You may be familiar with the idea of “Art Therapy”; a process where people from all ages might find healing and comfort from experienced trauma or loss. Creativity and artistic expression are connected. However, they are not necessarily one in the same. Creativity can be expressed in many ways that do not result in artistic accomplishments.
You may also be familiar with the concept of Trauma-Informed Practice. Historically, when someone has experienced trauma, there has been a great deal of focus on talking through the story, quite often in the presence of a professional counselor.
People may join support groups where they feel connected to others who have also experienced trauma. Some of us simply find friends and others who are willing to listen to us as we re-live our pain and try to make sense of the suffering.
Many people find relief and healing through this process. However, it is not necessarily the only way to navigate trauma in our lives. Healing can happen on a number of levels and through a variety of practices and approaches.
What is Trauma?
To back up a little bit, what do we mean by trauma? This is often a very personally interpreted experience. It might not be so much about the actual nature of the events as it is about the impact the experience has on the individual.
According to Judith Herman, in her book Trauma and Recovery, “Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning. Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life. They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror and evoke the responses of catastrophe.”
The American Psychological defines trauma as, “an incident of grave threat to life or one’s personal integrity, or unexpected, or violent death of others.”
Impact of Trauma
As what constitutes trauma can be very different for each of us, how we experience it is equally personal.
Traumatic experiences can have impact for long periods of time if there has been no opportunity to find relief through some form of expression. People can experience PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which can lead to a multitude of other challenges including mental health and addiction struggles.
This is true for all of us. This is true for the people we provide service to who have experienced trauma and it is true for us as helping professionals who have also experienced our own personal traumas and have been exposed to the trauma of others.
Without strategies to manage trauma, we can become sick, disillusioned, depressed, and disconnected ~ not only from others, but also more importantly from ourselves.
Trauma Informed Practice
It seems that the most powerful thing we can do as helping professionals when providing service to people who have experienced trauma is to acknowledge the experience for that person. So again, it is not just about what we say or what we do, but rather how we approach the individual in their current situation.
To me, this is evidence of presence and engagement that results in honoring another.
“Utilizing a trauma-informed approach does not necessarily require disclosure of trauma. Rather, services are provided in ways that recognize the need for physical and emotional safety, as well as choice and control in decisions affecting one’s treatment. Trauma-informed practice is more about the overall essence of the approach, or way of being in the relationship, than a specific treatment strategy or method.” (Trauma Informed Practice Guide, 2013, BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Abuse Council).
We can also learn to take this same approach with ourselves. How do we simply acknowledge that we have experienced some form of trauma in our lives and recognize our personal need for safety and choice? I believe as we grow in our capacity to create this space for our own experience, we will naturally bring that energy and essence into our interactions with others.
Our first panel discussion on Serving Consciously occurred Friday February 24 at 12pm PST at www.ctrnetwork.com. The entire show was all about Trauma and Healing through alternative practices. My guests explored ideas related to artistic expression and the role in trauma-informed practice and share their research experiences.
Panel Guests included:
An Educator and Artist for over 25 years, Orah Chaye has instructed ECE, implemented appreciative inquiry curriculum in numerous settings, been Field Supervisor for Early Years Refugee Home Visitation, and has designed site specific curriculum and In-Service Training. Orah is the Provincial trainer for the BC Council’s Home Visiting and Risk Management certificates. From a strength-based perspective, trauma informed practice and the creative process is embedded in all of her curriculum. She has recently completed an Educator’s Toolkit for Physical Literacy and Nature Exploration (PLANE) and is well known for her unique and creative programming with young children.”
Dr. Amea Wilbur completed her Doctorate of Education at the University of British Columbia. Her research looked at how to make government-funded English classes more inclusive for adult students who have experienced trauma. She worked for many years as an instructor and manager for an EAL program for people with mental health issues. Currently she works at Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, an organization that provides services for immigrant and refugee women and their young children.
Diana Jeffries has been in the English as an Additional Language (EAL) profession for the past 15 years. In addition to teaching Diana has written resource guides for working with students who face a multitude of barriers, refugee youth and for students who have experienced trauma where she collaborated with Dr. Amea Wilbur. Diana is also an artist with a background in theatre and applied art including mask making and puppetry. She regularly applies her art background to her classroom practice, as she believes that the creative process can be a very helpful tool for students who are challenged in a regular classroom environment.
