In December 2021, fires spread throughout Boulder County, Colorado, carried by winds of up to 100 mph. Lasting two days, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed and an assessment has since declared this fire, known as the Marshall Fire, the most destructive in the state’s history.
Ana do Valle, OTR, SEP, is an occupational therapist specializing in self-regulation with infants, children and adults. She has extensive experience working with clients with trauma, and is a Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) provider. A resident of Boulder County, she and her clients found themselves extremely close to the flames while on her farm, where three families had been on-site participating in a nature-based delivery of the SSP.
“At 10:30 a.m., one of the parents shared that they saw a fire outside our window,” she said. “We had 15 minutes to evacuate as the second family arrived for their session. Horses, dogs, chickens and a cat all evacuated with us. This particular fire, the Middle Fork Fire, was contained by 2 p.m. the same day, but we later learned about the severity of the Marshall Fires, and we all knew of others who were affected by it.”
Despite these events, Ana said, her clients didn’t want to take a break in between their next sessions. In fact, she later observed that the SSP was able to help her clients progress through this event without lasting impact.
“All families involved in the SSP were eager to complete the program,” she said. “They demonstrated the capacity to co-regulate, find safety again, and stay calm and present, despite the known losses, and the fear and grief created by the crisis. They proved to be resilient and did not present signs of post-traumatic stress symptoms during or after the evacuation. Two months later, they continue to do well, thanks to the SSP.”
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This experience deeply touched Ana and in an attempt to provide resources for the families affected by the fire, she shared a dream she had with her friends, Christine Summerfield, Tom Altgelt and Kathleen Thompson, and invited them to write a story based on the dream to help families heal their trauma.
Dancing with Dragons is a Polyvagal-informed fairytale, presented in e-book and video formats that include gestures and movements to help the body release traumatic memories.
“This project is intended to foster resilience and regulation among children and families who have experienced trauma created by wildfires, other natural disasters, or war,” Ana said. “This story is a fairytale of courage, hope, and love for the Earth and all living beings. It brings a series of therapeutic gestures for state shift and trauma release, so children can embody the healing process by releasing shock, transforming, transcending, and finding the ventral vagal state of regulation.”
Share this video with your clients, either during your sessions or for them to watch at home, and have them follow along with the gestures performed.