What will it take to create a trauma informed society?


That is one of the big questions that keep me up at night.

It’s a question I set out to explore more intentionally back in September, when I offered up Bounce Black as an initial attempt to answer it. At the same time, I joined 11 other curious minds to embark on Enrol Yourself‘s Learning Relay, a 12-week pandemic friendly version of their flagship 6-month Learning Marathon.

As part of the programme, each of us has been exploring, developing and testing solutions for our individual learning questions alongside a group learning question, “who must we become?”. As we come to the end of our learning journeys, we want to invite you to enter into our process through a public showcase. For an hour across three days, you’ll get an immersive insight into the questions we’ve been asking and the answers we’ve been exploring, and hopefully come away with some questions and answers yourself.

Tickets are available now for the group showcases on 30 November, 2 December (mine) and 3 December from 7-8pm. To whet your appetite, here’s an overview of how I’ve thought through my learning question so far:

What does it mean to be trauma informed?

Dr. L. Elizabeth Lincoln defines trauma informed care as “practices that promote a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing”. If that’s what being trauma informed in a medical context looks like, then to be trauma informed generally is to understand what trauma is, how it affects people, how they can recover, and how you can help rather than hinder that process.

A trauma informed society is one where there is a general awareness of trauma, and a working knowledge of how to identify it, where to go for help if we are experiencing it, and where to signpost others who experience it.

But how do we get there? How do we make this happen? What steps do we need to take to actually create a trauma informed society?

As with any big goal, breaking things down into “small manageable chunks” can help make it feel more achievable. So, borrowing the sociological concept of ‘agents of socialisation‘, I’ve been thinking about what it would look like to apply trauma informed principles to:

  • family life
  • schools and education
  • peer groups and friendships
  • religion and faith groups
  • mass media
  • corporations and the workplace
  • government and policy
  • wider/civil society

I won’t cover all of these or go into detail in this blog, but here are some examples of what trauma informed practice could look like in specific spheres of society.

Trauma informed schools

A trauma informed school environment might look like going beyond the bad behaviour or perceived laziness of a pupil, and investigating their circumstances outside of school (e.g. their home and family situation). Make meaningful attempts to find out what happened to the student who is acting out in class or falling asleep on their desk before they arrived.

On the other hand, students who are relatively well-behaved high achievers are not immune from trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Changes in their capacity to concentrate, or dips in their performance can point to underlying problems that are going unnoticed and untreated.

Early interventions matter, and may make the difference between a life of opportunity and a life of struggle.

Thankfully, teachers around the world are starting to receive training like this and more. Hopefully it moves from best to standard practice.

Trauma informed peer interaction

Trauma informed relationships would mean people take symptoms of trauma seriously, and when they see it in their friends, family or neighbours, they do something. For example, when you notice your friend isn’t acting like their usual self, compassionate inquiry should be the default choice, rather than withdrawal or stigma.

Ask questions, and listen attentively to the answers. Sometimes people can display symptoms without necessarily knowing it or being able to name them. So, pay attention, and don’t downplay or dismiss their experiences. If appropriate, ask if they’ve experienced something difficult recently or in the past that they haven’t fully processed, which may be resurfacing in bodily symptoms, but leave the diagnosis to professionals, and gently direct them to where they can get help (search Google, NHS, mental health discussion forums, etc).

Of course, everyone’s healing is their own responsibility, but some people just need a nudge to help realise they need help, and support that shows them where they can safely get it.

If you have the desire and capacity, you can support by booking or attending any medical or mental health professional appointments with them, and advocate for them if you think they might struggle to do it for themselves. For example, someone who’s recently become forgetful may struggle to recall their symptoms, so they may benefit from writing it down and/or having an ally there to help them remember to bring it or talk through it.

Trauma informed faith

People cope with trauma in many different ways, including religion, so religious organisations can attract countless vulnerable people at any one time. As always, great power, great responsibility. For example, as a Christian, I hope to see more churches, from leadership to lay members, properly and adequately address trauma, receive and offer training, and have on-site qualified and accredited counsellors, or relationships with suitable services they can signpost members and attendees to. This should be seen as a moral duty, and part part of responsible and ethical safeguarding policy.

A trauma informed society

Those are just some examples of how to flesh out trauma informed practice across society. Thoughts on trauma informed public policy, legal systems and workplaces, among other things, will need a separate blog post.

Yet there is no getting anywhere without first becoming trauma informed individually. By definition, a trauma informed society isn’t perfect. People are still traumatised. However, just as mental health has become more mainstream to talk about, the same can be true of trauma informed practice. That begins with each of us learning and being and doing and advocating.

Getting to a trauma informed society is going to take self awareness. We need to face our own histories, be in tune with our bodies, and know ourselves literally inside-out.

Identify your own traumas, and work to heal them and shift from trauma reactions to mindful responses. Then be intentional about letting your healing flow into your interactions with other people.

In other words, be the healing you want to see.

Hopefully you are sufficiently intrigued to want to check out the Learning Relay showcase. There is even more to look forward to, so get your tickets now!

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