Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Restorative Practices in Therapy

by Drew Underwood, M.Ed.

Restorative practices aim to reduce harm, resolve conflicts, and facilitate healing. If you are thinking, “this is very similar to the goals of therapy,” then you’d be right! The non-punitive nature of the therapeutic setting makes it the perfect environment to implement restorative practices. The restorative practices in therapy combine both high empowerment and high support and are characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. There are many therapeutic models consistent with restorative justice practices. Internal Family Systems Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Solutions Focused Therapy are just a few. Elements of treatment such as creating a safe space, facilitating authentic connections through discussion and action, and seeking restoration are all things restorative justice and therapy have in common. You can use restorative practices clinically through affective statements, information conversations using restorative questions, using talking pieces (helpful for all levels of development/abilities), and formal restorative conferences. These can be implemented in a circle or group setting and is a great way to build community.

In education, circles and groups provide opportunities for students to share their feelings, build relationships and problem-solve, and when there is wrongdoing, to play an active role in addressing the wrong and making things right (Riestenberg, 2002). According to Restorative Solutions, a UK-based organization committed to making restorative justice more accessible to communities, the “Five R’s” of Restorative Practice, namely relationship, respect, responsibility, repair, and reintegration, have many applications. You can read more about this here: The 5 ‘R’s of Restorative Justice: Are They Always Applicable? .

For more information about how restorative practices can be used in schools, watch this video: Restorative Practices in Schools Have Power to Transform Communities or click here: School Counselor’s Role in Restorative Practices.

As therapists, we are asked to de-center ourselves and act in the best interests of our clients. Restorative practices allow us to do the same for our communities, prioritizing community-led healing regardless of the setting. In my work with clients, I found in most cases there is a genuine desire to get better. When clients experience distress, they can be bound to depressive feelings that make healing hard to do. This brings them out of touch with their humanity, with their (and others) human capacity to make mistakes. I have found extending grace to clients as foundational to reestablishing that link to their humanity. Grace helps us effectively balance acceptance and accountability with the potential to change, for example, “I’ve made a terrible mistake and it is not okay, however I do not have to spend a lifetime allowing it to define me, I can heal from this and live a happy, healthy life.” Extending grace as a therapist is important, but helping clients give grace as a gift to themselves is even more so. It allows clients to accept their humanity and become ready to embrace the potential for transformation in therapy.

Drew Underwood, M.Ed., is a Master’s level therapist who provides trauma and grief counseling and support to those experiencing anxiety, depression, and other difficulties navigating school and career challenges. He believes in the potential for radical growth and incorporates mindfulness-based approaches to provide culturally sensitive care that centers clients’ diverse experiences. He works under the supervision of Licensed Professional Counselor Jen Perry. To learn more about his work, contact him at 267-499-3970 or


Restorative Practices and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Lessons in Empathy

by Tracey Smith, M.Ed.

Restorative Practice is a global movement used to build restorative communities and strengthen relationships. The practice has its roots in indigenous cultures. Just as the health of our planet depends on a thriving and diverse ecosystem, the health of our human communities relies upon hearing and respecting the strengths and perspectives of all members. Indigenous peoples understood the importance of this, but modern societies have been built on dynamics of hierarchy, power, and control. Restorative Practices remind us that we need strong and meaningful relationships to survive. The strategies can be found in U.N. negotiations and the Civil Rights Movement. This non-punitive and non-judgmental process encourages accountability and making amends. It can be used in a variety of settings and situations, such as workplace spaces, community organizing, healing retreats, schools, and high-conflict family situations. One example of this movement in action is exhibited in Philadelphia’s Restorative Cities: Porch to City Hall.   

Restorative Practices focus on personal responsibilities for repairing harm done, building relationships and community, promoting emotional intelligence, and teaching social skills. Restorative Practice developed out of a primary hypothesis that people are more cooperative and productive – and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior – when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them. In the criminal justice system, Restorative Justice is an approach to resolving the wounds of violence and harm by focusing on restoring the dignity of both oppressor and victim, grounded in truth-telling and reconciliation. 

