BY 

My wife works for an educational company and her past few weeks have been busy working with schools and districts across California as they face the herculean task of adapting to distance learning for the remainder of the school year. One of my favorite stories from last week comes from a training that one of her colleagues was conducting with a school site. During the training, without skipping a beat, the trainer announced that his daughter had just handed him their pet mice and he was now doing the training with two mice in hand. What I love about this story is that it reminded everyone on the call that the guy who was doing the training is also a dad doing his best to manage his own family life.

For those of us who are lucky enough to work virtually during these unprecedented times, the stories about working remotely and the sudden ramp-up in video calls are often hilarious. Zoom bombs from spouses and kids asking what’s for dinner. People forgetting that the camera is on while going to the bathroom. People showing up to calls in pajamas.

But in addition to being hilarious, these stories are also very humanizing. We are seeing windows into people’s lives that we often don’t encounter in a working relationship. At least one onscreen pet is now pretty standard for any video call (and a welcome addition). 

As someone who has three kids and has worked from home for years, having to manage background noise and distractions (albeit not for an entire workday) is nothing new. But what is new is no longer having to have to pretend that all of this other “stuff” is not going on in the background. Just a few weeks ago, I would desperately search for the mute button if my dog Oliver barked during a call with a client or make sure to prep my younger kids if I had a call scheduled after they were home from school. A couple of years ago when I had a weekly series of early morning virtual trainings with a client on the east coast dead smack in the middle of what is often the noisiest time in the house, my wife graciously turned it into Friday pancakes at IHOP to get the kids out of the house. My wife also works from home and the contortions we have both engaged in over the years to keep the pretense of having everything under control in the background have been sometimes funny and often exhausting. We have both been known to take a conference call from our car when desperate.

To say the least, all of those pretenses are gone. Suddenly, it’s ok to give an authentic answer when someone asks you how you are doing or to admit that the reason you aren’t available at a particular time is because your kid needs your help. And there is something very human about all of it.

I am struck by how many lessons of the trauma-informed and resilience-building movement are so salient right now–the importance of physical and emotional safety, the power of relationships and community to heal. I guess it makes sense–we are all experiencing a collective societal trauma right now.  Dr. Rob Anda, one of the co-authors of the original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, a body of research that is foundational to our understanding of the impact of toxic stress physiology on health and behavior, reminds us that “It’s not just ‘them.’ It’s us.” This is one of those rare moments in time when I think we all truly understand what he meant.

The individual and collective suffering is no doubt real and will likely get much worse. By the end of last week, the number of deaths and infections continued to climb. Health care professionals, grocery stores workers, and other essential workers continue to put their lives at risk on the front lines of this pandemic. People are losing their jobs at an astonishing clip. The dad/trainer with the mice was furloughed from his job for three months (and my wife was reduced to 80%).

But the collective trauma and vulnerability we are all facing has also revealed acts of humanity, both large and small. It has led to unanticipated intimacy in places we may not have expected it. Seeing a toddler unexpectedly pop onto a parent’s lap (and the parent embrace them with a hug instead of shooing them away) during a zoom call is an act of astonishing beauty.

As Brene Brown says, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

And somehow every puppy that slobbers on a computer screen during a zoom call right now reminds me that we are indeed all in this together.

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Lori Chelius is a co-founder of Origins Training & Consulting. Origins helps educators, health care professionals, social service workers, and other leaders integrate a trauma-informed approach into their work so they can build more resilient organizations and communities. She lives in California with her wife, three kids, and their dog, Oliver. Learn more about Origins’ and its online training offerings at www.originstraining.org.

 

awareness during a pandemic resilience

BY ANDI FETZNER 

Costco is out of toilet paper and CVS is out of cough syrup. Your group fitness class and your favorite restaurant are closed. Your cousin keeps posting memes on instagram about some conspiracy theory and your co-worker brags on about how she hasn’t been sick in years so she’s not worried about germs. This is not a nightmare. This is real life in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, aka the coronavirus.

