Trauma. We hear this word a lot, especially in this field of work. But what is trauma, exactly? If people who have lived through trauma are going to heal and if the people working to help want to be “trauma-informed,” then it starts with an understanding of the concept.
The dictionary definition of trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” Author Judith Herman says it is, “characterized by feelings of intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, or threat of annihilation.” And, perhaps most insightfully, therapist Peter Levine states, “Trauma is based in the individual’s perception of the event and does not have to come from a huge catastrophic event.”
The same way that two people involved in the same car wreck can sustain different injuries, two people can go through the same experience and come through it with different emotional effects. It does not say anything about either individual, other than that they had two different perceptions of that event. In fact, for every person involved in an experience, there will be that many perceptions of what happened.
Trauma often happens after something abnormal - such as a wreck, an assault, abuse, or a natural disaster - happens to us. If we start to find our recollection of the event has gaps in it, if our memory is episodic as if in camera flashes, if we find it hard to keep up with everyday tasks, if we find ourselves to be far more jumpy than normal - these are all typical reactions to experiencing trauma. Whatever our reaction may be, it is important to remember that we are having normal responses to the abnormal event.
The main thing to understand about trauma is that something outside of our control happens and then our minds and bodies start to work to help us cope with that. There is help to work through the trauma. The Knoxville Family Justice Center has counselors who are trained to work with individuals who have encountered family violence. You can call 865-215-6865 to talk with someone about how to get an appointment or a referral to another trauma-informed program.
Amy Dilworth is the Executive Director of the Knoxville Family Justice Center. She is a licensed professional counselor and mental health service provider, specializing in trauma-informed therapy for family violence.
SAFETY & ACCOUNTABILITY AUDIT
When a woman who has been beaten in her home dials 911 for help, she activates a complex institutional apparatus responsible for public safety. Within minutes, her call for help is translated into something that makes her experience something that institutions can act upon. Her experience has become a domestic violence case. Over the next 24 hours, up to a dozen individuals will act on her case. They hail from many agencies and levels of government. Over the next year, the number of agencies and people who work with her case – and therefore her safety – can more than double. 911 operators, dispatchers, patrol officers, jailers, court clerks, emergency room doctors and nurses, detectives, prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement victim advocates, prosecutor victim advocates, child protection workers, civil court judges, criminal court judges, family court judges, guardians ad litem, family court counselors, child and family investigators, therapists, social workers, probation officers, community-based advocates, children’s advocates, offender treatment provider advocates, and support group facilitators may all become involved in a chain of events activated by her original call for help.
The Safety Audit is a close look at how workers are institutionally coordinated, both administratively and conceptually, to think about and act on cases. The Audit Team uncovers practices within and between systems that compromise safety. It examines each processing point in the management of cases through interviews, observations, focus groups, review of case files and an analysis of institutional directives, forms and rules that govern a worker’s response.
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