Using a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens allows for the process of getting to know yourself, building empathy, and transforming conflict skills. For leaders and participants,  DEI and Restorative Practices work can be daunting at times. Sharing one’s experiences of harming and being harmed, feeling included and being excluded – and listening to others share their experiences – requires resiliency, compassion, and courage. Self-care is imperative. Wellness and mindfulness techniques offer participants and facilitators ways to stay present and assist with burnout and trauma healing. DEI and Belonging programs are strengthened by using Restorative Practice Circles. Also called “Listening Circles”, this practice engages all community members in a structured and respectful practice of taking turns talking and listening, approaching challenging conversations with courage, compassion, and an appreciation of the value of every member in the community. In my programs on DEI and Restorative Practice with members of the Resiliency Center practitioner community, colleges, organizations, and conferences, learning happens in a supportive environment where self-care and community care co-exist with the brave vulnerability to have hard conversations. When we come together in safe spaces with open hearts and a true willingness to listen, we can see and be seen, take risks and find forgiveness, connect in meaningful ways, and repair the injuries that haunt and divide us.

Tracey A. Smith, M.Ed., CTRS, is a Certified Recreation Therapist, Wellness Educator, and DEI Trainer with extensive experience in behavioral health. She designs interactive, experiential, and trauma-healing programs that promote an atmosphere of "safe space" for participants to explore self-care, self-esteem, stress/anger management, spirituality, leadership, and recovery. She customizes diversity and workplace wellness programs for organizations and leads wellness retreats. Contact her to learn more at 215- 605-3221 or or

Restorative and Transformative Justice

by Drew Underwood, M.Ed.

“How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” - bell hooks

This question that the late, great bell hooks poses is one that I have found myself asking in various ways over the last five years. When we encounter clients that have harmed others, or we ourselves find that we’ve harmed folks in our lives, feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and sometimes even penance can be the result. These responses are common responses, but they seldom result in healing our relationships or whatever is left broken in us.

I committed myself personally and professionally to the human potential for radical growth and transformation. This philosophy provided a framework that empowered me to do the necessary work of unlearning punitive responses to harm, but more importantly, it gave me hope that my efforts were indeed worth it. When we experience harm, we may feel like those responsible need to be punished, but I challenge you to think deeper about what caused them to commit the harm in the first place.  What might their actions reveal about what needs to be healed within them? Restorative and Transformative Justice offers an alternative that aims to heal rather than punish.

Restorative and Transformative Justice

Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice are terms often used interchangeably, but this isn't accurate. Yes, they both provide alternatives to punitive responses to harm, but there are some important factors that distinguish them. Transformative Justice is defined as an extralegal process engaging the harm doer, the person harmed, a facilitator, and their communities in shifting communal components to address current harms and prevent future harms from occurring on a systemic level. Transformative justice exists completely outside of systems so lawyers, judges, or even therapists won't be involved. This gives communities the autonomy to facilitate their own healing! Restorative justice is an approach to harm at an individual-level, rather than a systemic level. It is a dialogue between the harm-doer, the person or party harmed, a facilitator, and their communities (such as schools), at times resulting from proceedings in the criminal legal system. Restorative justice efforts are community-led that can include the legal system but don’t necessarily have to.  They work to restore the person harmed to their previously harmed state.

Drew Underwood, M.Ed., is a Master’s level therapist who provides trauma and grief counseling and support to those experiencing anxiety, depression, and other difficulties navigating school and career challenges. He believes in the potential for radical growth and incorporates mindfulness-based approaches to provide culturally sensitive care that centers clients’ diverse experiences. He works under the supervision of Licensed Professional Counselor Jen Perry. To learn more about his work, contact him at 267-499-3970 or