How Do I Promote Trauma Healing And Avoid Burnout?
Normalize talking about trauma recovery in your day-to-day life & at work
The more you talk about trauma recovery, the more aware you will be of how trauma shows up in you, your family, your peers, and your clients.
This is not to say that you should go out and start talking about specific trauma experiences. Talking about details of a traumatic experience needs to be done safely and intentionally.
What I’m suggesting, instead, is that you start noticing how trauma shows up around you. Do you notice how adaptive or avoidance strategies show up in your physiology, emotions, and behaviors when you are in environments that feel unsafe? Do you ever notice when you’re responding to a situation with a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response?
Describe your physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses with the trauma recovery language.
Here’s a personal example from just a few days ago.
I presented as a guest speaker for a local non-profit organization this week. This is something I’ve done many times, and while each time gets easier, my body definitely reacts to public speaking as if it’s a potential threat. Despite feeling very comfortable with the material I was presenting, my brain still thinks talking publicly could cause me harm from rejection or embarrassment.
As I was logging into the meeting, I noticed that my heart rate was above normal. I could feel slight tightness in my chest and my breathing was shallow. This made my words sound breathy and the increased blood flow made it difficult to talk slowly and calmly.
I was experiencing a flight response to the perceived threat of rejection or embarrassment. My unconscious, instinctive measure was to avoid the threat. Of course, I didn’t want to avoid it– I was actively choosing to be there and wanted to share this information with the audience.
I have learned to self-regulate my breathing, as slowing my breathing helps my nervous system get a bit of a break. When I did that during this presentation, I was able to slow my heart rate and speak a little slower.
I also put my palms down on my desk and focused on that feeling for a moment as I grounded myself to my sense of touch. I replaced my hands on the desk and focused on slowing my breathing any time I noticed my thoughts getting scattered or feeling like I was rushing through something. It gets a little easier for me each time. I have to do this less often as the intensity of my flight response decreases with each safe exposure to public speaking.
Describing things in this way helps us and others to identify how they respond to the situations in which they are experiencing a trauma response. It is especially important for people we’re serving to see us model self-regulation skills.
Participate in Trauma Recovery Focused Approach consultations
Consulting with other professionals who understand the Trauma Recovery Focused Approach can be incredibly helpful in learning to help your clients navigate their trauma recovery.
Start a group in your organization where you can talk about struggles and barriers to recovery. If you’ve been working with someone and they just don’t seem to be making progress, explore the possible signs and symptoms of trauma with your co-workers and supervisors. Discuss possible ways to model self-regulation.
Evaluate if there are certain circumstances in your interactions with that person that are possibly contributing to the barriers to them being able to self-regulate. Do they feel safe with you? Do they feel safe in the environment? Are they able to be vulnerable enough to start exploring their own self-regulation?
Keep learning about trauma recovery
There is so much to know about trauma recovery, and new research is being published all the time. Even as a trauma specialist, I never feel like I’ve learned enough. There are tons of resources out there. Here are a few of my book recommendations:
Nurturing Resilience: Helping Clients Move Forward From Developmental Trauma by Kathy L. Kain and Stephen J. Terrell
Mindsight: The New Science Of Personal Transformation by Dan Siegel
Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence by Dan Siegel
Healing Trauma: Restoring the Wisdom of the Body by Peter Levine
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing by Dr. Joy Degruy
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts by Resmaa Menakem
The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
Up Next: “Why you don’t need to be a therapist to promote trauma recovery”