The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN UCEDD, LEND, IDDRC) held its first Parent Stress Intervention Program (PSIP) Conference this summer. Instructors delved into each of the two intervention manuals created by Vanderbilt Kennedy Center researchers to teach parents of children with disabilities how to manage stress. The PSIP manuals "Positive Adult Development (PAD) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)" were developed as part of an intervention research study for stress reduction in parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. Adapted by principal investigator and VKC director Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., and a group of dedicated parent mentors, the curricula is intended to provide tools for learning and practicing these techniques, and for teaching them to parent groups.

The four-day conference was geared toward psychologists, counselors, and other professionals who would use the materials to facilitate parent stress intervention groups in their respective communities. "The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is thrilled to translate and further disseminate our study findings on Parent Stress Interventions to professionals who support families of children with disabilities," said Dykens. "Raising a child with a disability can be a pure joy, but it can also be very stressful. We're so grateful for these conference attendees who are committed to establishing support groups in their own communities and providing family members with effective stress-reduction tools."

The PAD session was led by VKC UCEDD Social Worker Carol Rabideau, LCSW, VKC Associate Director of Adult Community Services Lynnette Henderson, Ph.D., and VKC Disability Employment Specialist and parent Janet Shouse. The MBSR session was conducted by Gordon Peerman, Ph.D., and parent Roxanne Carreon. Conference attendees had the option of attending one or both sessions of the PSIP Conference. Judy Itzkowitz, Ph.D., an educational consultant from South Windsor, Connecticut, attended both sessions. Itzkowitz received her master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt's Peabody College in 1982 and has worked in private practice for 27 years, serving individuals with disabilities and their families. She began studying mindfulness at the Center for Mindfulness four years ago and uses it on a daily basis. "[The PAD and MBSR programs] are close to my heart because they build on strengths. Often, we tend to focus on a person's disability, and not their gifts, strengths, or abilities," Itzkowitz said. "It's always good to be reminded how people meet disappointments, challenges, grief, and change in their lives with grace, compassion, clarity, confidence, and courage. Both [trainings] reinforced that and how I can bring these qualities into all of my interactions.

Both PAD and MBSR are grounded in research and aim for positive outcomes for individuals with disabilities, the people they love, and the people who love them." Positive Adult Development (PAD) incorporates evidence-based interventions from positive psychology, emphasizing ways to temper such emotions as guilt, conflict, worry, and pessimism, and offering exercises involving gratitude, forgiveness, grace, and optimism. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a way of relating directly to whatever is happening in your life, meeting your experiences skillfully and with an open heart, and to break the habitual responses that can lock us into routines that undermine emotional and physical health. Itzkowitz shared that she often uses mindfulness techniques in her personal life, a practice she states has had a positive impact on all of her interactions, professionally and personally. "There's a lot of value when people can meet together and share their joys and struggles. The essence is about practice," she said. "So often we are doing from heads, and [MBSR] is about opening up our hearts, focusing on strengths and gifts so we can live a life of compassion and authenticity." Both the PAD and MBSR manuals are available for purchase via Vanderbilt eInnovations. For more information about the PSIP manuals, contact Janet Shouse at [email protected] or (615) 875-8833.