Marymound Shifting Therapeutic Models to Better Serve Youth

29 November, 2022 | Marymound

Staff at Marymound have begun working with a therapeutic model that they hope will transform the experiences and lives of those they support in the community. The neurosequential model of therapeutics (NMT) was pioneered by Dr. Bruce Perry and has over 20 years of data to draw from. “This is a developmentally informed clinical tool,” explains Marymound’s Clinical Director, Sonya Warga. “What I mean by that is that we look at where the youth is at developmentally versus where someone would expect them to be chronologically.”

The premise is simple: adverse experiences before birth and throughout a person’s lifespan can impact the way the brain organizes itself, sometimes resulting in a person who hasn’t developed all the age-appropriate emotional and mental skills for a healthy life. “The brain is amazing because it’s very focused on keeping us alive,” explains Warga. “As a result, depending on our environment, the brain changes and always in a way that ensures our survival.”

For a young adult who has experienced a lot of trauma or neglect, their brain development might have shifted to a flight, fight or freeze response which is common among younger children. “That’s all well and good for survival, but when that young person finds an environment that feels safer to them, their system struggles to adapt,” continues Warga. “Through the NMT model, we can figure out where to start therapeutic interventions that will target, in developmental order, the areas of the brain that need reorganizing.”

For youth working with Marymound’s staff and clinicians, this model ensures they’re starting their healing journey at the appropriate point. The model takes into account both historical and current factors. Adverse events, relational experiences, central nervous system functioning, values, identity and more are considered when creating an intervention plan for someone seeking supports. “What it generates is a functional map of the brain,” says Warga. “Where are the challenges and where are the strengths? Now we know how to start building a healing plan to help the youth move along a developmental continuum.”

To Warga, one of the most important parts of working with NMT is knowing that the changes seen in youth will be long-lasting. “We’re all up and down in our lives, but the trajectory should be upwards, overall,” she shares. “As we develop as humans, we learn how to regulate our emotions first, then we understand how to build relationships, then we can get to the part of our brains that reasons. NMT takes all this neuroscience and connects it in a very logical way to the youth we’re working with.”

The model itself is beginning to spread throughout Marymound. “It’s in its infancy here but it’s a pillar of our emerging clinical framework,” says Warga. “We have many staff trained, and some of us are certified to train others, as well. The goal is to have this model be embedded with all of our staff. Even if you’re not using the metrics per se, the core concepts apply to anyone and to every program.”

The staff at Marymound are excited about the possibilities to come. “It’s sparking energy and curiosity among staff,” reveals Warga. “They’ve said they feel energized and recharged by the way this could support those we work with. We can talk about being a trauma-informed agency, but we have to walk the walk. This is part of that.”

Warga shares that beyond a clinical model, NMT provides hope for those working with it. “It opens the door for some self-compassion,” she concludes. “We can’t, as humans, control our environment all the time but we have this amazing adaptability that allows us to survive. We can put that to good use and make lasting change in ourselves and how we relate to the world.”