The powerful documentary Healing Neen provides a vivid understanding of the devastating impact that lifetime trauma can have on one’s life, help us reflect on our current practices and serve as inspiration as we move forward in our journey to providing trauma-informed services.
An increasing understanding of the concepts of “trauma” and “trauma-informed care” has influenced the way in which advocates and social services providers think of our work with domestic violence survivors. In fact, in the past few years, trauma informed work has become a focus for many federal programs offering funding for the prevention of and response to domestic violence. Research and practice alike show that domestic violence can have a significant impact on victims’ physical and mental health. CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) found that 81% of women who experienced rape, stalking or physical violence by an intimate partner reported short or long term health consequences such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms and injury. It is also known that for many survivors, domestic violence occurs in the context of other lifetime trauma, including histories of physical and sexual abuse in childhood. The comprehensive Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study has documented strong links between childhood trauma and a wide range of consequences in adulthood, including health conditions, mental health and substance abuse issues, increased risk of experiencing trauma and abuse such as domestic violence, and premature death.
“Adopting a trauma-informed approach to domestic violence advocacy means attending to survivors’ emotional as well as physical safety. (…) It also means ensuring that all survivors of domestic violence have access to advocacy services in an environment that is inclusive, welcoming, destigmatizing, and non-retraumatizing.” ~ National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health
The Lifetime Spiral of Gender Violence, created by the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, illustrates multiple forms of abuse and oppression that women and girls may encounter throughout their lifetime. Some forms of abuse and oppression may be confined to one stage in the lifecycle, while others may continue into subsequent life stages.
Unfortunately, the systems to which survivors and their children reach out for help are often unprepared to attend to survivors’ trauma and mental health-related needs. “Trauma” and “trauma informed care” are more than buzzwords or emerging trends. Understanding the impact of trauma and the importance of being trauma-informed is just the beginning of a long journey towards creating conditions and services that meet survivors’ needs for safety, autonomy, and recovery, among other critical needs. “Just as we help survivors to increase their access to economic resources, physical safety, and legal protections, using a trauma informed approach means that we also assist survivors in strengthening their own psychological capacities to deal with the multiple complex issues that they face in accessing safety, recovering from the traumatic effects of domestic violence and other lifetime abuse, and rebuilding their lives” (National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health). Making the transition to becoming a trauma-informed organization and providing trauma-informed services involves a shift in the way we understand our work, structure our organizations, and interact with survivors. The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health outlines the five core components of a trauma-informed approach to domestic violence advocacy as follows:
- Providing survivors with information about the traumatic effects of abuse;
- Adapting programs and services to meet survivors’ trauma- and mental health-related needs;
- Creating opportunities for survivors to discuss their responses to trauma;
- Offering resources and referrals to survivors; and
- Reflecting on our own and our programs’ practice.
That being said, for some organizations, building capacity for trauma-informed care will involve a radical change in approach, while for others it may involve enhancing existing practices. The good news is that there is a growing body of information, resources, and training opportunities designed to help domestic violence organizations and health and human services agencies to build and/or enhance capacity to provide trauma-informed advocacy and services.
The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health offers a wealth of resources, including webinars, fact sheets and articles, providing guidance for creating trauma-informed services at domestic violence programs and for working with survivors who are experiencing trauma symptoms and/or mental health conditions. This organization also provides training, support, and consultation to advocates, mental health and substance abuse providers, legal professionals, and policymakers as they work to improve agency and systems-level responses to survivors and their children.
The manual Real Tools: Responding To Multi-Abuse Trauma offers practical tools for advocates and community partners, such as health and mental heath care providers, to address the complex needs of survivors of multi-abuse trauma, no matter where survivors enter the social service system. The publication A Practical Guide for Creating Trauma-Informed Disability, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Organizations engages readers in critical-thinking and exploration of strategies for implementing effective trauma-informed conditions or core values. The curriculum Access To Advocacy: Serving Women With Psychiatric Disabilities In Domestic Violence Settings was designed to build the capacity of domestic violence agencies, as well as disability rights and mental health providers, to serve survivors of domestic violence and other lifetime trauma who are living with psychiatric disabilities. Taken together, these resources emphasize the critical need for collaboration between advocates and providers from a wide variety of disciplines to ensure that all survivors have access to comprehensive services and that the needs of those impacted by multiple co-occurring issues are met.
VAWnet’s upcoming Special Collection Trauma-Informed Domestic Violence Services, developed by the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health in collaboration with the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (due for release in early November) includes research, practical tools, and informational materials related to trauma and trauma-informed approaches. The Collection is designed to provide practical guidance on developing trauma-informed DV programs and services. It also provides information to help support collaboration between DV programs, and mental health, substance abuse, and other social services agencies.
What steps have you taken within your agency towards building capacity for trauma-informed care? What examples can you share of trauma-informed services in your organization? Share your experience with us!