More and more, you read about “trauma-informed care”. I’d like to share my perspective on how we generally respond to trauma and why trauma-informed care is crucial.

If you have experienced trauma, you know it changes you. Depending on the nature of the traumatic experience, its impact can change you forever – often, in ways you do not expect or desire.

It can make you sensitive to tiny things others do not notice or understand. Trauma can lead you to do things you would not ordinarily do, make you careless about decisions and lead to risky behavior. Memories of a traumatic event can stir visceral emotional responses years later. The results of trauma can reorganize your world view, shatter your faith, mess up your relationships, damage your mental health, bring isolation, change your personality, rip your heart, and leave you changed forever in ways you would never choose for yourself.

It’s impossible to see it at the time, but with determination and support to navigate the chaos following a traumatic event, there can also be good things that eventually grow from the dark soil of trauma’s pain.

Sensitivity grows into deeper empathy. Bad decisions and risky behaviors teach lessons that may not have been learned otherwise. Your reorganized world view may be broader and healthier. Your shattered “sunday school” faith is reconstructed over time into a more substantial and personal faith. Broken relationships can heal or lead to new appreciation for the value of others. As you heal, your mental health improves and you may be healthier than before because you have been stretched. You can become solid and recognize insignificant things for what they are. Some of the changes wrought by trauma’s aftermath may actually help you become a stronger person than would have been possible without the struggle. But again, none of this is growth you would ever have chosen for yourself because you know the pain of your trauma. You would wish it on no one.

They say time heals all wounds. I believe the corollary is more true: healing requires time. And the time required varies depending on the health of the person, the nature and types of the traumatic event (or events), their frequency, and the help one receives following a trauma.

We provide the help.

Most of the children and families for whom we care are living in that period of chaos following trauma. If you’ve ever been there in the dark that hides all light, you know where they are. You know they are too sensitive to feel good – even on good days. You know they are fearful of new pain. You know they trust nothing – not because they do not long for sure footing, but because they simply cannot. Their minds will not allow it.

When we say our services are “trauma-informed”, we mean that in all our interactions with children and parents, we understand that they are doing the best they can to make sense of events that are senseless.

We seek to act in predictable, trustworthy ways – knowing we will not likely be trusted fully. We understand that behind every smile, there is pain like hot tar poured over their hearts. There is rage fueled by that pain. There are tears behind every eye. There are limits to emotional endurance. Any focus on the present is only surface. The future no longer exists. And none of this is personal or about us.

Traumatized people require places of safety and consistency. They require relationships based upon kindness and gentleness. They require space away from others when they need it.

I’ve rambled.

Trauma-informed care requires that this knowledge about trauma’s consequences is always in the forefront of our minds and that it informs all our interactions with our residents, with our families, and each other.

Rick Wheat

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