Program Length: 12 Lessons (1 hour each) or 21 Sessions (15-20 minutes each)
Age Group: 12+
Authors: Carolyn Curtis, Ph.D. & Charles Stolzenbach, L.M.F.T.
Overcoming Adversity and Building Resilience
People experiencing trauma and toxic stress often have difficulty regulating their emotional responses when facing challenges in school, life, and relationships. As participants learn the skills and strategies in Mind Matters, they can begin to say, “I am not a victim of what happened to me.”
Mind Matters’ lessons teach people aged 12 and up to respond to negative experiences with innovative methods based on current research and neuroscience. These skills give individuals a way to take charge of their emotions and improve their states of mind. Participants learn to address their physical, relational, and mental health needs.
The effects of childhood trauma and toxic stress are not easy to overcome. Formal training is often required for people to learn to notice and interrupt destructive thought patterns and harmful behaviors. Mind Matters teaches people skills and practices that cultivate healing and clear away distractions to learning and healthy relationships.
Mind Matters’ practical, hands-on lessons explore the effects of adversity and toxic stress along with the healing process. Each lesson includes activities that build resilience and increase hope. The Appendix offers guidance to adapt each lesson for use in one-on-one settings, making the curriculum suitable for case workers, home visitors, mentors, and others working with individuals and families.
The lessons address the following topics:
- Self-Soothing and Regulating Emotions: Cultivate a mindfulness practice
- Managing Stress Effectively: Learn to deal with intrusive thoughts
- Developing Empathy: Improve interpersonal communications
- Creating a Code of Honor: Develop a life of intention
- Building and Using a Support System: Learn how to ask for help
The skills taught in Mind Matters are designed to be practiced over a lifetime. The curriculum is not meant to be therapy or to replace psychotherapy. Rather, it is intended to be facilitated by paraprofessionals to inspire, uplift, and set people on the journey of healing as they cultivate deeper resilience.
Mind Matters can be used to prevent violence, address chronic absenteeism, and build a culture of wellness.
Mind Matters: Overcoming Adversity and Building Resilience supports the healing process in young people who have experienced trauma. This research-based curriculum offers strategies to help teens and adults understand the effects of adversity and toxic stress, and teaches them skills to soothe and calm their mental and physical stress responses.
Mind Matters is an effective precursor or accompaniment to programs that build relationship skills and equip vulnerable youth for healthy futures because it helps clear away barriers to focus and learning.Young people who have experienced trauma often have difficulty regulating their emotional and verbal responses to common life situations and relationships. In 12 lessons, the course builds students’ resiliency by healing their brains, their health, and their lives.
Each lesson in the curriculum includes activities that build resilience and increase hope. These practical, hands-on activities and techniques can be implemented immediately, giving students tools to improve their lives starting with the very first lesson. The program also centers on practice. Students learn that “practice makes progress, not perfection,” and are given the space to progress at their own pace.
Mind Matters is flexibly designed to meet the needs of your program and your participants. The curriculum can be facilitated by para-professionals with simple practices that can be used in a variety of settings. Individual lessons and their accompanying activities are easily integrated into your existing programs as shorter time blocks or one-hour lessons.
Mind Matters focuses on six major goals:
- Utilize Self-Soothing Skills
- Develop an Observing Self
- Strengthen Relationships
- Compassion for the Hijacked Brain
- Practice Self-Care
- Live Intentionally
Self-regulation is the foundation of the program. As participants learn to pair existing negative thoughts with self-soothing skills, they begin to take charge of their lives and improve their states of mind. Through Mind Matters, students learn to address physical, relational, mental, and spiritual needs that are essential to increase their quality of life. They see that they are already the hero in their own life’s story.
The skills taught in Mind Matters are designed to be practiced over a lifetime. The curriculum is not meant to be group therapy or to replace psychotherapy. Rather, it is designed to inspire, uplift, and set young people on the journey of healing as they cultivate deeper resilience.
