I have seen so many people claiming to offer trauma recovery as a service & it has me very concerned. As survivors we are susceptible to having safety issues & unskilled, untrained individuals can retraumatize us easily. I have been fortunate enough to find individuals who are empathetic, caring, & trauma trained or informed but everyone is not so lucky. I will dedicate this post to sharing what it is I do & what you should look out for when choosing mental health professionals, safe others, & those who claim they work with trauma survivors. Your safety is what's most important to me & I hope that this post gives you tools to choose what is best for you. You have a voice & choice in whom you choose to work with. I will also provide a list of what I feel you should look out for when selecting someone to work with.
Being Trauma Informed
Believe it or not there are not a lot of trauma informed professionals out there. This is even true in the mental health arena. While information & educational resources are available, the concept of being trauma informed is relatively a new thing. I have heard so many stories of people being retraumatized by professionals who claim they work with trauma survivors.
So let's define what being trauma informed is:
According to SAMHSA.org: A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system; and responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.
I feel this to be the best way to present this concept. So many times people assume pathology (disease) as opposed trauma. It is the classic, What's wrong with them approach. A trauma informed approach seeks to understand what happened to you instead of what's wrong with you. This can remove a lot of shame & stigma from the experience of traumatized individuals. Imagine being asked, "What happened to you?" instead of "What's wrong with you?" First of all there is nothing wrong with us. We are having a normal reaction to abnormal situations. Who is perfectly ok after witnessing violence, being the victim of assault, having medical trauma, or going to war? NO ONE & the expectation that a person should be is absolutely harmful.
This approach feels more like true caring than the oftentimes clinical/sterile environments we find ourselves in within mental health arena & the world at large.
If you are a professional
Trauma is more prevalent than we would like to admit. If you are not taking into consideration that a person is possibly traumatized then in my humble opinion you are doing more harm than good. Now, I understand that we must learn & do better & SAMHSA.org is a good place to start. Look into your client's histories to see if trauma is a factor that could be influencing the current state your client/patient is in. It won't hurt anything & it can drastically change the outcomes for those under your care.
If you are a survivor
Please take the time to vet your sources. I know that in we want to trust those with letters behind their names but I will tell you this...Trauma is a dark & heavy thing to deal with. There are so few people in this world dealing with their trauma head on & guess what, some of them are your doctors, teachers, nurse, family members, therapists, significant others, & friends. This does not make them villains, it just means they are more likely to have a blind spot when it comes to the true nature of trauma & how it affects the whole human organism. We have trust issues but we often end up in bad situations because we ignored or didn't trust OUR OWN RED FLAGS. It is so difficult to trust ourselves after being abused & mistreated but we learn to trust ourselves by making good decisions for ourselves. It can be trial & error but we can learn to flex this muscle & get better at it.
Here are some things to look for when choosing to work with or share your story with others:
What type of training do they have? This is for the professionals you are vetting. Are they familiar & up to date on the most effective treatments for trauma?
What work are they doing on themselves? Unfortunately, it is not required in many professional credentialing bodies to do your own work. This leads to blind spots & judgments that the person may not even be aware of. This goes for professionals & friends etc.
How do you feel when you are around them? Does this person feel safe? What makes them safe for you? Brene Brown talks about marble jar friends in her book Daring Greatly. Don't put all of your marbles out there in the first interactions with people. Give them marbles as they earn them. This is how we learn to trust ourselves again.
Look on their website for testimonials. Who has benefited from working with them & in what ways?
Ask them questions that you feel are crucial to you feeling comfortable enough to open up to them. Interview them. You are paying them for a service, do not shy away from asking for what you need to be at peace.
Communicate with them when you feel something is not right or they say something that hurts your feelings or triggers you. An empathetic practitioner will understand that you are very raw & open & some things will hit you wrong. They will help you walk through the discomfort & explore it more. I do not recommend walking away without giving the person time to adjust to what you need. This also builds trust in yourself & others by communicating needs, wants, & boundaries within a safe space. If a friend triggers you communicate that to them & let them adjust. IF they do not hear you then sever the relationship.
Do they actually listen to what you want for yourself or are they goal oriented & not flexing to accommodate what is best for you? I have seen this with Life Coaches who are very goal oriented. This can breed shame for survivors who's reason for not meeting goals is tied to trauma. Not being able to workout 5 days a week could be the result of that type of physical exertion reminding you of your militaristic father who made you & your siblings do relentless calisthenics to punish you for normal slip ups. You could have disordered eating patterns because you were not fed as punishment. These things matter & need to be considered instead of just the fact that you didn't meet a goal.
Do you want to work with this person or share your life with them? This is a simple question but powerful. Don't should yourself & please be honest. It is your choice to work with someone or allow them into your space. Exercise your choice in a way that benefits you.
Of course these are not all of the questions you can ask but I think these will put you on a path to vetting people & having better experiences. Take your time & find what works best for you. There's no rush...even if you feel like there is.
The Wrap Up
I went over a good bit of information in this post. These things have helped me to develop trust for myself & others after so many years of being betrayed & hurting. I cannot stress enough that this is your life & you have to be able to show up in it in a way that empowers you. You are capable of building healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. It just takes time & effort. You've got this!
What are some things you do to build trust in yourself. What has been your experience with choosing who to share yourself with? Please let me know.