Community conversations about trauma’s effects and paths to healing
We’re excited about our upcoming event on May 17. Titled “Acknowledging Our Brokenness,” it will be an evening of conversation on healing trauma for the individual and the community. Our hope is this will be the debut of a series of events that broadens the conversation around trauma’s impact and includes members of the community. Here’s the info:
“Acknowledging Our Brokenness” Tues., May 17, 2016 7:00 pm– 8:45 pm
Wilder Center Auditorium
451 Lexington Pkwy N.; St. Paul, MN; 55104
As we were contemplating the topic for our event, we knew we were interested in drawing people together to see the range of the issues related to trauma. We wanted to look specifically at showcasing different populations for whom trauma is impactful to their physical and mental health. We thought there could be a way to make it about the person, the community and the broader public. Ambitiously, we decided to have an event that showcases how trauma that impacts people across all areas of life. We felt there was a real need to look through both the small lens of an individual’s experience and the broader lens of how trauma affects the community and society. Our thinking crystalized along three paths:
Individual level: Starting at the microlevel of the individual experience, we wanted to explore the types of care that we provide people dealing with trauma. Rather than trying to treat trauma from the traditional medical and psychological standpoints, we believe our treatment systems need to become more coherent and integrative, including in our treatment approaches all of the different ways people are impacted by trauma. The same holds true with individuals in the education system. If we can be more trauma-informed in the way we deal with individuals, the question shifts from, “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” Our answers begin to shift as well. We’re helping people feel safe. When they feel safe, change becomes possible.
Relational/Community level: At the relational/community level, it’s important that we explore more effective ways to treat trauma as well because people thrive when the real issue is being addressed. You can look at something like the treatment of eating disorders. People may seek help for the symptoms of their eating disorder, but frequently those symptoms developed as a means of coping with trauma related nervous system dysregulation. When you address the trauma, the symptoms may no longer be unnecessary and frequently remit. Psychologist and Trauma Expert John Briere, PhD, is quoted to have said “If child abuse and neglect were to disappear today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual would shrink to the size of a pamphlet in two generations, and the prisons would empty.” We need to disrupt the cycles of trauma, and that takes work at the relational and therapeutic level.
Trauma is cyclical; it is passed down generation to generation. People repeat the cycle because hurting people hurt people. When we find ways to disrupt that cycle and address the trauma that underlies these patterns of behavior, people stop acting out. They go on to be more productive and engaged citizens and neighbors. If we help people become more of the impact of trauma on the brain and nervous system, people become more committed to not perpetuating it. When people are able to regulate themselves, they’re able to function at a much more moral level, keeping the experience of others in mind. While, sadly, relationships are often the source of trauma, they are also often the primary source of our healing.
Systemic level: For professionals in law enforcement, education, healthcare, social work and other human services, having a trauma-informed perspective is critical. When you see people in the context of their histories instead of the present moment frustration, it’s easier to respond with grace, forgiveness, and understanding. Trauma expert Bruce Perry has said that the shift to a trauma informed system approach is moving away from a rules oriented/behavioral model to a relational/regulation focused model. The implementation of this approach has been shown to significantly reduce behavioral incidents within various systems. When you frame people’s struggles differently, whole systems become avenues of healing. For example, when police officers have an understanding about why people are acting out—that limbic system and autonomic nervous system activation disrupts rational behavior—the police respond to people differently because they understand what’s going on. It can radically alter the course of how that person is treated. This has implications for the education system: when you implement trauma-informed educational practices, disciplinary issues decrease, attendance improves, and graduation rates improve. For many people struggling with addiction and alcoholism, there is an underlying issue of trauma. Providing trauma informed substance use disorder treatment improves treatment retention, treatment outcomes, and reduces the likelihood of relapse. There are profound implications for our healthcare system.
Based on this thinking, we created an event that explores how acknowledging trauma at multiple levels—individual, relational and systemic—can start the healing process for individuals and society. Four short talks and a panel discussion will feature:
One woman’s personal experience of healing from trauma
A therapist and military veteran who deals with trauma in a therapeutic setting
A child psychologist training schools in trauma-informed educational methods
A treatment center director witnessing trauma’s impact on addiction