Becoming Trauma-Informed – A Key to Sustaining Compassion and Offering High Quality Care

by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC. RP.

Every single helping professional I have ever met has told me that, at some point in their career, they had the following reflections:

1) Why wasn’t I properly trained to work with difficult clients/patients?

2) If I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have been more patient and compassionate with this particular client/patient

 and they have also asked themselves a variation of this question:

How do I stay compassionate with the “non-compliant”, difficult, “manipulative” clients?

Those of you who know me will know why I put those two terms in brackets – I utterly dislike those two words “non-compliant” and “manipulative” and I have tried to never use them in my own practice when referring to clients I have worked with. Would you not agree that they are words laden with our own judgment and feelings of frustration –  us, the exasperated service providers who feel that the folks we serve are not behaving according to the plan that would make our work so much easier? Or, at times, that those words are a reflection of our sadness for what we see as self-destructive sabotage on our clients’ part, and that this understandably upsets us?

A diabetes nurse recently said to me: “it’s so frustrating, our patients need to do some basic things – check their sugars, eat right, move their bodies, take their insulin, and so many of them don’t – with dire consequences. I can’t seem to get through to them, and then, they get worse. I have run out of ideas and energy to help them!”

I have heard the same from so many different helping professionals: domestic violence workers who see a person return to a terrible situation, addiction counselors, judges, police officers who work with victims of sex trafficking, paramedics who roll their eyes at “frequent flyers” … the list gets longer each time I meet a new group of helpers.

If you’re like me, and you’ve been in the helping field for 20 years or more, the odds are that you didn’t learn a lot or anything about the long term consequences of childhood trauma and neglect back when you were studying to become a professional. Although I went to two excellent graduate schools, my training programs barely touched on trauma at all, except for a brief class on PTSD, but that was mostly in relation to soldiers, and not much else was said about it.

But that has changed now. We have solid research and tools to allow each one of us to become more trauma-informed and this knowledge can allow us to work with challenging clients (and colleagues) with a better understanding of the reasons for some of their actions and choices. This, in turn, can allow us to remain compassionate and to be more helpful to them during their challenging and brave journeys through life.

Here are some resources to become more Trauma-Informed and continue the journey towards compassion for others and for ourselves.

TED TALK: Watch Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris’ amazing presentation on the Adverse Childhood Experience Study for a 16-minute overview. A must-watch!

https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime/up-next

BOOKS:

Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography becomes your Biology and how you can Heal” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

“In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” by Gabor Maté

Webinar to stay compassionate: Compassion Fatigue 101

Websites:

Trauma Informed Care Project http://www.traumainformedcareproject.org

ACES too High website: https://acestoohigh.com

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