By Sara Bursać

This article comes from Guidepoints News from NADA Spring 2021 Issue. Sign-up to receive Guidepoints in your inbox quartlery. The Guidepoints newsletter is the only publication devoted to the sharing and dissemination of our NADA work on an international scale. Become a member to opt-in for a print copy. Check-out past issues.

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Petar and his wife, Nada, learned the protocol to help each other cope with post-earthquake stress and anxiety.

In the very last days of December 2020, the central region of Croatia was struck by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rendering over 14,000 people without a home. Many slept in their cars or in plastic-covered hoop houses in their gardens. Considering the time of year, and temperatures at or below freezing along with days of rain, the need for shelter and food was immediate.

A day after the earthquake, Sanja, a friend in Zagreb, contacted me asking for a referral to NADA services for herself. She knew that I would still be in contact with the NADA providers that I have trained in Croatia over the past six years. Sanja and I also talked about a larger response with NADA, possibly even a training in the protocol. After a month of planning, outreach and connecting, I felt confident I would be able to introduce the NADA protocol as a disaster-relief treatment in my home country. But there was only so much that could be coordinated from a distance, and, on February 11, I left for Croatia.

Psychosocial support was an immediate need as people were struggling with what had just happened to their lives. Panic, hypervigilance, anxiety and acute stress were experienced by many. Trauma from the civil war 30 years prior was reactivated, the last time people from this region had been displaced. Suggestions were published on how people could help themselves after the earthquake: do not lose hope, you are not alone, relax your body and sleep at night. But these things are not easy to do, particularly as the region had continued to experience smaller earthquakes in the weeks and months after the big one.

One group of volunteers was out in villages and towns talking to people starting on New Year’s Eve. They came together as psychologists, social workers, counselors, pedagogues, occupational therapists, and they coordinated small mobile crisis-outreach teams. Simply referred to as Inicijativa (Initiative), the volunteers were on the ground every day in Banija, the region hardest hit, first daily for two months, and, starting in late February, from Thursday to Sunday.

I reached out to Inicijativa and shared the possibility of having their volunteers learn the NADA protocol by attending an in-person and online training that included a community-based clinical practicum. Twelve people expressed interest in training – Sanja and two other personal contacts joined this group, and, on March 7, we had our first and only in-person training day.

The structure of our training took on a hybrid form, because we had to take into account Covid-19 restrictions and some trainees’ geographic distance from Zagreb. We devoted the first day to meeting each other and to learning the technique of giving the NADA protocol. The second day was an online training day. We then had a week of hands-on practice, followed by a third online training meeting. The practicums continued for another two weeks.

Joining in facilitating the training was Ilijana Grgić, an ADS trained in 2016 at Udruga Terra, a counseling and harm reduction program based in the port town of Rijeka (see Summer 2016 Guidepoints issue). As a psychologist, Ilijana works at the drop-in center and in the needle exchange program. She has offered NADA at the drop-in and, for the past two months, at a local halfway house for the formerly incarcerated.

The third person of our teaching team was Marina Paoletti, an ADS since 2017 and NADA volunteer at Udruga Terra’s drop-in center. Marina assisted by providing trainees feedback on their needling technique. She stayed in Zagreb to give in-person supervision at various pop-up clinics organized by the trainees.  

Because of the pandemic, this was the first time in over nine months that Marina was not just in a different city, but even out of her home. Despite her initial trepidation, she stayed in a rented apartment that week, taking taxis to get from one supervision to the next. “For me it was a huge blessing, being completely out of my comfort zone. It was a very good experience, and a great honor. With the support I got, it was so natural and so easy for me. I’m always ready to assist,†wrote Marina.

Covid-19 restrictions, as well scarce indoor spaces, be-came the first challenge this training group faced for bringing to life the hands-on practice needed for gaining proficiency in giving the NADA protocol. I began by using a survey to collect the trainees’ availability to show up for clinics in various large parks in Zagreb. This was just a general outline, and it took a group conversation, both in-person and online, to create a realistic framework for the practicum.

A black background with a white line on itJuggling their daily jobs as well as their volunteer schedule with Inicijativa, trainees started their practicum. After three weeks, most had finished their hands-on training, and they shared in our online meetings how much more confidence they had gained by that experience. Collectively they provided over 300 NADA treatments: at the public park Bundek in morning and afternoon sessions; with Red Cross staff in the town of Hrvatska Kostajnica (55 miles southeast from Zagreb); with friends and family gathered in a space at a preschool; and at other donated spaces across Zagreb and its environs. All this exemplifies further the significance of the fact that in Croatia, the word nada means hope.

The fact that people not only showed up initially to support them in their learning, but then asked for more opportunities to receive the NADA protocol, gave the trainees a lens into the depth of help available through the protocol.

Our weekly online check-ins took on a new energy inspired by their practicum. We have since continued to meet online every 2 to 3 weeks, each time looking at a new aspect brought up by the practice of the NADA protocol.During one of our group meetings, trainee Maja Sikirica shared: “My neighbor is suffering with a lot of anxiety. He has been having serious problems getting no more than a few hours’ sleep, and this is adding to his restlessness and tension. Because he is so hyper, he couldn’t sit and receive a treatment with the needles. So I put magnetic beads on him. The next day he came to me and said, ‘I slept for five hours in a row.’ And he is visibly much calmer. Totally crazy – those beads really work.â€

A black background with a white line on itThe clinical practicum with Marina Pavlić, a Red Cross employee working in H. Kostajnica, led to the development of a weekly clinic. She also set up an in-person workshop with Red Cross staff on teaching the use of beads and seeds with their clients. The women in the workshop were grateful to have a new way to help people – and they had fun in the learning process. Learning to apply beads and seeds is a generous process that gives you immediate and positive reinforcement. As Marina told them, “You can’t get this wrong.â€Marina is now laying the foundation for a second training focused specifi-cally for Red Cross’ psy-chosocial team. Amongtheir charges are the con-tainer villages providing temporary housing to hundreds of people and families left without a home. The 3 to 4 times that I visited the contain-er villages and provided NADA treatments there, I could see how needed such a nonverbal intervention could be – to help with a myriad of both physical and emotional issues exacerbated by the reality of squeezing your entire life into a 6’ x 10’ space.

Working with this training group has been a huge gift for me. We would gather online and reflect, and then they would go back and give treatments, and then we would meet again and share more. That back and forth gave them a better understanding of this protocol, and it gave them an awareness of both the subtle and the more obvious manifestations that it elicits in people. There is never an end to experiencing how the NADA protocol can help people – and there is never an end to discovering how people learn the protocol.

I am reminded of a point Michael Smith always made about training – we are teaching an audience not a protocol. Having a NADA training is about people working together – even though we are doing the teaching, we are learning as much or more as the students. The next training will be different again because of what we learned here – and because the circumstances and people will be different.

Working with this training group has shown me the wisdom of much of what NADA means. Again, to share from Michael Smith – people in crisis don’t say that they’re in crisis, they say they have a specific pain. This pain or symptom is a false target. The client values acupuncture not because they sleep better but because of the change in their energy process. NADA helps re-evaluate helping yourself – it starts you on the path to change. Â

Sara Bursać is NADA’s executive director