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.

The Integration of Anti-Racism into Trauma-Informed Care Training: Process and Discoveries - Part 1

April 6, 2022 / by Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

The Traumatic Stress Institute of Klingberg Family Centers (TSI) offers a transformation method to help organizations move toward more trauma-informed care. TSI currently serves 86 agencies in North America and our clients include treatment agencies, schools, head start providers, juvenile justice providers, and hospitals, amongst others. Our training is embedded in a two-year whole system change process. Its foundation is a three-day Risking Connection Basic Training that introduces staff to the concepts underlying trauma-informed care.

The Goal

As societal awareness of the prevalence of racism grew in recent years, we 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.

Dilemmas and Tensions

Just how to do this was not immediately clear, since our three-day curriculum's agenda was already very full.

Because racism is a source of trauma, we needed to include more emphasis on racial and multi-generational trauma and how it affects current functioning. Furthermore, we work with agencies of widely differing knowledge, response to social issues, education, and expectations of their staff in these areas. We knew we were not there to offer anti-racism 101. Furthermore, our agencies serve many different kinds of marginalized communities, so it was important to consider how best to acknowledge the differences between their experiences. What would be uniquely important to include in a trauma training? 

The Process

We made a start in 2019 toward promoting an anti-racist approach to healing trauma by inviting Dr. Kenneth Hardy to provide a day-long workshop entitled Healing Racial Trauma at our annual Day of Learning and Sharing. We included examples of racism and inequities in the training we provide and have continued to be mindful of ensuring our RC Webinars include topics pertinent to social justice and anti-racism. 

In addition, TSI has been open and responsive to feedback and suggestions about the necessity of addressing trauma through an anti-racist lens. Based on feedback we decided that, at this time, our goal would be to create a tool to help our RC Trainers weave examples of anti-racism and social justice issues into their Risking Connection Training.

The process we chose for creating this tool was to form 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, had pertinent lived or clinical experience (we compensated the participants for their time).

Developing safety and trust within the group was essential to ensure that honest discussions and idea-sharing could take place. To create that safe space, committee co-chairs designed reflective questions which were sent out in advance to allow committee participants time to reflect on their responses before attending each meeting. The reflective questions were designed to promote a deeper understanding of each committee member's experience with racism, enhance the connection between committee members, and establish a culture of engaging in deep and complex discussions. Some of the questions were:

  • At what point, age, or stage of life did you begin to think of yourself racially?
  • Out of all the race-related stories that have been in the news during the past year, which one has had the greatest emotional impact on you? Please explain.
  • What are your reactions to the Juneteenth Holiday?
  • Please identify a “race-related” conflict, tension, or misunderstanding that remains unresolved in your life today.
  • How have recent efforts to restrict voting rights impacted you?

We needed to have discussions, exercises, and explorations with the group to create a community and a culture that encouraged people to speak freely. TSI staff served as facilitators and created a structure for the process. We used our Risking Connection training outline as an organizing theme, and utilized small groups to focus on individual segments.

Feedback

Many of the members of the Advisory Committee expressed how meaningful the process was to them personally. In addition to exploring how racism and intergenerational trauma influence the concepts we teach, they appreciated having a space to discuss these questions, to speak from the heart, and to be validated.

In addition to the Advisory Committee, we also solicited feedback from Risking Connection Trainers in other forums. In these arenas we received more excellent thoughts, and also began to discover the fear and anxiety that trainers can feel when asked to address racism as applied to trauma and trauma healing. Some expressed feeling daunted, some were concerned about possible human resources issues, and some suggested bringing in experts to ensure conversations were productive. Others were uncertain how these discussions would be received in their agencies. All of these concerns informed the way we constructed our final product.

Key Learning

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
  • Attachment
  • Brain and body
  • Self-worth
  • Frame and boundaries
  • Crisis management
  • Our reactions to clients
  • Vicarious Trauma (VT) and self-care

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll share some of the learning we gained from this process, including next steps and ongoing development. If you're not yet subscribed to our blog, clicking below will ensure you won't miss the next post.

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Tags: Whole-System Change

Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Written by Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW, is Vice President of Strategic Development at Klingberg Family Centers and specializes in treatment of traumatized children and their families. She created the Restorative Approach™ , a trauma- and relationship-based treatment method. She is also a Faculty Trainer for Risking Connection® and an Adjunct Faculty at both the University of CT School of Social Work and St. Joseph’s University. She travels nationally to train treaters on trauma-informed care, specializing in improving the daily life of treatment programs.