Mea Culpa: I have ignored my clients’ trauma experiences

For over 10 years, I have been a practicing clinical social worker actively working with adolescents & adults in behavioral health settings. In those 10 years, I avoided my clients’ trauma experiences through either omission or deflection. I felt I did not have the training to treat such a potentially difficult issue. I was afraid of re-traumatizing my clients.

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Trauma-Informed Practice

“The brain-disease model overlooks four fundamental truths: (1) our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being; (2) language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know, and finding a common sense of meaning; (3) we have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through such basic activities as breathing, moving, and touching; and (4) we can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.”
Bessel A. van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma)

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Responsibility

Emotional intelligence (EI) as defined by Brackett, Rivers & Salovey (2011) is “a set of mental abilities involving emotion-based problem solving” (p. 99). The four abilities are 1) perception of emotion, 2) using emotion to facilitate thinking, 3) understanding and analyzing emotions and 4) reflective regulation of emotions. Research of EI in education and leadership indicates awareness and coordination of emotions can contribute to a higher performing, more supportive learning and working environment (Bracket, et al., 2011; McCleskey, 2014; Ordun & Acar, 2014).

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A Commitment to Fight

“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Personal Reflection: My Leader’s Stance

The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move toward freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.”

– bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representation

Like bell hooks, my worldview is framed by a love ethic. As a social worker, I believe it is my heart that is my greatest asset as a teacher and a leader. It is also the only path I have found toward empowerment. Parker Palmer in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy states,

Will the heart break open or apart when it encounters life’s demands? Everything depends on the qualities of the heart on which those demands are laid and on how it has been formed or deformed. Is it an experienced heart, a reflective heart, a heart made supple by inner exercise and responsive engagement with life? Or is it a heart grown brittle from being wounded, unattended and unhealed, sheltered and withdrawn, a heart more prone to shattering in the face of yet another demand? (p. 72)

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