It’s that time of year when we all start to think about resolutions. How can we do better in 2021, as individuals and as a community? There is no doubt that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory, driven primarily by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Consider some of the momentous implications of the global pandemic:
- Fear, general uncertainty, and distress have permeated our lives
- Uncertain employment has caused extreme financial hardship, disproportionately impacting children
- Anxiety and stress have resulted in soaring rates of alcohol and drug abuse
- Social justice movements raised issues of racism, xenophobia, the wealth gap, sexism, and homo- and trans-phobia
- In the United States, a highly polarizing and contentious election raised tensions and divided neighbors
- Home schooling has stretched working parents to their limit
- Isolating at home has exacerbated issues within families, increasing domestic violence
All these circumstances mean we are facing an unprecedented mental and behavioral health crisis. As always, it is often the children who bear the brunt of adults’ decisions; they are forced to face high-stress situations they had no part in creating. Even strong parents are feeling exhausted and burnt out both in their jobs and their personal lives. As we reflect on 2020, there’s no doubt we all feel the need to try and do better in the future. So, as we begin to think about how we would like our homes, communities, and work spaces to be in the year ahead, there is probably no more effective resolution than to decide to improve our interactions with other people, so that we can all acknowledge the traumatic life experiences we have undoubtedly lived through.
Resolving to work out more at the gym, lose weight, or focus on healthy eating are all great New Year goals, but why not decide to change your outlook in 2021 to focus on becoming a more trauma-informed and compassionate human being? You could also decide to bring this new attitude to your workplace whether it’s a physical location or a series of online interactions and meetings.
The way we choose to see and work with people can change our own lives. What does it mean to be trauma-informed? And what are the benefits of growing more trauma-informed organizations in our communities?
The National Healthcare Council for the Homeless describes a trauma-informed organization as one that has undergone a “practice transformation which recognizes the trauma of clients, staff, and the community, and creates an organizational structure that avoids re-traumatization and encourages healing.” There are several simple ways you can move your life and your work towards a more trauma-informed place.
Education, Training, and Understanding
Organizations are comprised of people, individuals, and so building a more true-informed organization means helping people to understand how trauma affects human beings, their relationships, and even their capacity to cope with stress and other difficult circumstances. Science shows that childhood trauma can significantly impact the healthy brain development of infants and very young children. In extreme cases, ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) can result in permanent cognitive impairment (especially if positive, buffering influences are absent).
It is important to understand that there is established science in the field of trauma and its effects, and we need to be informed on the subject. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network outlines some of these issues, including how children of trauma may have difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions. They often display atypical stress reactions which can result in depression, anxiety, or anger. They can struggle to form successful relationships and may react in unusual ways to situations that others may cope with easily. All of these issues follow children into their adulthood. These children of trauma are our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We interact with traumatized people every day and understanding them goes a long way to improving interactions and relationships with them.
To this end, Center for Child Counseling has developed a series of trainings for professionals and the community at large which delve into the science of trauma and help people understand it better. We encourage you and your organization’s staff to take advantage of these free and low-cost educational opportunities.
The primary factor in becoming more trauma-informed is one of attitude. This may sound deceptively simple, but it’s also the hardest aspect to master. Because attitude is developed over time, many of us retain views and opinions about others we learned as children. Often, these views are based on outdated and ignorant biases, racism, and skepticism. Our views of different groups may be stereotypical and mostly negative. It is only when we come to know or interact with someone from that group that we learn our beliefs are misconceptions, deeply untrue. A shift in attitude involves leaving these old attitudes behind. The same principle holds true when we interact with people who’ve experienced trauma in childhood or later on in life. They may react in ways that seem odd to us, overreact, or refuse to engage in productive conversations about issues. Rather than being exasperated by these responses, it helps to dig a little deeper and try to understand where the response is coming from.
We have no way of knowing what others have experienced in their past. So, we must use a trauma-informed response to their behavior. This involves adjusting our attitude from one of blaming to one of questioning, from assigning a negative response to assigning an open one that allows for communication. In the simplest sense, it means asking not what’s wrong with the other person but rather what might’ve happened to them that is causing them to react in a given way.
Becoming trauma-informed is not the result of making a single change or taking a single step. It is the result of cumulative changes within the individual and the organization. It also requires constant awareness, sensitivity, and an attitude shift among all individuals within an organization. For those providing direct care, professional training is most likely required in order to bring an organization to a more trauma-informed place.
Support for Staff
You can choose to be the trauma-informed person in your extended family, your community, or your workplace. If you are in the position to provide leadership within your organization, you can choose to implement more trauma-informed policies and procedures. Even adopting a few principles for your workplace can create a better, more supportive environment for people managing the effects of trauma. This will undoubtedly help to improve relationships between colleagues and enhance productivity.
At Center for Child Counseling, we pride ourselves on being a trauma-informed organization and all our skilled therapists work from a place of compassion, understanding, acceptance, and genuine concern. While we always show our clients and their families the respect and care they are due, we also extend that same respect and care to our employees. Providing therapy and counseling to children and families affected by trauma has been our mission since the founding of the organization, but we also understand that this is not easy work and that it requires very special people to do it and do it well. Few jobs can be as emotionally demanding as that of mental and behavioral health professionals, so we safeguard the well-being of our staff in many ways, including encouraging self-care and providing weekly supervision meetings to support each member individually.
Recently, we received grants from BeWellPBC and Healthier Jupiter for our “Healing the Healers” initiative. This involves providing training, resources, and extra support to our staff so that they can, in turn, provide that extra care to our clients. It is our goal to expand this program to provide it to other organizations and we are seeking funding to do so. There has never been a more crucial or critical time to invest in support for caregivers.
So, as 2021 approaches, let’s commit to bringing more kindness, compassion, and care to our interactions with others. It’s only by expanding our capacity for love that we can counteract the pervasive negativity all around us. There is a saying, often attributed to Plato, that states: “Be kind to all you meet, for everyone is in the midst of a great struggle.” If we adopt the attitude that the human experience can be challenging and that we all need support at times, we can start to mend the divisions between us and grow happier children, stronger families, and more resilient communities.
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