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Using Trauma-Informed Practice to Navigate Forward by Andrea Carey and Laura McPhie

People are showing up in really odd ways lately. I have been noticing it in our work, in situations, and with our team – and have had so many conversations where people are sharing stories about their interactions with staff, friends, board members, colleagues – from a range of backgrounds who are showing up in challenging ways.

The common thread seems to be that the behaviour feels out of place with their character, and also with the situation. There is protectionism, an adversarial approach, and a quick to escalate response. In many cases over topics where the response feels like way more than is necessary. People are triggered in ways and over situations that are very different than what we know of them previously.

Pre-pandemic this would not have been how these people were showing up. And now it is what we are getting… and it is startling, and difficult to navigate. For those you have known for a long time and are suddenly navigating this very different behaviour, is it tricky. Holding your values and leadership as you navigate these situations can be difficult. It tests you, and probably at a time when you don’t feel like you have a lot of bandwidth to respond with grace and generosity.

This is trauma. It is showing up for so many people – and for so many people who have never known and or navigated trauma before. They don’t know how to channel it, and you are left to respond to it. There is no easy way to go forward. This is real, and it is coming at us in rapid succession these days. We wrote about Trauma and what it is last June in our blog and once we recognize that trauma is now literally infiltrating interactions in all facets of our lives, then we need to navigate tools about how to deal with it. 

Trauma-Informed Care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in an individual’s life. When trauma shows up, it makes it easier for us to be outside our window of tolerance. Each person has a Window of Tolerance – it may be big or small – and it is the ideal place to be. When inside our window, we can learn, approach challenges, and deal with stress. When we are outside of it we are either hypo or hyper aroused. Hypoaroused looks like exhaustion, zoned out, unengaged. Hyperaroused looks like anger, frustration, and quick tempers.

Trauma-Informed Care approach strives to understand the whole of an individual who is seeking services. When trauma occurs, it affects an individual’s sense of self, their sense of others, and their beliefs about the world. These beliefs can directly impact an individual’s ability or motivation to connect with and utilize support services. A system utilizing a Trauma-Informed Care approach realizes the direct impact that trauma can have on access to services and responds by changing policies, procedures, and practices to minimize potential barriers. A system utilizing a Trauma-Informed approach also fully integrates knowledge about trauma into all aspects of services and trains staff to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma and thus avoid any possibility of re-traumatization.” (Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, 2015)

What does this mean and how can you navigate it? Trauma-Informed Care is important in how we navigate all of our work these days. Considering the question of “what happened to you” as you go into a relationship with folks will support you and them to navigate what they need and how you can respond to them, and allow for the building of environments, supports, and ways forward to empower their involvement. Stay curious, and be patient. The awareness that most people are navigating trauma from the pandemic, and they don’t recognize that they are showing up in surprising ways – and if they do realize then they are probably adding shame to the trauma, and that will likely lead to even more surprising behaviours. Here are some steps to navigate setting up for a Trauma-Informed relationship:

  • Create a physically and emotionally safe environment,
  • Establishing trust and boundaries,
  • Support autonomy and choice,
  • Create collaborative relationships and participation opportunities, and
  • Use a strengths and empowerment-focused perspective

(Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, 2015)

As you think forward, and create the opportunities to be in relationship with each other, appreciate that setting these up in a trauma-informed way will support new ways forward together.

Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2022.