I just watched a ‘CBS News- 60 Minutes’ (March 11th 2018) programme in which Oprah Winfrey reported on how trauma plays a role in childhood development.
Within the report Oprah spoke to Tim Grove a clinical director at ‘SaintA’ (an organisation located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin who finds shelter for some 2,000 abandoned, neglected and abused children, most of whom have suffered childhood trauma.) Tim spoke about how SaintA are helping the children with a revolutionary approach to treating children who have suffered trauma called ‘Trauma Informed Care’.
Why is this New?
To say I was floored by the report would be putting it mildly. I couldn’t believe that this new revolutionary treatment is ‘New’ and not standard practice across all child treatment programmes.
Tim spoke about how they are treating children who present with difficult behaviours, juvenile delinquency, poor performance in school or out of control anger by first focusing on the person’s experiences before trying to correct their behaviours.
Again, I still can’t get my head around what was the normal way of treating a child with these difficulties before now. Surely it makes sense to look into the why? of a child’s problem before you look into the what? of a child’s problem.
In our book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’, we talk about the importance of fully understanding just how your abuse (trauma) affects every aspect of your life. We are constantly talking about how if you are to overcome abuse, you first need to understand its origins and impacts.
I applaud Oprah for bringing this to the attention of the masses, for it is a step in the right direction. We could all benefit from a greater understanding of just how trauma affects how individuals behave and express their hurt.
Impacts of Trauma
According to Dr. Bruce Perry who also took part in the programme “If you have developmental trauma, the truth is you’re going to be at risk of almost any kind of physical, mental and social health problem that you can think of.”
Throughout our childhoods and as a direct result of the daily trauma we each suffered, we found everything difficult, relationships, social interactions, attending school, even carrying out the simplest of tasks that appeared to be effortless to our peers, took real concentration and effort for us to complete. We constantly felt lost and confused and were shrouded in self-hatred. All the time blaming ourselves on what had happened to us.
It was only as adults after spending years trying to put the pieces of our lives in some kind of order and through a lot of research, we found all the answers were out there we just needed to know the questions. We could have saved years of pain and suffering if those professionals that we did come into contact with used this form of treatment.
The Why? not the What?
This way of looking at a condition, behaviour or problem is to me the most practical and caring way to treat a person. It simply makes no sense to spend thousands on rehabilitation programmes if you do not first ask the question WHY?
Children of all ages regardless of their circumstances act out of what they feel even if they are totally unaware of those feelings at the time. Asking them Why? instead of What? just makes sense. I am astonished if it is the case that the first place explored by any professional is not ‘what is the driving force behind the child’s behaviour’.
All of our professional bodies that treat, manage, inform or teach children should see this form of treatment as the way to provide a space for children and adults to feel safe and heard. This is something that should not be new but common practice. If we are ever to make positive changes within our communities, we must first provide appropriate supports for those that need them.
If those within the professional bodies are not using this approach i.e. Trauma Informed Care or at the very least not asking why? before what? then we are in trouble. Providing a child with a safe place to go and allowing them to feel heard and seen is the very least that we can do.
Making a Difference
It only takes one person to make a difference in a child’s life. Just one person who cares for a child and gives them attention or a safe place to go. It is not difficult to change the direction of a child’s life. It is the small things that change how we feel about ourselves.
Unfortunately, it is for this very reason that predators are way ahead of the professionals. They understand just how and when to provide the child with attention and use it as part of their grooming of a child. Trauma-based care can prevent children being further victimised by those who exploit and harm them. It can give children the voice building strong resilient survivors and heal wounds.
In my opinion many of our social ills come down to the unmet needs of victims and the unwillingness of those who could make a difference through funding or appropriate legislation caring enough to actually do something. We under-fund those organisations that have any hope to helping people and we fail to educate those that get to pass judgments leaving them without the necessary understanding of the true cost of the impacts of abuse on our society.
Paula – 12th March 2018