This past week I was listening to my friend Dr. Sandra Bloom speak about clinical issues related to trauma. She was discussing the need for a radical paradigm shift in how we view and treat individuals who have been trauma-impacted who are in our systems of care. They could be inmates, mental patients, addicts or other common labels that are used to describe and deal with behaviors that are destructive to them and possibly to others.
We know that issues like adverse child experiences (ACES) and various forms of trauma can contribute to many of our social ills as trauma-impacted individuals relive or reenact their pasts. Like many of our military who are reliving some of the tragedies of war, they find themselves in a high-alert state and react to their circumstances with behaviors that make sense to them but not to onlookers.
As we have worked within prison systems, mental health facilities and drug and alcohol treatment facilities we find that most if not all of the individuals in these programs have a significant trauma narrative. Their pasts have had serious Impact to the trajectory of their lives as they have tried to cope with their traumatized neurology with behaviors that are inappropriate or even criminal.
As a society we have tended to blame, shame or diagnose these individuals with many negative labels. Often, we either punish them or call them sick. As our systems of care reflect this labelling and ensuing treatment our results have been minimal at best and these behaviors tend to increase exponentially. We desperately need a new and more mindful paradigm for treatment.
As we understand the impact of trauma we have learned to ask, “what happened to you?” and not “what is wrong with you?” Dr. Bloom reminded me that we need to change our language to the language of “injury”. If we are to change how we understand behavior of trauma-impacted individuals we need a new lens. If we assessed these individuals with the language of injury and we chose not to label them as sick or bad, we might discover treatment and coping interventions that may actually help them mitigate the effects of trauma and move to a pathway of healing and hope. This truly can be the beginning of a lifetime of change and productivity.
Rather than being in conflict with systems that struggle to get measurable results maybe it is time to change our approach. In light of our understanding of the impact of trauma neurologically and behaviorally it is time for us to help those in our care with respect and consideration of their trauma narratives.
I believe we will be more effective in helping them cease destructive behavior if we change our view of their behavior, move to more of a cause and effect understanding of why they do what they do and offer strategies that are attuned to their specific deficits, knowing they are steeped in traumatic life events.
This paradigm shift can create significant changes in our many systems of care that deal with trauma-impacted individuals. Thank you, Dr. Bloom, for being such a thought leader, advocate and friend to those who have been traumatized.