On March 11th, three months from when the first cases of pneumonia were reported in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. With a composed and articulate delivery, WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed that this declaration could lead to a response of “unjustified acceptance that the fight is over” or “unreasonable fear.” He wasn’t wrong. With what seemed like an air of hope, he also reported that this declaration should not change the approach governments are taking to stop the spread, or flatten the curve. Fear is quite the motivator. As we introduce in The Basics, fear can activate our  stress response system (aka our survival brain) and when that happens, reason and logic can go out the window. We have a reaction to a real or perceived threat to safety that affects our body, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In this scenario, COVID-19 is the trigger that activates unique fears and responses in each person. For some, the response might be fight or flight. For others, it might be freeze or fawn. Some people get angry and might fixate on finding someone to blame, other people might feel overwhelmed and shut down completely or go on with life as usual, Still others feel guilty that people are suffering and turn to people-pleasing or caregiving. We adapt

 

You may be wondering, “so what am I supposed to do about it?” 

 

First, we can take a trauma-informed approach when responding to one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses the 4 R’s: realizing that each person’s history of trauma can affect them today; recognizing the ways people are thinking, feeling, acting as a normal response to an abnormal situation; responding with compassion and understanding (while still holding them accountable and practicing healthy boundaries for yourself); and reducing re-traumatization. The key principles of a trauma-informed approach include safety at the forefront. 

     

     

Second, we can all practice getting and staying in our resilience zone. When we read news headlines or talk to a co-worker that seems to be communicating with exclamation points, it can be contagious. If we’ve had a life full of stress, trauma, and adversity, it can become even more difficult to distinguish between what is “reasonable” and “unreasonable.” Some of us may have a hard time putting our thinking cap on when emotion is in the driver’s seat. During times of high stress, feeling angry, guilty, and overwhelmed makes perfect sense given the person’s life experience. But staying staying there or allowing those emotions to inform our behaviors can impact our health.

 

Strengthening our “resilience muscle” starts with awareness. What am I noticing in my body, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors? Am I inside or outside of my resilience zone? When I read a headline or hear some news and the words are upsetting, what is my reaction? Do I stockpile toilet paper or do I think about ways I can continue to connect with others or support those who are more vulnerable during a time when physical distancing is a necessary intervention? That balance will be the difference between succumbing to the frenzy and chaos and moving through this pandemic with resilience. 

 

To learn more about what your baseline in the window of tolerance might be…

GET YOUR ACE SCORE HERE or TAKE A RESILIENCE INVENTORY HERE

Image credit: TW @SIOUXSTEW based on Thomas Splettstöber TW: @SPLETTE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

a solid foundation creates sustainable change

BY 

“The implementation of a trauma-informed approach is an ongoing organizational change process. A ‘trauma-informed approach’ is not a program model that can be implemented and then simply monitored by a fidelity checklist. Rather, it is a profound paradigm shift in knowledge, perspective, attitudes and skills that continues to deepen and unfold over time.”

The Missouri Model: A Developmental Framework for Trauma-Informed Schools Initiative Publication

 

My middle child loves all things games. Board games, card games, video games…we play a LOT of games together. She even loves game shows. One of our favorite things to do together is to watch some of the classic game shows from the 1980s (thank you, Amazon Prime video).  

One of our favorite games over the years has been Jenga. For anyone who has not played Jenga before, players take turns removing a block from a tower made from 54 blocks. The player has to then place that block on top of the tower, creating an increasingly unstable structure. If the tower topples when you are placing your block, the other player wins. One thing my daughter learned very quickly with Jenga is that pulling a piece out from the bottom is very dangerous. 

In other words, strong foundations are critical.

