You may be familiar with the idea of “Art Therapy”; a process where people from all ages might find healing and comfort from experienced trauma or loss. Creativity and artistic expression are connected. However, they are not necessarily one in the same. Creativity can be expressed in many ways that do not result in artistic accomplishments.
You may also be familiar with the concept of Trauma-Informed Practice. Historically, when someone has experienced trauma, there has been a great deal of focus on talking through the story, quite often in the presence of a professional counselor.
People may join support groups where they feel connected to others who have also experienced trauma. Some of us simply find friends and others who are willing to listen to us as we re-live our pain and try to make sense of the suffering.
Many people find relief and healing through this process. However, it is not necessarily the only way to navigate trauma in our lives. Healing can happen on a number of levels and through a variety of practices and approaches.
What is Trauma?
To back up a little bit, what do we mean by trauma? This is often a very personally interpreted experience. It might not be so much about the actual nature of the events as it is about the impact the experience has on the individual.
According to Judith Herman, in her book Trauma and Recovery, “Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning. Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life. They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror and evoke the responses of catastrophe.”
The American Psychological defines trauma as, “an incident of grave threat to life or one’s personal integrity, or unexpected, or violent death of others.”
Impact of Trauma
As what constitutes trauma can be very different for each of us, how we experience it is equally personal.
Traumatic experiences can have impact for long periods of time if there has been no opportunity to find relief through some form of expression. People can experience PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which can lead to a multitude of other challenges including mental health and addiction struggles.
This is true for all of us. This is true for the people we provide service to who have experienced trauma and it is true for us as helping professionals who have also experienced our own personal traumas and have been exposed to the trauma of others.
Without strategies to manage trauma, we can become sick, disillusioned, depressed, and disconnected ~ not only from others, but also more importantly from ourselves.
Trauma Informed Practice
It seems that the most powerful thing we can do as helping professionals when providing service to people who have experienced trauma is to acknowledge the experience for that person. So again, it is not just about what we say or what we do, but rather how we approach the individual in their current situation.
To me, this is evidence of presence and engagement that results in honoring another.
“Utilizing a trauma-informed approach does not necessarily require disclosure of trauma. Rather, services are provided in ways that recognize the need for physical and emotional safety, as well as choice and control in decisions affecting one’s treatment. Trauma-informed practice is more about the overall essence of the approach, or way of being in the relationship, than a specific treatment strategy or method.” (Trauma Informed Practice Guide, 2013, BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Abuse Council).
We can also learn to take this same approach with ourselves. How do we simply acknowledge that we have experienced some form of trauma in our lives and recognize our personal need for safety and choice? I believe as we grow in our capacity to create this space for our own experience, we will naturally bring that energy and essence into our interactions with others.
Our first panel discussion on Serving Consciously occurred Friday February 24 at 12pm PST at www.ctrnetwork.com. The entire show was all about Trauma and Healing through alternative practices. My guests explored ideas related to artistic expression and the role in trauma-informed practice and share their research experiences.
Panel Guests included:
An Educator and Artist for over 25 years, Orah Chaye has instructed ECE, implemented appreciative inquiry curriculum in numerous settings, been Field Supervisor for Early Years Refugee Home Visitation, and has designed site specific curriculum and In-Service Training. Orah is the Provincial trainer for the BC Council’s Home Visiting and Risk Management certificates. From a strength-based perspective, trauma informed practice and the creative process is embedded in all of her curriculum. She has recently completed an Educator’s Toolkit for Physical Literacy and Nature Exploration (PLANE) and is well known for her unique and creative programming with young children.”
Dr. Amea Wilbur completed her Doctorate of Education at the University of British Columbia. Her research looked at how to make government-funded English classes more inclusive for adult students who have experienced trauma. She worked for many years as an instructor and manager for an EAL program for people with mental health issues. Currently she works at Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, an organization that provides services for immigrant and refugee women and their young children.
Diana Jeffries has been in the English as an Additional Language (EAL) profession for the past 15 years. In addition to teaching Diana has written resource guides for working with students who face a multitude of barriers, refugee youth and for students who have experienced trauma where she collaborated with Dr. Amea Wilbur. Diana is also an artist with a background in theatre and applied art including mask making and puppetry. She regularly applies her art background to her classroom practice, as she believes that the creative process can be a very helpful tool for students who are challenged in a regular classroom environment.
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