“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Kris. I am just so discouraged.”
I sit with my dear friend on a sticky summer night trying to get my gut right.
“Gut wrench” is an apt description. It’s invaded my body and overwhelmed my mind. I can’t think straight, see straight, see a way out. The darkness pervading her porch has met my inner ache and it’s threatening to overwhelm my composure. I am choking back a watershed of tears as I open my mouth to speak. I am trying to conjure the words to describe my discouragement but little will come. There are no words to explain it. It seems trivial. My dysregulation isn’t easily rationalized to someone not experiencing it.
Earlier in the day I learned that a client I provided several professional development sessions to hired two new consultants to do work for them this school year. This, despite my “rave reviews” and desire to help them build capacity for becoming a trauma-informed district. When I heard the news, it instantly dropped my stomach to the ground.
It was a complete, “WTF?” moment. I feel like I have had a lot of those lately and that’s why this wrenched my gut.
Late August and early September has been moving in this direction. There have been many more losses than wins for my fledging business and I find myself asking, “Why?” “Am I doing what I should be doing or should I be moving in a different direction?”
I had a conversation recently with someone of a very credible source that confirmed what I had been thinking and experiencing. There is a very small group of people in my state more or less controlling the funding and direction of this work. If you aren’t one of them, you aren’t welcome.
It doesn’t escape me that I take a different approach to the work of trauma-informed change and have a different perspective than many.
As I see it, the trauma-informed movement is a cultural revolution. We have the science (because in this day and age, if science doesn’t corroborate it, it ain’t true) that essentially says our culture – the way we live our lives, the way we work, the way we treat each other, what we value, what we prioritize – is making us sick, addicted, mentally ill, and learning disadvantaged.
But that acknowledgement and what to do about it isn’t neat, tidy, nor easily packaged for sale.
Therefore, schools and other institutions don’t really want to touch it with a 10 foot pole. Schools want concrete, tangible strategies or actions. They more or less say, “give us strategies so we know what to do with that kid.”
I read a recently published news article last night about trauma sensitive practices happening in schools across my state. They mentioned the use of Second Step and “Check In and Check Out” as examples of trauma-informed practice. I almost lost my SH*T.
Why would the use of these “evidence-based” interventions trigger me? Because becoming a trauma-responsive school isn’t about what we are going to do for “those kids.” And it doesn’t rest with a single program nor intervention.
Furthermore, more than half the programs claiming to be “trauma-informed” are not new. They weren’t the answer to our woos then and they won’t be the single answer to our struggles now. A trauma-informed school is about a much bigger kind of cultural change than any single program.
Becoming a trauma-informed school is about examining and redefining guiding principles, priorities, practices, and habits. It’s about recognizing the need to share power with all the members of the school community – through actions like peer support and stakeholder-engaged conversations. It’s about embedding process and practices into the school environment that regulate the autonomic nervous system and create synergy and harmony within the school community. It’s about creating physical spaces of welcoming and belonging for all on purpose. It’s about recognizing that punishing, excluding, shaming anyone (staff included) is the least desirable way to motive behavioral change.
Even SAMSHA recognizes the comprehensive nature of trauma-informed change with its guiding principles for trauma-informed care:
- Safety – Throughout the organization, staff and the people they serve feel physically and psychologically safe.
- Trustworthiness and transparency – Organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency and the goal of building and maintaining trust among staff, clients, and family members of those receiving services.
- Peer support and mutual self-help – These are integral to the organizational and service delivery approach and are understood as a key vehicle for building trust, establishing safety, and empowerment.
- Collaboration and mutuality – There is true partnering and leveling of power differences between staff and clients and among organizational staff from direct care staff to administrators. There is recognition that healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making. The organization recognizes that everyone has a role to play in a trauma-informed approach. One does not have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.
- Empowerment, voice, and choice – Throughout the organization and among the clients served, individuals’ strengths are recognized, built on, and validated and new skills developed as necessary. The organization aims to strengthen the staff’s, clients’, and family members’ experience of choice and recognize that every person’s experience is unique and requires an individualized approach. This includes a belief in resilience and in the ability of individuals, organizations, and communities to heal and promote recovery from trauma. This builds on what clients, staff, and communities have to offer, rather than responding to perceived deficits.
- Cultural, historical, and gender issues – The organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases (e.g., based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, geography), offers gender responsive services, leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections, and recognizes and addresses historical trauma
This is the work I am doing and want to continue to do.
Kris reminds me, “I know, Em. You’ve been here before and you will be here again. Anything worth doing is worth suffering for at times. I believe in you; I believe in what you are doing. You are still on the right path, the right journey.”
In that moment, it was hard to find comfort in her words.
But today, I woke up, got up, the sun was shining and I am back at it. I won’t give up but I also anxious for this tide to change direction.