BECOMING TRAUMA INFORMED
What does it mean to have a trauma informed culture?
In a nutshell, being trauma informed involves recognising the signs of trauma and considering the effects it has upon people’s lives. In turn, this should transform the way we support people so that they feel valued and understood.
The essence of what it means to be trauma informed very much aligns with the example Jesus set. He modelled trauma informed practice by his unconditional love, showing insight into peoples’ inner needs, treating people with dignity and being responsive to the marginalised in society. From the gospels, we can see how Jesus was our perfect demonstration of love: agape love. This is an unconditional, compassionate love without judgment. Just like Jesus, our organisations should model this. However, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to us, so some clear prompts on how this might actually unfold in practice are vital if we are to address people’s past trauma. Addressing the needs of traumatised individuals has now become an important part of delivering services in state- run organisations. Our Christian communities likewise should undoubtedly be seeking to adopt a trauma informed approach.
"Addressing the needs of traumatised individuals has now become an important part of delivering services in state- run organisations. Our Christian communities likewise should undoubtedly be seeking to adopt a trauma informed approach."
Start at the beginning
The effects of trauma are all around us if we open our eyes. We need to start by:
Recognising the signs of trauma
Realising the signs of trauma: the way it impacts body, mind and spirit
Responding by changing the way we do things
Resisting any cultural and relational habits, beliefs or methods that may re- traumatise people
If a person does not feel safe with us, they will not be fully engaged in what they are doing. The experience of trauma makes every person’s nervous system react differently. As a result, some may be easily startled and others aggressive; some over-compliant whilst others may even be falsely positive; all as protective mechanisms. Of course, there are many other such responses that people might display. Bearing all of these in mind, we should work at creating a safe and welcoming community, from the moment people visit our website to when they become involved or serve in leadership. Don’t forget that both people and the environment we create, play a part in a felt sense of safety for all who engage.
Ways in which we can help people feel safe are by:
Adapting the language we use to reflect an understanding of the reasons someone may react the way that they do
Being openly approachable and valuing other’s ideas
Developing nurturing and comfortable physical spaces
Don’t just adopt the lingo!
Becoming trauma informed means considering how we can embed our responses to traumatised individuals into every part of our organisation and services. It means looking at how we do things as a whole and making changes to the small details of day-to-day practices.
Let’s not regard being “trauma informed” as another short-term fix to make us feel good about the way we do church, youth group or other ministry. We need to consider how people who have been through adversity experience our organisation or our church. Coming to church particularly can be an alien place for many people; we need to imagine how it feels for those who have had setbacks or have been marginalised in life. We need to constantly evaluate how all those we engage with, experience the journey towards, and within our activities By services I do not just mean Sunday church services because of course, the church is far more than that.
"Coming to church particularly can be an alien place for many people; we need to imagine how it feels for those who have had setbacks or have been marginalised in life."
It takes time
Adapting the way we do things and re-thinking how we support both staff, volunteers and those who engage with our activities, doesn’t happen overnight or after a single training session. Often a whole cultural shift may need to happen. We need to properly consider how we can become trustworthy, supportive, empowering, collaborative cultures where the love of Jesus truly is demonstrated.
Responding to trauma
Remember that underlying trauma can prevent a person fully experiencing the love of God for themselves. To best help them, they may need professional help. You may already have a professional in your team, but if not, it is important to reach out to expert services around you. Remember, though, that in finding the right type of help you should consider whether a therapist is properly trained in working with traumatised individuals.
For further information go to: SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach
By Ruth Stephens | 26th July 2022