come in and do trainings with their employers when they haven’t had the training. Students often tell me that they are better prepared to not react immediately to children or clients, but to listen to the stories of the person having trouble. They tell me that they prepare their classrooms differently. They tell me that they have made small changes in how they respond to colleagues who they see stressed or withdrawn. They tell me that I have given them choices on how to respond, and it empowers them to also allow the person they are engaging with to choose how to respond. The Public Service Scholars are my favorite. Many of these students are not education, human service, or counseling students—they may be biology or business, and they are nervous about entering the schools as tutors. I think that how they are at the beginning of the training is so different from how they leave the training. Their confidence is different. They learn that being present, listening, and providing consistent, safe help is enough. When I was first contacted to offer the training, I did not realize that the coordinator of the program had once been a teacher candidate in one of my trainings. She introduced me and said to the class that the ACEs knowledge changed the way she approached her students and had made a profound difference in the way she structured her class. She was giving a testimonial in her introduction. It was a great complement to me and to the work of spreading resilience science.
How did you become involved in the work at ETSU to become a trauma informed university?
I think for all of us involved in this work, we were always on the path to make ETSU trauma informed. When I started working with Megan Quinn, she mentioned that there was a group being pulled together to discuss ACEs and trauma informed care. So, out of those meetings, it became abundantly clear that we were all doing resilience science work in different ways in multiple disciplines (education, counseling and human services, pediatrics, psychology, public health, nursing, psychiatry). We thought it would be possible to “band together” and do bigger projects. Somewhere along the way, we thought it would be crucial to have a shared language in the university, so that we are all working on being “nice.” We knew the science and what trauma informing the university could do for our students, faculty, and staff, but we also recognized we were heavy on the psychological fields, so it may be seen as too “touchy/feely.” So, the group set upon ways to make the university trauma informed without using words that would be off-putting. That is when we started calling ourselves the BRAIN Trust, which stood for Building Resilience through ACEs Informed Networking. We knew that the science was going to be what we needed to engage resistant university members. When we spoke to Dr. Noland, our university president, he was fully on board.
In what way are you now serving on the ETSU Ballad Health Strong Brain Institute?
I am the co-chair of the curriculum subcommittee for the ETSU Ballad Health Strong BRAIN Institute. My main job is to help organize trainings for the larger community, so that the work can continue to grow in our region. I am also helping to build a network so that we can continue our outreach with those who have taken our trainings and want to be affiliated with the Strong BRAIN Institute. I also am serving as a resilience coach for a research project we have going to trauma inform the College of Pharmacy, as a pilot to training the university.
Over time, how do you hope resilience science will impact the education of your students?
I think that students in our programs will have a better understanding of the responses of others. They leave our courses knowing that they response they see may not be the whole story, and we give them the tools to be open to hearing the whole story. In my particular case, counseling and human service students already are in the helping profession, but I think the science gives them the evidence they need to know that listening works.
Anything else you'd like to add?
As we begin to grow and expand, it is interesting to me to see how resilience science, trauma informed care, and kindness has permeated everything we do here at the university. Especially in the pandemic, in the face of racial tensions, and with the political events that took place on January 6th, the importance of this work is clear. We have changed our communications (zoom, emails, syllabi, etc.), our approaches, and sensitivity to others or what they may be facing. I like to think we are a little better prepared for all of this because of the work we have done to bring resilience to ETSU.