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Workshop will study connections between addiction, mental illness and trauma

For the last several years, mental health and addiction professionals have been talking about “trauma-informed care,” or taking an individual’s life history into careful account when treating their physical or emotional ills. This approach, which encourages a deeper understanding of how a variety of historical traumas can alter the life course, has won acclaim for its effectiveness and impact.

On Jan. 27, practitioners from around the state will have an opportunity to hear from two leading experts in the field at a workshop titled “The Biology of Loss: A Trauma-Informed Perspective in Treating Addiction and Concurrent Disorders.” It is hosted by Minnesota Center for Chemical and Mental Health and will be held at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union. The workshop, which is supported by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, will offer six hours CEU credit for qualified participants. It is scheduled from 8 a.m.to 4:45 p.m. 

Together, workshop headliners Gabor Maté, M.D., and Phyllis Solon, Psy.D., LP, have decades of experience working with people whose lives have been affected by various forms of trauma.

Maté, a Canadian family practice and palliative care physician, is a best-selling author (“In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction”), speaker and cofounder of the nonprofit Compassion for Addiction. He brings the perspective of a medical doctor to the treatment of addiction and mental illness. Maté will also headline an interactive dialogue on Jan. 28 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University of Minnesota’s Ted Mann Concert Hall. CEU credit is also available for this event.

Solon, core faculty in the doctoral program in counseling psychology at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, is also a Minneapolis-based clinician and consultant in private practice. She consults with to small- to medium-sized mental health agencies around integrating trauma-informed care and trauma care into their work. With the help of two colleagues, she developed a comprehensive model for understanding and treating developmental trauma, complex PTSD and neuro-dissociative states, called the Adaptive Internal Relational Network Model.  

On Jan. 27, Solon joked, “I’m going to be the bread on the sandwich. I’ll be starting the day with my talk, then Dr. Mate is going to talk about these issues form a physicians’ standpoint. My second talk is at the end of the day, so like the bread on the other side of the sandwich, I will help hold everything together.” 

Understanding adverse events

Solon said that her first talk will focus on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), a large-scale landmark research project conducted by California-based HMO Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997. The ACES study made important connections between childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and wellbeing.  

Phyllis Solon, Psy.D., LP
Phyllis Solon, Psy.D., LP

In her second talk, Solon said that she plans to expand on the ACES study, focusing on more research that has expanded our understanding of its results. 

“It’s not just the things that happen in our families that affect our futures,” Solon said. “It is also the environment that we live in. You could come from a family that has no abuse, but you could grow up in a neighborhood that is affected by poverty, or you could experience daily racism or micro-aggressions in your interactions with the outside world. And then there are also hidden or cultural systems of oppression and historical trauma. I will be talking about the impact of all of these factors on a person’s development and long-term health.”

The workshop will also feature a panel discussion with local mental health and addiction providers, including Melanie Heu, clinical director, Pangea Care Behavioral Health; R. John Sutherland, clinical director of psychological services, North Memorial Medical Center; and Karina Forrest Perkins, CEO, Wayside House.

Gabor Maté, M.D.
Gabor Maté, M.D.

Solon is excited to attend Maté’s presentation on Jan. 28. Maté, she said, “really has a personal and personable way of interacting with people and audiences. He tells a lot of stories about what the field was like when he started 30 years ago and he started discussing his theories with others. At the time, the medical community was calling him a quack. Now his ideas are highly respected.” Maté will be available to sign copies of his books on both days.

The two lead speakers’ messages will add depth to the audience’s knowledge.

“Dr. Maté and I overlap in many ways,” Solon said. “As a physician and as a psychologist, we talk about the same things, but we come at them from different directions. Our perspectives complement one another. He has always said, ‘In the medical field we need to take into account that people in the psychology social work fields have been looking at this for a long time.’ Events like this one are good opportunities to see that in action.” 

Tickets are still available online for the Jan. 27 and 28 events. 

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