The Rainbow Project and COVID-19
Healing during a Pandemic
Sharyl Kato is the founder and CEO of The Rainbow Project, which provides
restorative healing counseling to children and families who have
experienced any form of abuse.
Kato emphasized that all of us can be exposed to mental health stressors due to our isolation. But it can be especially intense for people who have experienced
trauma and abuse.

“It’s going to do a lot of triggering,” Kato said. “And one of the clients whom I work with who was very perceptive said, ‘I feel like I am in this fight-flight because it
is hard to imagine this is going to get better.’ And all of these other things are happening that trigger her. And yeah, it’s increasing domestic violence. It’s increasing
child abuse dynamics. And it really increases risks. And so it requires again a resiliency and agility in our clients. That’s what we are really doing is helping them.”

While the prolonged stay-at-home directives can take a toll on relationships as people in a family must deal with each other 24/7 in close proximity to each other, it
can also have its advantages.

By Jonathan Gramling

Until the middle of March, The Rainbow Project was staying busy providing
counseling and therapy to approximately 1,000 children who had been victims of
some form of abuse or trauma. Established in 1979, Rainbow has an
experienced, capable and compassionate staff who were working with the
children — and often times members of their families and extended families — in
person at their offices on E. Washington Avenue. For the most part, they
provided in-person services that could often times end with a reassuring hug.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Rainbow temporarily came grinding to a
halt as it adjusted to a new normal and changed the way they do business
before they could once again provide their essential services within a virtual
world.

“You would think it is hard to learn new ways, Sharyl Kato, Rainbow’s director,
said about the staff. “But I think because there is such mastery at what they do,
they are really agile in what they do to be able to in a very quick period of time —
at the most a month — adapt. I remember in mid-March when we closed, we
were up and running in April. We developed a 16-page Tele-Health policy before
we could really use it. To me, you can have the very best curricula and the very
best approaches theoretically, but it is really the vehicle, the therapist, to make
sure that it works. And so, those relations that are so critical to how you do that
via Tele-Health.”

In a sign of the times, one of Kato’s six-year-old clients hugged the monitor after
her session. While the transition was easiest with their existing clients, it’s
harder to form those close, personal connections when you never meet them in
person.
“There are times when things have happened in the child’s early life that a
parent couldn’t help and they may have, for some reason, not been
emotionally available, this is actually an awesome time to stop the world and
give them the opportunity to do that, to take the most advantage of that,” Kato
said. “It depends on where people are in their ability. You can’t substitute that
time. I have a dad and a son who never had that and they are now having
that ability to some real quality time together, watching things on YouTube or
Tai Chi and doing it together.

It has had some other positive impacts as well while the bulk of the therapy
is provided through Tele-Health.

“We send therapeutic care kits with some of those activities in there
specifically for them so that it helps to facilitate those things a little bit more
easily and with more fun,” Kato said about the therapy. “It is challenging to be
entertaining. But on the other hand, just like on the phone or on Zoom,
sometimes people are allowing themselves to be more vulnerable and more
open. It might be because they are used to the phone and you don’t have to
make eye contact. I find that I am the same way. I’m more disclosing. I’m
more no-nonsense about it. You remain professional, but you also are
remaining more person-to-person in some ways. We’re find out all of those
cool things. And sometimes our attendance has actually been better, which
speaks to access because they don’t have to drive all the way around town
or pick up their kids at school or day care and all of this and worry about
getting off of work.”

One of the biggest concerns that Kato had was the lack of technology that
some of the households may experience or people like grandparents who don’
t use the internet as a central part of their day. Kato has been pleasantly
surprised.

“With all of the technology, they were the first ones to go Tele-Health,” Kato
said about the grandparents. “They didn’t skip a beat. We are so proud of
them that they were able to do the internet. It’s very similar to our Spanish-
speaking mom’s group that they are doing the Tele-Health and they are the
group that we thought would be the hardest and they became the easiest. I
think it happened because there is the motivation. These are long-standing
groups with long relationships with one another and their facilitator. To me
that is just a sign of how much their need is being met, not just by Rainbow,
but also by each other. And those connections are all the more needed during
this time.”

Nothing beats person-to-person contact, but the Rainbow staff has been
inventive in simulating that experience and getting people to just live in the
moment.

“We do special play with parents,” Kato said. “They think we are kind of
goofy, but we say they are like a movie camera video and they just say, ‘I see
Michaela playing in the sand and she is filling the dump truck. Now she is
taking the dump truck and emptying it.’ There’s no values attributed to it like
good job. It’s strictly describing the child in space and time and the moment.
And what it does is validate and affirm that they exist. One time I was doing
that with a child and she was only three-years-old. And I was writing notes
and she said, ‘Sharyl, don’t stop. Keep doing it.’ So she started reflecting on
herself. Knowledge is power and that’s why I see resiliency in some of our
clients. It’s so cool. You can tell. They are really trying and hanging in there.”

Kato is concerned about everyone during this stay-at-home moment. Since
human beings are, by nature, social animals, people may fill the vacuum in
their lives caused by the isolation with some unhealthy things.

“I don’t think that you can ignore the pain or minimize it,” Kato said about the
isolation. “I think the only thing I can say is that with internal pain emotionally
is that just like any other pains that we have, whether it is craving for a
cigarette is that it passes. Those moments pass and there are some
proactive things they can do. But there is a high risk for numbing yourself.
And that’s where substance abuse and smoking and drinking are going to be
tempting. Instead it’s an opportunity to really be healthy because we have,
unfortunately, some high risks for a lot of things including eating disorders.”

One of the most important things people can do is have hope and stay
positive and build structures around you that reinforce those feelings.

“I think there is always this feeling that it’s not going to get better and how
hard it is to either project or even over-idealize what might be happening,”
Kato emphasized. “And that’s not always realistic. But people just need to
have that hope and that belief that it is going to get better and to think more
about planning in those stages, not high and mighty, but you are proactive
once you start planning. Whether it’s making sure there are fun times, it’s
those little things that you don’t think are going to matter like mindfulness and
meditation. It’s not just this strange Eastern kind of ritual. It really is just
being present with yourself even 12 minutes a day. Graduate students are
scoring higher on tests and reducing their stress and it’s only 12 minutes per
day. We have a whole packet of things that we give people because they don’
t think that is going to work. But it’s really about being able to cope. I think
reaching out is important. Some agencies have respite. And if it is
particularly a high risk situation, there is always an out. There is always a
solution.”

In spite of COVID-19 and the isolation it has caused, Sharyl Kato and The
Rainbow Project staff continue to heal people in a virtual u
niverse where there
is still hope and compassion.