Updated: Aug 2, 2021
I've come across trauma in my work with organisations and private practice work with accomplished leaders and everyday people many times. But as I am about to embark on my placement as a school counsellor and I have no doubt that I will witness it even more so. I have survived childhood trauma and experienced trauma and PTSD as an adult. I've also done extensive work on processing my own past traumas. I've explored approaches including psychotherapy, mindfulness retreats and dance movement practices as self-healing approaches to recover from trauma. I am about to begin an introductory course into dance movement therapy and combining this with psychotherapy and mindfulness I am interested in helping more people affected by trauma feel safe so they can find new ways to live successful and meaningful lives that are not bound by their past. I am passionate about helping our culture move beyond our collective trauma.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a state of hightened arousal of the nervous system in which severe threat or the perception of severe threat overwhelms the person's capacity to cope. Trauma is very common in our population; in the USA alone the statistics show 1 in 4 children will experience trauma. People experience trauma differently and leadership is not immune to it. Certain experiences are traumatic for some and not for others. The impacts of trauma depend on a person’s age/s, prior experience/s, and its extent and duration. People can experience trauma in a range of situations including having things done to you; like sexual, physical abuse or witnessing violence or disaster or from something that doesn't happen like emotional or physical neglect. Trauma can be caused by our response to natural disasters, accidents, betrayal in relationships interpersonally, and/or being abused or victimised.
Childhood Memory and Trauma
Current research shows that trauma memory is implicit and manifests somatically meaning it effects the body via behavioural re-enactments. We often hear the phrase "triggering" which describes an event that distresses you because it prompts a recall of a former traumatic experience. Pioneering researcher Bessel Van Der Kolk's book The Body Keeps Score explains this process and its treatment in more depth. Memory that is too overwhelming for the central nervous system arise in fragments and splinters that are not fully formed. Peter Levine PhD. says these memories are inchoate and indigestible sensations, emotions, images, smells, tastes, thoughts. Trauma functions quite differently from conscious, explicit, memory. This process what is called traumatic amnesia where survivors don't recall memories until years and even decades later. The neuroscience behind our understanding of how trauma affects the brains and bodies of children and adults is providing growing insights to the law and justice system as well as education and medical care.
Trauma-informed care acknowledges that organisations and care teams working with people have a whole picture of person's life situation. Providing trauma-informed services can improve the persons engagement and outcome of the service it can also prevent further harm.
Trauma-informed care seeks to:
• Realise how widespread trauma is the community and understands the paths to repair
• Recognise the signs and symptoms in clients, families and staff.
• Integrate knowledge of trauma into practices, policies and procedures
• Be active in preventing re-traumatisation
Trauma-informed care requires broad cultural change in our organisations and it is not enough to focus only in clinical environments if we want to sustain this approach and help children and adults suffering from trauma to feel safe enough to engage with help.
Further links for trauma-informed resources can be found here:
Blue Knot https://www.blueknot.org.au/
Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness https://davidtreleaven.com/
Humanising Mental Health Care in Australia https://www.booktopia.com.au/humanising-mental-health-care-in-australia-richard-benjamin/book/9780367076603.html
The Wisdom of Trauma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70HNmSsJvVU