A couple weeks ago, I attended a Trauma Informed Care training presented by national expert Bonnie Martin, LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor). The training was hosted by National Community Church here in Washington, D.C. I was joined by one of my mentees who is pursuing her Master of Social Work. Since attending the training, it’s been my intent to share with you some of what we learned.
Though I’ve been told by others that I am a good listener, compassionate and provide wise counsel, it was recommended that I attend the training to better serve the at-risk youth population the Lord has placed a burden on my heart to mentor here in D.C. Unlike the young people I’m currently mentoring who seek guidance in navigating career choices, relationship matters and their life in Christ Jesus in a morally decaying world, it is highly likely the stories I’ll hear from the at-risk population will be gut-wrenching and horrific.
The training was tremendously helpful to someone like me who is not—I repeat NOT a mental health expert. She presented a lot of information, at which my mentee and I took copious notes. Though she is a Christian, Martin framed the information primarily from a scientific perspective to depict how trauma affects the brain and how the brain attempts to heal.
While I wouldn’t dare capture for you the entire training in this blog post, I can provide you some toplines. I hope this helps to enlighten and certainly not minimize the scale and impact trauma can have on someone physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. For those of you reading this who are mental health professionals and more versed in issues on trauma, please feel free to provide additional insight.
Toplines on Trauma
What is trauma and what does it look like?
- Trauma (as Martin defined it): too much stress at one time for the body to handle properly; a distressing experience.
- Trauma can be acute (ex: earthquake) followed by subsequent aftershocks. PTSD looks at how the body and brain are responding two months after trauma. Complex post-trauma could also be trauma that is chronic (ex: some children are born into trauma, such as those born to a heroin-addicted mother, child born into food insecure home or molestation. Chronic homelessness is ongoing trauma).
- The brain is being altered under traumatic stress and this needs to be taken into consideration.
- Neuroplasticity: how the brain seeks to heal after trauma or injury and establish new neuro connections to adjust to changes in new environment.
- Trauma can cause memory impairment. Memories can also change, become disjointed or not make sense.
- Negative behaviors of acting out: Some of the behaviors that traumatized people act out is what helped them survive (lying, stealing, etc.) to cope with stresses that never should have been. While we get this, they need to be restored from this. Sexual acting out may be sign of previous sexual trauma. This is done to manage stress response.
- Prefrontal cortex of the brain if compromised or damaged during trauma, creates hypervigilence. The person’s ability to perceive stress in a healthy way, is gone. All events are elevated to a high stress level (ex: studying for an exam and being chased by a shark receives same stress response).
- A person experiencing trauma may feel unworthy of love, acceptance and carry shame.
- They may crave sweet, fatty food combinations. They can gain weight and this compounds the shame feelings. Diet is critical. They need hydration and healthy food. Dehydration impairs mental function.
- People experiencing trauma are exhausted. Difficulty getting out of bed to run their race. Weary and faint-hearted.
How can you best help this person?
- Listen. If they choose to be silent instead of talk, sit with them in the silence. Don’t seek to fill the silence.
- By listening and not trying to “help,” you offer them a safe place to engage and build a healthy relationship. This also helps their brain establish new neuro connections.
- Focus on their strengths.
- Show up. Be present. Your presence matters.
- Stick to what you know. If they ask you a question and you don’t know, tell them, “I don’t know.” Do seek to connect them to the appropriate resources who can help.
- Ask questions to get to know them. Be interested in them. People are the assignment. We have as much to learn from them as they do from us.
- People who have experienced trauma tend to self-isolate. This can kill. They need community and connection.
- Embrace anger and grief. These are honest, raw and real emotions about pain and trauma. Bear witness to their pain. Don’t try to shut them down too soon.
- Understand that resiliency differs for everyone. Trauma differs for everyone and cannot be compared.
- Empower people. Never take their power away. “Do you want an apple or orange?” “Do you want to sit here or over there?”
How can you stay healthy when serving/ministering to a person who has been traumatized?
- Don’t be a sponge/don’t absorb others’ trauma or you will not be good for yourself or others. Instead, mirror love and resiliency, laughter, play, redemption. Mirror everything you pray for them to have. The Holy Spirit working through you and your presence will be the influence.
- Make sure you bounce back. If you are not bouncing back, stop and get help.
Praise Jesus Christ, who is our Savior! He is a sure help in our times. You need not think that you can save this person. Only Jesus can. Jesus knows our pain and suffering. He knows that pain and despised the shame of that pain for the joy set before him as told in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son Jesus, Our Savior, to bear it all for us on the Cross. In our pain, our grief, anger, a yearning to understand “why?”, He knows and sees our struggle. He hears our cries and utterances. Because of His victory achieved on the Cross, the shame is not His or ours. Thank you Jesus for your amazing love that heals the broken places and makes all things new. We pray that those experiencing such pain would begin to lay their burdens down, so they may see the victory and joy you’ve already set before them. Refresh and renew their spirit, mind and body, Lord with your love, strength, peace and joy. In this joy, may they run their race with perseverance, seeing their victory already won. Please also strengthen those of us you’ve called to help those in pain. We thank you for inviting us to be co-workers with you in this work as they move toward healing and freedom, and prayerfully, may be equipped to help free somebody else.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.
Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here.