Posted by Eda Spielman

How do we translate the concepts that underlie the work of our Center for Early Relationship Support® to young, inexperienced (but open and eager) community providers half a world away? What parts of our approach to supporting and healing parents and young children can have meaning across differences of language, culture, and historical context? I recently had the opportunity to begin to answer these questions during my mini-sabbatical in Southeast Asia. I was a volunteer mental health consultant for three weeks in Yangon, Burma/Myanmar and then for a brief time in a Burmese refugee village in northern Thailand. Under the auspices of Salus World, a mental health NGO based in Denver, I was training local health, education, and community organization providers in early childhood mental health concepts and practice.

The experience was incredibly rich in terms of my learning and was deeply affirming in terms of the value of the training. I found that the core ideas that have guided my work for many years can be meaningful and useful in both personal and professional ways, even when translated from English to Thai to Shan (as was necessary in the northern Thai village)! Participants offered feedback at the end of the training in Burma, sharing the varied lessons they would carry with them into their lives and work. Some spoke of new insights about child development they would discuss with co-workers; others talked about more personal effects on their own relationships. The common themes centered on new understandings about the fragility and emotional life of even very small babies and the ways that external behavior reflects internal meaning. One participant summed up her learning with a quote in the baby's imagined voice from a book I had shared with them: "I may be small but I feel it all."

For me the lessons of the trip are abundant and ongoing. I learned that Buddhist monks are not allowed to buy or prepare their own food and so collect offerings each morning as they walk through the streets with their alms bowls. I learned that everyone takes off shoes (and socks if it's cool enough to wear socks which it never was during my time in Yangon) before entering temples, houses, and classrooms. I learned that pagodas are solid structures and temples are structures you can walk into. I learned that the day of the week you are born has great significance in Buddhist practice and, with the help of Google, I learned that I had been born on a Tuesday, represented by the animal lion.

On a more emotional level, I learned that it's a big and varied world out there with so much to experience and to share. But also that there are tremendous commonalities across these different worlds and that the language of relationships and their power to hurt or heal is one that can transcend boundaries of nations, cultures, and dialects.

Eda Spielman, PsyD is the clinical director of the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support. She holds a certificate in Infant Mental Health and came to JF&CS to develop Early Connections, a program of home-based mother-baby psychotherapy for dyads facing early relationship challenges.