- Lesson 1: Self-Soothing
- Lesson 2: Discover Emotions
- Lesson 3: The Difference Between Emotion and Thought / The Internal Journal
- Lesson 4: Building Empathy
- Lesson 5: I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends/Wheel of Awareness
- Lesson 6: The Hijacked Brain
- Lesson 7: Trauma Containment and Rhythm
- Lesson 8: Tapping / Efficient Sleep
- Lesson 9: Let’s Get Moving
- Lesson 10: Life of Intention
- Lesson 11: Code of Honor / Asking for Help
- Lesson 12: The Ongoing Journey
Carolyn Rich Curtis, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of the Relationship Skills Center. She obtained her doctorate at the Professional School of Psychology, Masters from CSU, Sacramento and Bachelor’s Degree from UC, Davis. The Relationship Skills Center has been recognized as one of the leading organizations in the nation in building healthy relationships, and was awarded two Healthy Marriage federal grants.
In recognition of her innovations, the Administration for Children and Families wrote three monographs about the Skill Center. Dr. Curtis spoke at the White House regarding the success of their program. In her clinical practice, she specialized in working with couples, alcohol abuse and trauma. She was an adjunct faculty member in the Psychology Department of California State University, Sacramento and American River College teaching Child Development, Human Sexuality, Stress Management, Applied Psychological Principles and Introduction to Psychology.
Dr. Curtis is a trainer of facilitators for Mastering the Mysteries of Love, Bringing Baby Home, Relationship Enhancement, and PAIRS. She is a Certified Imago Therapist, and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She presented papers at Smart Marriage Conference, The Governor’s Conference on Child Abuse, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, University of California Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, International Transactional Analysis Association Conference, Fathers and Families Coalition of America, Office of Family Assistance Grantee Conference.
Charles F Stolzenbach, L.M.F.T. is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with over 40 years of clinical experience. Currently, he a Senior Mental Health Counselor with Sacramento County with the Department of Health and Human Services. For the past 18 years he has provided counseling services for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
He has degrees from Bluffton University, Garrett School of Theology at Northwestern University, and the University of California Irvine. Previous to this work, Stolzenbach was a Methodist Pastor for five churches and served as a Navy Chaplain during the Vietnam War.
During 30 years of experience in private practice, he specialized in couples, families, and individuals, alcohol abuse, and the effects of trauma on brain and bodily health. He was Director of the El Dorado Council of Alcoholism and founder of the Sierra Behavioral Health, Inc. He has clinical membership in the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, Certified Imago Therapist, and a member of the International Association of Trauma Professionals. He has certifications as Employee Assistance Professional, Imago Therapy, Group Psychotherapist, and Supervisor of Marriage and Family Therapists, and is an Instructor in Mastering the Mysteries of Love, PAIRS, Gottman Bringing Baby Home, and has training in Critical Stress Incidence Debriefing and EMDR Level II.
He now works with men and women to remove behavioral health barriers threatening their ability to successfully transition to the workforce and thrive as individuals. His work in part involves the use of behavioral health skills to reduce emotional distress and clear the way for productivity and personal fulfillment. His treatment perspective is comprehensive and focused addressing the factors impacting their ability to thrive in workplace environments, personal relations, and areas of personal health, well-being, and happiness.
Review the Mind Matters Underlying Evidence Base document here.
Antle, B.F., and Cooper, S. (2020). Mind Matters Technical Report. Preliminary findings from an ongoing randomized control trial conducted at the University of Louisville.
What Others Have to Say
Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-principle investigator of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), a groundbreaking research project that identified the link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease, violence, and being a victim of violence, once said that there weren’t enough therapists in the world to help people who suffer from the effects of childhood trauma.
He believed that people in the helping professions — teachers, clergy, emergency medical technicians, home visitors, youth workers, etc. — could be provided education and tools to help others heal.
Mind Matters: Overcoming Adversity and Building Resilience — A Toolkit for Empowerment is just that. It’s a well-written, well thought-out, and tested 12-hour course. It can stand alone or be integrated into other courses. It can be used with people of all ages–including teens, youth, and adults–in schools, community-based organizations, the justice system, foster care, shelters, and group homes. The instructors’ manual is a remarkably clear and concise guide.
