Janet Lantry
Post count: 3

I have been understanding and helping others understand behavior and responses through brain state/stress response lens for more than a decade, finding ways to integrate this lens into other modalities, including yoga, DBT, and EMDR. I currently work in a school setting (as an embedded therapist from a military hospital) and often provide snippets of perspective about brain state for teachers and administrators, and I get very mixed responses. Some people are very curious and want to know more, others think I am a “hippie social worker” who just doesn’t understand that the children are disrespectful and their parents are not teaching them to comply. Two years ago, one of the students with whom I worked was having very extreme responses, and there were clear stressors and his responses were rooted in being terrified, and I tried to help the teacher understand some of his responses through the lens of brain state, including using the hand model of the brain (I am known for my lid flipping explanations using my hand), and she started to scream at me. I was able to see her response from a brain state as well and responded with compassion but also with not continuing the conversation. She never revisited that moment and her non-verbals in future interactions made it clear she did not want me to go there. I continued to offer support if she wanted it regarding this student. I think she ultimately heard me and thought about it. The next year she was more curious about the concept of regulation and asked to borrow some of my books about regulation in the classroom. The student is doing much better, as the stressors have reduced, but also because I have been able to provide some proactive approaches for the teachers each year, encouraging them to see his reactions through a brain state and to have concrete strategies ready, but these teachers and many educators in general still seem to think I am coming from another planet. One time I walked into this student’s classroom in 4th grade and he was being restrained. He does not have an IEP, this is not part of any plan, and I had to regulate myself so I didn’t go into my own stress response of demanding change in the moment. I was able to help the student regulate somewhat while being restrained (no small task) and helped the teacher who was restraining (she is trained but this was not her student) recognize he would be far less of a threat if he was able to use other strategies, and then the principal walked in, made it stop, and he, myself, and the student walked to a different environment to process the situation. But OMG. That kind of response to behavior makes my job feel so much harder.

I feel like I operate in a different paradigm in many ways. And I am judged for being too respectful, kind, and submissive, even though I can often help a student de-escalate and eventually shift to connection and regulation and reasoning in a way others cannot. One of the school counselors is much more on board with my approach. The other one would like every student to pray more. But she lets me do my thing, she’s just not interested in doing the same thing, though I get a sense she has shifted some of her perspective. Schools are so behaviorally based, and I find it challenging to not talk about consequences and rewards, as students are so fixated on these, which makes sense, since these elements are integrated into every moment of every day. So, my focus is not to demolish that approach but to try to integrate understanding of brain state and the power of regulation through connection and felt safety into the approaches teachers are already using. Maybe this is watering it down or not doing it right, but I honestly don’t see the behavioral paradigm shifting in the time I am still working. It is in the systems used to fund things, to hold teachers accountable, to hold parents accountable, and essentially every turn we make is met with a reward or a consequence, whether we recognize it or not. And compassion is often missing. I even have been hissed at by a teacher to get out when I came to help with a dysregulated student, stating he had not earned time with me. I indicated I was not a reward, I was a professional with skills to assist in this kind of situation, and she pointed her finger to the door and told me to leave, which I did. She was clearly also dysregulated and there was no way we were going to get to reasoning in that moment. She is leaving the teaching profession this month to be a police officer. Hmmm…… I try not to judge and remain in my upstairs brain, but it is hard when there is judgment all around and I get worn out.

But then there is also recognition that I am perceived as the calmest person in the building. And I have an enormous amount of stress in my life. Sometimes I am shocked to hear this perception of myself, but it is a widespread perception. And most likely this has to do with my recognition of behavior and humanity through a brain state/stress response lens, including seeing myself through this lens. Perhaps my own presence is the best billboard for a different perspective. And it just happens, but it means I am picking my battles all day long, knowing many humans around me are not ready to shift their perspective and continue to focus intensely on the belief that children are choosing their behaviors, are inherently disrespectful, and need to be trained. And I continue to try to impact this perspective one tiny experience at a time, initially making sure there is a relationship to even begin with. The school has 900 students and 100+ adults. That is a lot of relationships. But that is where it all starts…..