As we discussed in a previous blog post, the Traumatic Stress Institute recognized that while our curriculum included some discussion of social justice, there was much more we could do to focus on and foster discussion about racism. We understand that it is impossible to separate trauma and racism; racism is a common source of trauma.
In order to do so, we formed a racially and ethnically diverse Advisory Committee of our Risking Connection Trainers and Champions. We invited participants who were familiar with the curriculum, could bring expertise in social justice issues and/or had pertinent lived or clinical experience (we compensated the participants for their time).
In addition to the Advisory Committee, we also solicited feedback from Risking Connection Trainers in other forums. We began to discover the fear and anxiety that trainers can feel when asked to address racism as applied to trauma and healing from trauma.
From these various activities, we developed changes for our curriculum in the areas of:
- Trainer introductions
- Group agreements
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
- The adaptive function of symptoms
- Brain and body
- Frame and boundaries
- Crisis management
- Our reactions to clients
- Vicarious Trauma (VT) and self-care
The discussions resulted in suggested changes to the slides, the examples, the instructions for exercises, and the worksheets we use.
In trainer introductions, for example, trainers were encouraged to mention aspects of their own privilege and oppression, as well as to credit the original inhabitants of the land on which they were training. In addition, trainers could mention that the training would include discussions of racism, that some might feel uncomfortable, but that we would use RICH – respect, information, connection, and hope – to stay productive.
In our training we emphasize that while the ACEs study is extremely valuable and important, it does not include any mention of the effects of racism, poverty, or events outside the home. Some attempts are currently being made to expand the ACEs framework in those areas.
We explored the effect of living in a dangerous, racist society on attachment and parenting in Black families. Black parents often need to firmly teach their children not to question authority in White-dominated situations in order to keep them safe. Yet, they do not want to parent in an overly authoritarian way. Finding that balance is difficult and stressful. It is important to explore the ways that this historical and present reality affects our clients now.
We considered the need for people of color to remain constantly alert to the possibility of harm from their environment. How does this affect their window of tolerance and sense of safety? Another area to consider is in the area of self-worth: personal experiences of shame are exacerbated by a society that does not recognize your beauty or worth in media, advertising, or other channels. Even feelings identification and management are changed by the realities of a racist culture.
Another area of revelation was about the experience of vicarious trauma in our staff of color. Trainers voiced that BIPOC staff may have a different perspective on VT and be reluctant to discuss VT at work. They may feel that they must show up at work as strong, ultra-competent, and to show no weaknesses. Many have been given the message they must be “strong” and carry the burden of family, community, and work without complaining, as well as the message that they must be perfect in order to keep their jobs and/or progress forward in their careers. They have been told they need to work harder than everyone else to succeed.
Additionally, some kinds of self-care may be luxuries requiring access to resources. Some examples: not all people have the means to join gyms and spas; or it may be difficult to practice nutritive self-care if you live in a food desert; or some may live in a community with high rates of violence and crime. These discussions centered on how BIPOC people may perceive self-care differently – that they may have unique ways of nourishing themselves and each other.
We assembled all our thoughts into a tool for our trainers, and the Advisory Committee reviewed and revised it.
We introduced this tool to our community through a webinar in December 2021. Much appreciation and some apprehension was expressed. We have begun to pilot the changes, and have encouraged our trainers to share feedback about its use. As a result, we expect there will be continuous development and revision.
Revising the basic Risking Connection curriculum is only the beginning. Our Whole System Change Model also includes a Train-the-Trainer, groundwork with each client agency's task force, implementation of program evaluations and data collection, as well as continuing training and consultation. We plan to examine how each of these aspects of our work also needs to evolve.
We have also begun offering training in specific areas, such as Social Justice Issues in Supervision. Last but not least, we hope to look at incorporating more information about trauma in other marginalized populations.
Beginning our journey to improve our attention to social justice issues within our trauma-informed transformation process has been both exciting and moving. We greatly appreciate all our trainers who shared their best thinking with us, and we look forward to the next steps in this evolution.