Dr. Carolyn Curtis and Charles Stolzenbach have truly created a gift to the community of people looking for a way to help others learn about just how normal childhood adversity is, how profound its effects are on our brains, bodies, lives, and communities, and, most importantly, how to soothe and heal ourselves.
For that is where healing begins, within ourselves. From there we can continue to pay forward this new knowledge of human behavior and help people help themselves heal, with this toolkit tucked under our arms.
Jane Stevens, Founder, publisher, ACEs Connection Network
Our community coalition is piloting this curriculum in a high school near us. We reviewed multiple curriculum options that addressed increasing emotional coping and resilience skills and felt this appeared to be the easiest to use for instructors from various backgrounds, was evidence informed (though we would love to see a stronger evidence base backing it, but we do believe in the work!), and encompassed most of the objectives we were looking for. It also was reasonably priced as well which is important when considering school budgets.
We are most driven by “doing the right thing” to work upstream of the chronic health issues and mounting costs of healthcare that are plaguing our system. Empowering patients and our communities with the tools to be healthy and well will serve us all better in the long run.
Natasha Ward, RDN, CD
This is a long-overdue curriculum. We’ve known for years that many of our students have experienced trauma and other adverse life events that compromise their ability to learn the social and cognitive skills needed for success in today’s world. Perhaps we imagined that we could do a work-around—that our curricula could be effective without attending to the central issues of adversity and resilience. Or maybe we assumed that other professionals or programs were taking care of those issues. Now that we have “Mind Matters,” a there is no excuse for this blind spot. With a blend of up-to-date teaching strategies and scientific understanding, along with good pacing and sensitivity to student privacy and boundaries, this curriculum will be welcomed in a wide range of settings. It’s the missing ingredient we’ve needed.
William J. Doherty, Ph.D.
Professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. He has been a family educator and therapist for over 40 years.
As of this writing I have served as a licensed psychotherapist for more than 40 years. I have encountered numerous individuals whose lives have been seared by trauma. There are many types of trauma. The cause could be a sudden overwhelming explosion or repeated abuse. The resultant symptoms are consistent across cultures: hypersensitivity, intrusive memories, and social withdrawal. Trauma survivors are “burn” victims. They are raw. When a patient suffers a physical burn, the gentle healing procedures of a concerned physician cause pain because there is no protective insulation.
But, trauma survivors can learn from their ordeal. The Chinese concept for crisis is composed of two juxtaposed characters, danger and opportunity. Trauma can be a pathway for accessing resilience. But a map is needed.
Mind Matters: Overcoming Adversity and Building Resilience is a clear, comprehensive program that consists of experiences that can create resilience and stress inoculation. By following this path those who have suffered trauma can heal themselves in the places where they’ve been previously scorched. The skills that will be learned can have a proactive effect in building insulation — eliciting resilience in those who have not yet been subjected to stressful events.
The program outlined by Carolyn Curtis in Mind Matters should be instituted in schools and churches. It is remarkably engaging, well researched and well formulated path to creating resilience.
Jeffrey K Zeig PhD, Director, the Milton H Erickson Foundation
I had the pleasure of participating in the Mind Matters training the spring of 2016 through Lutheran Social Services the agency in which I am employed. We were able to learn techniques to enable us to better communicate with our friends, family and coworkers and to learn to respond in a more empathic manner.We also were able to discuss and actively demonstrate different calming techniques in order to help with anxiety and worry. My favorite technique was Tapping in which different pressure points were activated while using encouraging words. I continue to utilize tapping and have found it has definitely improved my anxiety at the work place.
Carolyn was an excellent educator, whom demonstrated with warmth and good humor her vast knowledge and experience regarding the human condition.
Tonia Sterpe MSW, CAS
Housing with Dignity
Lutheran Social Services
This workshop has impacted my life in a major way!!! I acquired tools to apply at my organization, for my staff to use, and most of all tools that I can utilize immediately to help me in the area of self care. This was a very valuable learning experience. I look forward to using the self-soothing techniques and to identify support systems. I will keep you posted.
Executive Director, Fatherhood Program
I truly needed this for my own personal growth and business growth. I see using this in many, many, ways.
Instructor, Relationship Education
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Here is one example of a successful setting implementing Mind Matters.