The Traumatic Stress Institute fosters the transformation of organizations and service systems to trauma-informed care (TIC) through the delivery of whole-system consultation, professional training, coaching, and research.
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Mindfulness Series:  Practices for Sustaining Trauma-Informed Care

September 2, 2020 / by John Engel, MA

Part II: Mindfulness – Healing Racial Trauma

This is the second in a series of blog posts on the role of mindfulness in sustaining trauma-informed care.

Both within our Risking Connection community and beyond it, delivering trauma-informed care (TIC) is an ethical imperative.

In alignment with the SAMSHA definition of trauma-informed care, we seek in our work to:

  • Realize the pervasive impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma
  • Recognize the signs of trauma in clients
  • Respond by applying the principles of TIC to all areas of our systems
  • Resist re-traumatization by providing services that heal rather than make things worse

In short, we believe that embedding trauma-informed care principles and practices offers providers a framework for effectively healing children and adults who have experienced ACEs and trauma. Our healing efforts are designed to help them become more resilient and to thrive in life.

Healing Racial Trauma

Trauma-informed care is a long-term solution that is both difficult and rewarding to implement; it is a journey as much as a destination. As with any journey, there is a risk of narrowly focusing our attention on that which is most familiar and turning a blind eye—either intentionally or unintentionally—to avoid that which we find most challenging and overwhelming.

Racism is a devastating and pervasive source of toxic stress. It is increasingly and rightly understood as a public health crisis, but it is generally not named or directly addressed as part of trauma-informed care. In organizations that treat trauma survivors—including in our own Risking Connection community—boards of directors, senior leaders and managers are oftentimes mostly white, whereas direct care staff and the children, families, and communities they serve are much more diverse. The power dynamics embedded in these long-standing arrangements ensure that white people—staff and clients—receive benefits from which people of color are partly or wholly excluded. This is known as institutionalized racism. Additionally, as a group, people of color have experienced historical trauma (think slavery and colonization of North America), interpersonal trauma (for instance, microaggressions and shootings of Black men by white police officers), and intergenerational trauma (generations of poverty and children of trauma-survivor parents that lack access to resources for healing their own trauma).

Collectively, the various forms of trauma experienced by people of color--including those who work in and receive services from RC agencies--make painfully clear that healing racial trauma must explicitly be made an integral part of trauma-informed care in order to ensure healing for all.

The Role of Mindfulness in Healing Racial Trauma

Jenée Johnson, Program Innovation Leader in Mindfulness, Trauma, and Racial Equity at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, offered sage advice in a 2019 article in Mindful Magazine, titled “Encouraging Meaningful Conversations about Race and Trauma. She helps us to more deeply understand the harm caused by racism and the discomfort of even talking about (let alone healing) racism.

In her former role within the same organization, Johnson was an embedded trauma trainer in a department with 9,000 employees, where training on the prevalence of trauma and its impact on clients and its workforce was mandatory. She noticed that something was missing. She became aware that, while staff were interested in trauma-informed care, they often lacked the bandwidth to hold onto and consistently implement the trauma training they received. Based, in part, on her own personal and professional journey, where mindfulness became an important tool for healing racial trauma she experienced, Johnson concluded that the department needed to become a mindful organization in order to become truly trauma-informed.

Johnson explained that being mindful – knowing and being in touch with what is going on inside of you – is essential to undoing racism. She maintains that mindfulness helps us by further developing our self-awareness and by increasing our capacity to be present, to sit with and acknowledge--without judgment--what is uncomfortable.

Engaging in what many mindfulness traditions refer to as “practicing the pause,” is one important tool that is available to each of us. Everyday life events and triggers—both in our personal lives and in our professional lives as trauma treaters—can easily send us into a reactive mode, often with unfortunate consequences. Regular mindfulness practice can help us increase our ability to counter stressful situations by pausing just long enough to notice our internal reactions. This awareness, however momentary, provides us the opportunity to choose how we respond or don’t respond, in a manner that is more consistent with both our training and our best intentions. This ability to practice the pause is an essential tool for first noticing—and then changing—our own tendencies to be racist in thought and action. It also helps us more consistently deliver trauma-informed care that heals, rather than perpetuates, racial trauma.

Next Steps

To learn more, consider attending Mindfulness: The Inner Work of Racial Healing and Trauma-Informed Care at the Traumatic Stress Institute’s 14th Annual RC Day of Learning & Sharing on October 13, 2020, where Jenée Johnson will deliver the morning keynote on the topic of mindfulness and healing racial trauma.

Early Bird registration has been extended to September 15, 2020. RC Trainers and Champions at all Local and Distant Agencies are welcome to attend. Register at this link today!

I also recommend two great resources on the topic of mindfulness and healing racial trauma - The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness, by Rhonda V. Magee and Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out, by Ruth King.

Tags: Mindfulness

John Engel, MA

Written by John Engel, MA

John Engel, Program Coordinator at the Traumatic Stress Institute of Klingberg Family Centers, where he serves as a trainer and consultant for agencies adopting whole-system change to trauma-informed care. John also facilitates strategic change initiatives and product development for TSI, including development and launch of the Online ARTIC Scale. John also leads mindfulness in the workplace initiatives, including design and delivery of a webinar entitled, ‘Mindfulness in the Workplace: Practices for Sustaining Trauma-Informed Care,’ a day-long virtual training event, ‘Mindfulness: The Inner Work of Racial Healing and Trauma-Informed Care, ‘Monthly RC Mindfulness’ pilot and a ‘30-Day RC Mindfulness Challenge.’ John is a Certified Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator (CWMF), is certified in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and has participated in virtual and in-person Mindfulness in the Workplace Summits by Mindful Leader.