Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey”will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years.
Our Work Must Be Trauma-Informed
Sometimes, in the work that we do, I am reminded of the Hippocratic Oath, which is learned during medical school and underscores the idea that we must endeavor to help people without doing harm to them in the process. To this end, there is a relatively new area of emphasis within human services that encourages those of us who work with vulnerable people to think about approaching them with a mindset around how we can both serve them and honor any past trauma they have experienced. This approach, called Trauma Informed Care, highlights how the women we serve are affected by past trauma and helps us build an awareness of how they might experience the services we are trying to provide, even when we have the best of intentions.
Experiences of trauma vary widely. We do know that trauma affects how victims see themselves. They might believe they are helpless or worthless because of the trauma they’ve experienced. They may be concerned the world is dangerous, no one can protect them, so they need to protect themselves. Within relationships they may believe they cannot trust anyone. All these beliefs affect how victims respond to the services and coaching we try to provide. Making it even more complicated, triggers can be seemingly harmless events that evoke the overwhelming and frightening emotions the survivor felt during the traumatic event. Once triggered, survivors can have a hard time coping with seemingly minor challenges.
Our goal is to be mindful of creating an environment in which the women we serve feel safe, feel they are making their own choices and feel understood. Though we never intend it, too often human services providers ignore these needs and end up triggering responses that originate from the past trauma or even re-traumatizing the people they were trying to help.
We must be ever mindful that although many behaviors the women we serve exhibit may seem ineffective and unhealthy; they represent adaptive responses to past trauma. Therefore, we must create a safe physical and emotional environment where basic needs are met, safety measures are in place and our actions as an organization are consistent, predictable and respectful. Overall, it is our job to help the women regain a sense of control over their daily lives by building competencies.
It’s not surprising to hear that the women we serve have experienced trauma. The women we hire to work at the Bean Project have backgrounds of addiction, incarceration, abuse and violence that shape their perception and current experiences. We know that every experience of and response to trauma is unique to the individual. With that in mind, we have learned that our approach, from the production floor, to the program services, to the support we provide as the women are moving out into the community must all be trauma-informed.
Becoming more trauma-informed is a journey for the Bean Project. We make every effort to be respectful of the women, incorporate a collaborative approach by seeking their feedback regularly and communicate changes in advance of implementing them. We must realize that we can’t expect the women to trust us immediately and that we must be trustworthy in everything we do. While allowing the women to be experts of their own feelings, we must also create an environment that gives them space and coaching to realize when those feelings don’t serve them and ultimately hold them back. We must deliver program services and give each woman the space she needs to heal without feeling attacked or shamed.
Our entire staff at the Bean Project has received training to teach us to be more trauma-informed, even when we are not a part of the program staff. Remembering that our work must be trauma-informed makes us better at our jobs, regardless of our role in the organization. It also makes us better people.
Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO