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2021 Symposium Delivers Education, Inquiry and Leading Expertise for Therapists

A community of like-minded professionals came together at #IES2021 to learn from experts, dive deep into relevant topics for the profession, and use the tools and training to improve their practice.

We could virtually feel the energy on the Floor (our event platform) over our two-day symposium that gathered occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language professionals for learning and connection. And it felt great!


Recreating the energy of what has typically been an in-person three-day symposium was a lofty goal at the onset of planning. Our community of professionals by nature of our practice and work are active learners. We have learned by doing during past symposia through hands-on activities that allow us to test new tools and solutions for the children we serve. In the virtual environment we built using the Floor platform, the speakers, hosts, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees all showed up in creative, engaging and attentive ways. This is what made the Integrative Education Symposium 2021 (#IES2021) outstanding!


The three symposium courses covered generational and racialized trauma, interoception, and postural control. Attendees engaged with their chosen content for the day, hopped over to short informational sessions, and paused for wellbeing breaks. Yoga offered over the lunch hour break led by Illuminating Yoga and Coaching was a big hit with attendees! Keeping the content as more of a deep dive, rather than offer many sessions that merely scratch the surface, worked well in the virtual environment. The discussion and Q&A functionality allowed attendees to interact, which was the draw to log in and listen live despite the fact that recordings will be available after the symposium.


The learner community was engaged, thoughtful and sparked a wonderful dialogue between the speakers and attendees. Experiential learning and small group breakout room discussions further demonstrated the passion and commitment to learning of our community.


Here are some of the takeaways on the insight and learning shared over two days.


Day One (February 26)

Course A: Disrupting Generational & Racialized Trauma

Speakers Dr. Carol Penn, DO, MA, ABOM, FACOFP and Dr. Kathy Farah, MD, ABFM, ABOM discussed the importance of developing mindfulness and increasing our awareness of racial and intergenerational trauma. Attendees put mindfulness into practice by using breathing and Qi Gong techniques to increase awareness and bring them into the present moment. After a review of the framework of the intersectionality of adverse childhood experiences, intergenerational trauma, and epigenetics, the speakers encouraged attendees to have shared experiences with those who look different from ourselves and notice how the experience lands differently for each person.

Attendees learned about and drew a personal, mindful genogram -- a challenge and delight for all! They shared their mindful genome, which helped show patterns that are present through an individual’s generational history. Looking through many different lenses from generational trauma to racial trauma to gender roles to family culture, attendees noted current patterns and ways of being. These insights offered deeper understanding of areas of challenge and areas of strength/resilience. A profound takeaway: By asking better questions, we can gain deeper understanding.

Dr. Carol and Dr. Kathy also discussed using a social engagement system to help manage stress, ways that meditation helps downregulate the primitive part of the brain that is activated during stress and implementing good self-care to keep immunity up (especially important during Covid). The day ended with Dr. Carol’s share of examining genomes through each of these perspectives: mind, body, heart and spirit, how mind-body skills activate the relaxation response, and the importance of knowing what places you into a state of relaxed awareness.

Course B: Interoception, The Eighth Sense

Dr. Kelly Mahler, OTD, OTD/L, a renowned leader in this topic, explained that interoception is the sensory system that helps us feel affective emotions like happiness and homeostatic emotions like hunger and pain. Having interoceptive awareness gives us the ability to notice those body signals and connect them to emotion/give them meaning. Every individual is unique in their experiences and course attendees learned how interconnected interoceptive awareness is with a person’s ability to self-regulate and have overall emotional well-being.

Mahler touched on related areas of research to signify how interoception is unique. For example, social emotional learning and self-regulation programs are great, but it’s important to think critically about what needs to be in place first to make them successful. She advised that clients often need interoceptive awareness to help apply this information to his or herself before being able to benefit from these programs.

