Trilogy Blog

Learning to Talk by Alison Larkin

Posted by Ruth McMahon on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 @ 03:01 PM

90% of public mental health consumers have been exposed to trauma.[1]

Traumatic experiences can be difficult to ask about, to speak about, and to hear about.  Yet questions and answers about trauma are part of more and more conversations here at Trilogy as we strive to move the paradigm of assessment from What is wrong with you? to What happened to you?

Talking about trauma is complicated. It might mean asking someone about long-forgotten abuse from childhood and helping him understand how “shooting up” is still a desperate attempt to numb that pain. It might mean fumbling over our words as we strive to find those that could offer some relief to his pain. It might mean the sting of our own emotions as we hear the story: the grief of seeing our own history reflected in his—or the guilt of not.

April 2012 marked the beginning of Trilogy’s participation in a learning community for Trauma-Informed Care through the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.  Being trauma-informed means that we acknowledge how prevalent traumatic experiences are for the people we serve and ourselves, we understand the impact of trauma on mental and physical well-being, and we create systems of care based on the presumption that every individual with whom we are in connection has a traumatic history—because they probably do.

So we’re tasked with talking about something that we’re not necessarily used to talking about, and not in these ways.  But we hope that having these conversations mean that this is a place where you can talk about these things honestly and safely. This is a place where we can work together to understand how the trauma is related to mental illness, addiction, health issues. This is a place where we can combat the secrecy and shame that come from being told to keep silent, to avoid the uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, memories, and to deal with it alone. It also means that we will not collude with the beliefs of a world that minimizes or ignores the prevalence and impact of trauma.

A personal favorite author of mine, Audre Lorde, said “Your silence will not protect you.” The Trilogy community is learning together the value of asking the questions, of speaking the truth, of telling the stories.  And we’re also learning how to support each other as the stories come forth. Because even though understanding trauma means creating better care for clients and a better environment for us all, the simple process of speaking, of being heard, and of having someone else bear witness to your pain, is healing.

What do you think are important components of being trauma-informed?

How does knowing that most people around us have experiences trauma impact the way you see the people you work with? See in the world?

How does talking about trauma promote connection and recovery?

[1] (Mueser et al., 2004, Mueser et al., 1998)


Tags: recovery, trauma-informed care, trauma