Unearthing resilience with Michelle Palmer


Michelle Palmer is a clinical social worker who runs the Wendt Center for Loss & Healing, a non-profit mental health agency in Washington, DC. The Wendt Center serves more than 3,000 people each year and is one of the only organizations in the country that specializes in treating both grief and trauma.

During this episode, we touch on the difference between trauma and grief, how unresolved trauma resurfaces, and the impact of systemic racism on trauma.

We also talk about building and excavating resilience skills, how parents can find the right amount of adversity for their children, protecting your mental health during Covid-19, and when to ask a professional for help.


5:30 – “Grief is the response to a loss of something… Trauma is somebody’s response to an event that overloads their nervous system and makes them in fear of either their safety or the safety of a loved one.”

7:30 – “What might be traumatic to me might not actually be traumatic to you, even though we went through the same thing.”

14:00 – “Finding a therapist who feels like a good fit… the process is very similar to the process of finding a pair of jeans… sometimes it takes three or four tries ”

16:15 – “It’s hard to sit in pain, and so it’s really human to want to keep moving through it and put it on the back-burner.”

17:30 – “The process of therapy is about exploring the past and past pain, but more than that, it is about exploring and excavating people’s resilience and coping skills because when we are struggling, we forget that we have them.”

27:45 – “If you are somebody who is really yearning for community and missing what you typically have as community, it is important to think about how, right now, you build a sense of community… it doesn’t have to be a forever community.”

35:00 – “Folks who struggle or have a longer treatment, do so often times based more on the nature of the trauma and the number of the traumas and the resources at their fingertips and support… so while, yes, some of it is personality, much more of it is external factors.”

36:15 – “It is not a character flaw to struggle with traumas that are inflicted upon you.”

38:45 – “Helping kids navigate some level of stress is good. It does teach them coping skills, it does teach them empathy, it does teach them about resilience, it does teach them about kindness…. figuring out that balance is more art than science.”

45:00 – “Showing up and actually being interested, and articulating that, can be the greatest thing you can give somebody… the magic is actually in the repetition of it.”

52:45 – “One of the most common phrases you will hear any clinician at the Wendt Center ever say is ‘you’re not crazy’ because we do a horrendous job of talking about the symptoms associated with grief and trauma.”


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