I think about this game a lot in relation to our work at Origins. One of our mantras is that a trauma-informed approach is much more than completing a checklist of tasks. Sure, there are a lot of interventions that have the potential to build resilience as standalone initiatives–mindfulness techniques, restorative practices, trauma screenings (when done thoughtfully and responsibly), to mention just a few.  These interventions can indeed have a big impact. But that impact can be so much more powerful and so much more sustainable if they are implemented within the context of a strong foundation. 

Going back to the Jenga analogy, before introducing a change to the Jenga structure, we must first “set the table” with a solid foundation. If the bottom layers of the tower were built in a rush or were missing a brick or two, making changes to the rest of the structure can be dangerous. 

So what does a strong foundation for a trauma-informed approach look like? We think there are at least five critical components: the language, the people, the why, the culture, and the plan. We will be exploring all of these in more detail in a series of blogs over the coming months, but let’s look at each of them briefly. 

The Language

First, the language. Everyone–including the CEO or the Executive Director, middle management or program staff, and support staff–needs shared language. As an example of what we are talking about, let’s take the language that might be used to describe someone who is not taking the medications prescribed by their doctor. The medical field might have traditionally labeled this patient as non-compliant. A trauma-informed approach would encourage a discussion about why the patient is not taking the medication in the first place. Language matters. For this reason, we created The Basics, a 90-minute online training session that provides a shared language for the basic science behind the ACEs framework and what it means to develop a trauma-informed and resilience-building approach. (We talk more about the importance of language in our blog here)

The People

Second, the people. Relationships can be a source of trauma and a solution. Strong relationships built on inclusivity, collaboration, and teamwork help us build resilience and improve experiences and outcomes. A trauma-informed approach requires building effective teams and evaluating how we can create community, both within and outside of organizations. Who is on your implementation team and who is leading it? Are you building relationships with community partners? Who has a seat at your team’s table and who might be missing? How will you meaningfully include the voices of those who are missing from your table? Even better, how can you set a place for them? As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work. And integrating a trauma-informed approach is definitely a team sport.

The Why

Third, the why. Understanding “why you do what you do” is an important brick in the foundation and can help articulate a clear vision and mission. Knowing why that Jenga tower is being built is a critical piece that supports its sustainability. As said by comedian Michael Jr. “When you know your why, your what has more impact because you’re walking in or towards your purpose.”

The Culture

Fourth, the culture. All organizations, communities, and families have a culture, whether it has been created intentionally or not. Taking the time and creating the space to be intentional about building a culture that supports and sustains your vision and mission is essential. As management guru Peter Drucker reminds us, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Part of being intentional is articulating a set of values for your organization or community that will support trauma-informed principles and practices and a resilience-building approach. Those values will help guide your implementation. 

The Plan

Last, and certainly not least, the plan (which is what everyone always asks for!). Operationalizing a trauma-informed approach requires a concrete implementation plan with specific goals and objectives. A good implementation plan starts with an assessment of what the organization is already doing to integrate the approach and identifying opportunities for improvement. Prioritizing these findings and translating them into concrete goals is critical to getting out of the starting gate with this approach. All of this requires an appetite for risk-taking and a tolerance for mistakes.

These five things–the language, the people, the why, the culture, and the plan–don’t look very different from the necessary steps for any sustainable planning process. Indeed, a trauma-informed approach doesn’t exist in a vacuum and can’t be separated from foundational planning work.

We explore all of these concepts in much more detail in our Resilience Champion Certificate program (and will also be doing so in our upcoming blog series!). This self-paced course (which includes access to The Basics) will guide you as you move from trauma-aware to trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. You and/or your team will work through one section each week (or faster or slower, if you prefer) to help you establish a foundation, create goals, and identify concrete steps you can take to sustain a trauma-informed and resilience-building approach in your specific setting. 

Strong foundations matter in organizations and in games. I’ve reached the point where my tween daughter beats me in most games we play (and I am definitely not the type to let her win) with a few notable exceptions. Coming closer (without going over) to the correct prices when we watch The Price is Right together is one of those exceptions. I attribute that to my decades of experience going to the grocery store. And that foundation gives me the edge.