As we have trained professionals, parents and others within a community to be trauma-informed, we recognize specific characteristics. A trauma-informed community is one with clarity and strategies to support trauma-impacted individuals.
Let’s take a closer look at those characteristics
One feature of a trauma-informed community is what I call the permeating effect. The permeating effect is when the lens, language and interventions within a community are congruent (corresponding) and prevalent in how we engage trauma-impacted individuals.
The lens of trauma pertains to a raised community awareness that behavior caused by trauma is unexplainable and often destructive.
When we witness unusual behavior we do not ask what is wrong with the person, but rather what happened to them?
Instead of labeling and judging behavior, or attributing blame or shame to someone, we come alongside of trauma-impacted individuals with a deeper understanding of the neuroscience of the brain.
We recognize that dysregulation and triggers can contribute to all kinds of behaviors. It is not that we will not hold individuals responsible for what they do, but that we have a deeper understanding of what brain state they are truly in and what that means in terms of their capacity to react and process what is going on around them.
Examples of triggers
• A veteran may be in panic because of a smell associated to a tragic wartime event.
• A victim of violence may be triggered and become aggressive towards others when hearing threatening words.
• A sound could trigger a child to leave the classroom for no apparent reason.
The possibilities are vast, and a trauma lens understands that the behavior we are witnessing may be more symptomatic than intentional.
What I find encouraging in some of the communities we have trained is that we have been intentional to change the language of the community.
So often, when professionals meet at the door of a family facing some kind of tragedy they share a common language to describe what is going on emotionally for that family.
Language sensitivity affects how we listen, communicate and process information.
I have been pleased that some of the organizations we train are attempting to establish an environment of language safety for those who enter their sphere of influence.
This safe language can easily become a part of our language in schools, stores, churches, clinics and within any part of any community. This kind of nurturing new language to describe behavior and what is behind it can make a huge difference in how we understand each other and function together.
Here is what we have done at Lakeside.
When you walk through Lakeside’s Schools you will see (and hear) a lot of interesting interventions.
You will see dogs sitting close to a student, fidgets, music in the hallways, walking tracks, regulation areas, sensory rooms, rocking chairs and so much more. These items reflect an understanding that trauma and dysregulation can often be dealt with by utilizing somatosensory types of activities.
This level of acceptance in our trauma-informed communities allows an individual who is struggling to regulate, which means the person has permission to use a variety of means to feel safe to maintain a balanced brain state and be in better control of their learning process.
When our community is trauma and regulation sensitive, we encourage those around us to find interventions that regulate them and allow them to be in a better state of balance, health and well-being.
It can bring control to anxiety, panic attacks, unstable mental states and out-of-control behavior. It is a different approach that understands the brain, helps to manage behavior, and provides tools for trauma-impacted children and adults to regulate and live in a healthier place.
This is not to say traditional counseling should not be a viable option.
However, a trauma-informed community will have lots of good intervention options for regulation of brain states, and will be accepting of those kinds of strategies to help calm and bring healing to the intensity of trauma symptoms.
The permeating effect of a trauma-informed community is key to helping our trauma-impacted community.
If our key community leaders such as organization leaders, teachers, public servants, first responders, caregivers, parents, greeters, sales people, attorneys, judges, politicians have the lens, the language, and access to the somatosensory interventions for trauma-impacted individuals, I believe there will be a significant difference in how we understand and minimize a variety of destructive behaviors.
If we can encourage an understanding and acceptance of traumatized individuals without the blame, shame and destructive labels, I believe we can have a significant impact on some of the most difficult problems in our communities.
There is much more to say, but I think you can envision with me how a community can respond with great support to those who have been traumatized, with a new level of understanding and compassion.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside