Camp Courage and TBRI, a Resource for Adoptive Families

An interview with one of our community partners, Patty Jewell

We wanted to share a special opportunity with you all, especially those of you in our community who have adopted children or children who’ve experienced trauma: Camp Courage, provided by the Center for Family Connection in Indianapolis, IN.

Camp Courage uses an intervention called TBRI, or Trust-Based Relational Intervention. TBRI was developed by Texas Christian University, the academic home of the late Karyn Purvis who wrote The Connected Child, a treasured resource for adoptive parents and professionals alike.

Last Bell recently spoke with Patty Jewell, who is the founder of the CFC and provides therapeutic services to families with children who’ve experienced trauma. Here are some excerpts from that conversation [edited for brevity and clarity]:

LB: Tell me about TBRI. What are some of the practical ways you implement it at Camp Courage?

Patty: We’re trying to put together what they know from research with what these kids need to really facilitate healing. Parents get trained as well, so they get a whole new way to relate to their child. We provide a sensory-rich environment. If a kid’s having difficult time during the day, they have the option to go do Crash & Bump to help organize their brains, an area that’s always set up and accessible.

We try to keep blood sugar stable, with protein every two hours and plenty of liquids.

Each child has a one-on-one buddy because they need somebody to co-regulate them. That’s what babies and toddlers do, when your mom comes and helps you learn how to work through things.

There are six or seven domains that are affected when kids have early life traumas related to caregiving. TBRI really addresses those domains. So those are…

  • attachment
  • biology (sensory and motor)
  • affect regulation
  • dissociation (especially with sexual trauma – to go somewhere else in your mind)
  • behavioral control (self-destructive behavior, aggressiveness, trouble with sleep, substance abuse, oppositional behavior)
  • cognition (trouble with attention, planning, executive functioning, lack of curiosity)
  • self-concept (don’t have any; low self-esteem, too much shame, don’t have separateness from other people but don’t know how to connect either)

Those are all areas we take into consideration as we plan activities. You’re not going to heal in a week at camp, but we do expect kids to make gains; we want them to experience having an adult who is completely present to them, to have success because they have the support they need. Parents are [ultimately] the ones who facilitate healing; they’re key to the success of camp.

LB: How long has Camp Courage been running?

Patty: This is our first year. It’s only recently that Texas Christian University decided to train people. Camps typically only have ten children, so they decided to train. Our camp is “founded on TBRI principles” –it’s as close as it can be to what they do in Texas.

LB: So are you using the camps in Texas as a model?

Patty: Yes, Mike Spencer and I were in Texas in January. We’re both trained in TBRI, but we went to this training on how to run a camp. We think there are a lot of different ways to do it; people in other states are doing it differently.

We’re full up. There’s lots of parental interest; the challenge is to get the right kind of buddies. In Texas they have students who take a full year of classes on these issues before they can train to be a buddy.

LB: I’ve read The Connected Child and think about what I learned from it almost every week. Do you remember your first encounters with this kind of intervention? Did it resonate right away?

Patty: I first encountered it reading The Connected Child as well. I was at Bethany Christian Services and we were always looking for information on working with wounded kids. Since I had training with other attachment and trauma models, I had some perspective on it.

What I immediately liked was that it put some of the parts together. It wasn’t just about attachment or trauma, it was taking the multiple issues we see and putting them together in a way that gave informed direction to working with kids and families. For example, they talked about sensory issues and nutrition as well as attachment and trauma.

And there were practical strategies parents could learn that helped them feel they could take more control over their home lives, while recognizing that interacting with a kid with complex trauma requires more purposeful responses. These kids often create chaos in homes so it helped parents feel more empowered themselves.

LB: There’s a lot of information out there for adoptive parents, and not quite as much for people like our staff, who are often parenting young people, way past kid stage, who are living on their own and often have their own children. How do you alter your approach for them?

Patty: The interesting thing about working with older “kids” who are living on their own or even parenting is that they are still so very young emotionally. Those younger needs have to be met in order to help move them through emotional development and create an environment where they can heal and grow. They still need nurture themselves, and I think that is something Last Bell staff can offer. These kids never had anyone look in their eyes and let them see how precious they are — a powerful message that staff can still give.

In addition to nurture they need structure or limit-setting. This is where their age makes a difference. You can’t tell them what to do but you can be curious with them about their choices, beliefs and experiences. You can still set limits or have clear boundaries to help them learn healthy respect for self and other.

Another model I use extensively is DDP – Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy developed by Daniel Hughes, PhD. He uses the acronym PACE: playful, accepting, curious and empathetic. (Sometimes we add an ‘L’ and make it PLACE; the L is for loving.) It helps parents or any caregiver to remember that being playful can diffuse a situation or prevent a situation from becoming tense in the first place, Accepting is for accepting emotions or feelings no matter what, Curiosity is for being sincerely curious about the person’s experiences and emotions, and Empathy is for always giving empathy for the emotional experience of the other person. TBRI uses these strategies too, but not necessarily the words. Having multiple ways to describe these things is helpful.

There are two weeks for Camp Courage: June 6-10 and June 13-17. It runs from 8:30 AM to 4 PM and the location is The Oaks Academy in Indianapolis. For more information, you can call 317-429-0725 or email Patty at

Camp Courage is still looking for buddies, so if you have an interest in serving adoptive families at camp in that way, please contact Patty at the information listed above.

Interview by Emily Millikan

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