She cautioned that compliance in our clients is not the goal because seeking out that as a priority teaches them to ignore their own body signals. Demands for compliance or insisting people eliminate coping strategies that are self-regulating in order to appear more “typical” can cause more harm than good. Asking if interoception is at play is a wonderful place to start digging deep to find the reasons behind the behaviors therapists see in the client. In addition, focusing on evidence-based intervention for improving interoceptive awareness through mindfulness practices (adapted in Mahler’s curriculum to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners) is key.


Day Two (February 27)

Course A: Disrupting Generational & Racialized Trauma

In day two of this intensive course, Dr. Carol and Dr. Kathy began with a history of racism and how race as a construct did not appear until the 1680s. Quoting the New England Journal of Medicine’s article: How Structural Racism Works — Racist Policies as a Root Cause of U.S. Racial Health Inequities, Dr. Carol challenged us to advocate for justice by taking the following steps:

  1. Embrace the intellectual project of documenting the health impact of racism.

  2. Work to improve the availability of data that include race and ethnicity, support the measurement of structural racism (a particularly relevant step for those using available administrative databases).

  3. Insist that medical and public health communities need to turn a lens on themselves, both as individuals and as institutions.

  4. Acknowledge that structural racism has been challenged, perhaps most successfully, by mass social movements.


Attendees were challenged to learn more about redlining and racialized residential segregation, police violence and the carceral state, and unequal health care. The afternoon included a walk-through of guided imagery and tools, a forgiveness meditation to center into our bodies, and group sharing. Many commented on the power of looking at generational trauma through the use of genomes, and next steps in anti-racism work at an individual level.


Course C: Dynamic Relationships: A Contemporary Approach to Postural Control

Shelley Mannell, PT, BSc, BHSc, led an insightful course that integrated the most current research on how to facilitate postural control by looking at the interconnection of a variety of systems and helped attendees understand that by making change in one area you can create change in all the others. Attendees were challenged to not just think about traditional areas of focus for postural control such as muscle tone and alignment but also consider how other factors such as sensory systems and emotional regulation are all impactful pieces of a puzzle to consider when striving to improve postural control. And conversely, that dynamic interconnectedness was emphasized by explaining how improving postural control can positively impact the functioning of those sensory systems and our emotional regulation.

Helpful assessments and treatment strategies for each component were covered and even therapists with extensive years of experience were given new insights to consider. Shelley’s use of photos and videos in her course helped attendees to apply her information in practical ways that will help them use their observation skills as they consider these dynamic relationships.

Once the attendees were made aware of the interconnectedness and relationships between the many systems involved with postural control, they were challenged to optimize all these systems so they can work as a whole with efficiency.

In Summary

The IES2021 closed in gratitude for our speakers, our community of professionals, Integrative Education staff and sponsors who made the two days of learning in the virtual environment fun, engaging and filled with insights. Overall notes like this one, “Thank you for making all feel calm, welcome and accepted,” were wonderful to receive.

Here is some of the feedback we’ve gathered from the speakers and courses so far:

“The dynamic between Carol and Kathy was beautiful to learn from and experience!”
“Kelly did a wonderful job focusing her time on the most important information (how to really teach clients to recognize cues in their body). She left time for questions, and even virtually had us try things in our home so it was still interactive! I feel very empowered.”
“Amazing presentation, Shelley! I definitely feel this helped pull a lot of things together for me which I can use immediately and also want to continue to dig deeper into some of your more extensive courses. This was hugely inspiring to me with a lot of "aha" moments!”

Sponsors and daily raffles prizes, social media connection (especially over on Instagram @integrativeeducation), ensured we kept our energy up! Thank you to our sponsors, Relationship Matters and Erhardt’s Developmental Products, and our exhibitors ATTach, Therapro, The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, HeartSpace Physical Therapy for Children, Camp Avanti, WittFitt, Penn Global Visions, Dr. Kelly Mahler, and Wiser Medicine.

Attendees, look for the recordings to be released next week, and be sure to mark your calendar for schedule your Community of Practice follow-up sessions in your calendar for continued sharing and insights! -- Until then, breathe… enjoy your practice, implement the new tools and ideas from the symposium, and stay connected with us at Integrative Education!

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