Understanding the long-term impact of developmental trauma, how trauma impacts the brain, and the science of resiliency is a powerful first step toward change. It is exciting to watch people begin to let this knowledge soak in… and even more exciting when they begin to ask “Now what?” As I have worked with organizations across the State of South Dakota, I have found that often what they are really looking for is the curriculum or recipe book that they can follow for their clients or students. Even those that realize that it is a paradigm shift - or a way of doing and seeing things differently - are often still focused on what they should be doing differently with their students or clients. For them, it is still about the best technique to use with those they serve.
Although incorporating trauma-informed practice with those we serve is important, it really shouldn’t be the first step. To be truly trauma-informed, one must first take a look inward. Trauma-informed starts at the individual level. To be the best for those we serve, we must model the behaviors and techniques we are teaching. In any situation, the greatest tool we have is our ability to self-regulate. Emotional regulation allows us to stay focused on the person in front of us, helping them to feel safe and heard so they can begin to make positive changes. We ourselves must practice these skills, make self-care a priority, and engage in supportive relationships. We must be aware of our own trauma and how that may trigger or impact us in our work.
But to do that effectively, we need organizations and leaders that provide the resources, time, and safety to practice these skills. When organizations are brave enough to do this for themselves, it will flow into the work they do, and with the clients they serve. Parallel process thinking tells us that the dynamics of one system will be picked up and re-enacted by another system. So if we want those we serve to feel safe and empowered, it is critical that those working with them feel the same. This means leadership style, organizational culture, policies, and how change and conflict are handled must reflect a trauma-informed approach. We can not expect our professional helpers to leave a meeting where ego and fear are at the forefront, then be able to effectively direct clients to engage in emotional regulation and healthy communication. We need our organizations to be trauma-informed from the ground up.
Trauma-informed is not a program you adopt. And that’s a good thing…since programs don’t help people, people help people. True healing happens in relationship. So now what? Now you take what you know about the ACEs and Resiliency sciences and apply it. Just start with yourself first.