by CORI McFARLANE, Deputy Director, Door County Department of Health and Human Services
Individuals who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, sexual assault and/or child abuse have endured significant and often ongoing trauma. These forms of violence are associated with higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental-health challenges.
Research shows that long-term exposure to such toxic stress can actually rewire the human brain, profoundly affecting an individual’s ability to process information and regulate emotions. It is critical, therefore, for all those who provide support to survivors to recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on them.
How do we do this? We can start by following trauma-informed principles such as these established by Resilient Wisconsin (Resilient.Wisconsin.gov):
• Understand the prevalence and impact of trauma.
• Promote safety.
• Earn trust.
• Embrace diversity.
• Provide holistic care.
• Respect human rights.
• Support survivors’ strengths, choices and autonomy.
• Share power.
• Communicate with compassion.
Additionally, the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health (nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org) shares some core components that are specific to a trauma-informed approach to violence intervention and domestic-violence advocacy:
• Provide survivors with information about the traumatic effects of abuse. It is important for them – and all of us – to recognize that some of the common emotional and mental-health effects of abuse can interfere with the ability to access safety, process information and remember details.
• Adapt services to meet survivors’ trauma- and mental-health-related needs. As we become sensitized to the effects of trauma and the need to provide inclusive services, we can work to create programs, policies and settings that meet survivors’ needs and do not retraumatize them.
• Create opportunities for survivors to discuss their response to trauma. Once survivors are aware that most people have natural responses to extreme stress, they can think about the specific ways in which they have managed, responded to and been affected by the trauma they have experienced.
• Offer resources and referrals to survivors. Like many of us, survivors of abuse may have stereotypes about mental-health treatment, but we can let them know that these resources are appropriate for anyone who has been highly stressed or traumatized, and that everyone deserves to feel better.
• Reflect on our programs’ practice and our own practice. Being aware of our own reactions to others and to trauma helps to ensure that our interactions with survivors are focused on supporting their best interests and well-being.
A diverse group of agencies in Door County – including Door County Health & Human Services, United Way/Partnership for Children & Families, HELP of Door County, Family Services of NEW, Door County Medical Center, schools, mental-health providers, law enforcement and others – have formed the Door County Trauma Informed Community (TIC) Team. It shares best practices, hosts bimonthly Lunch & Learn training sessions and helps to spread awareness and common understanding of trauma-informed care throughout the community.
To find out more, contact Cori McFarlane, deputy director of Door County DHHS, at 920.746.7155 or [email protected].
This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.