Self Help Tips and Advice For Social Workers
There is no denying the positive impact social workers have on hundreds of families and individuals throughout their career. They will tell you about the rewarding experiences they have helping others in need. Unfortunately, for every success, there is at least one case in which they could not help. Social workers see the best and the worst of society every day, and even the strongest among us can crack under the pressure. That is why self-care is so important. Being mindfully aware of your needs as well as the needs of those around you can keep you healthy and able to be there when you’re needed.
What is Self Care and How Can You Do It Every day?
Self-care is a practice that becomes a lifestyle. Understand and commit to the idea that it is not something you do once, it is something you do every day. The key is to be mindful and aware.
It is important to be mindful of where you are and what you are doing as you go about your day. Whether you are in a meeting or at the grocery store, notice how you are feeling in the moment. This can range from listening to your body and noticing your state of health to recognizing an emotional situation in your life.
Become aware of your breathing. When we are feeling stressed, emotional, or run down, we forget how to breathe. Our breath can become fast and shallow which deprives our bodies of the oxygen it needs. Pay attention to your breathing and focus on slowing it down. Allow the air to fill your abdomen, not just your lungs. You will find that mindful breathing exercises calms your thoughts, allows for greater clarity, and lessens your anxiety.
Now That You Are Aware, How Do You Improve?
It’s one thing to be mindful and aware of how you are feeling, but doing something about it is another matter. Improving your physical and emotional state requires some life changes as well.
Many social workers have the stress relieving habit of smoking or grabbing an unhealthy snack from the vending machine. It makes us feel like we’re taking a moment for ourselves. Instead of grabbing a cigarette or a bag of chips, try an e-cigarette starter kit or grab a granola bar. This gives you a moment away while making healthier choices through controlling the nicotine and sugar you intake. The idea is not to deprive yourself but to make small changes that will make you feel better over time.
Changing the way you approach daily tasks is another life change that will give you some added peace of mind. For decades we have been taught to multitask but all we’ve learned is how to start tasks but not finish them in a timely manner. By focusing on one task at a time you’ll allow yourself to finish a job before moving onto something else. This creates a sense of accomplishment and boosts your confidence at the job you are doing.
Maintaining Your New Found Awareness
Creating a support system is important when attempting to care for yourself. By relying on your friends and family you are willingly accepting love and nurturing that you simply cannot give to yourself. When meditating on an issue in your life doesn’t result in answers, one of the best things we can do is turn to our support system for help. It’s not necessary to face every challenge alone and often times, they can see from a perspective that you cannot. You may also find that the more willing you are to receive care from others, the easier it becomes for you to provide care for the people you’re working to help.
Self-care is difficult for those who spend their lives taking care of others. By allowing yourself the care you need you will find that it not only feeds your soul but it will improve your ability to care for the people around you.
National Survey Reveals the Scope of Behavioral Health Across the Nation
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report provides the latest estimates on substance use and mental health in the nation, including the misuse of opioids across the nation. Opioids include heroin use and pain reliever misuse. In 2016, there were 11.8 million people aged 12 or older who misused opioids in the past year and the majority of that use is pain reliever misuse rather than heroin use—there were 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users.
“Gathering, analyzing, and sharing data is one of the key roles the federal government can play in addressing two of the Department of Health and Human Services’ top clinical priorities: serious mental illness and the opioid crisis,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “This year’s survey underscores the challenges we face on both fronts and why the Trump Administration is committed to empowering those on the frontlines of the battle against substance abuse and mental illness.”
Nationally, nearly a quarter (21.1percent) of persons 12 years or older with an opioid use disorder received treatment for their illicit drug use at a specialty facility in the past year. Receipt of treatment for illicit drug use at a specialty facility was higher among people with a heroin use disorder (37.5 percent) than among those with a prescription pain reliever use disorder (17.5 percent).
The report also reveals that in 2016 while adolescents have stable levels of the initiation of marijuana, adults aged 18 to 25 have higher rates of initiation compared to 2002-2008, but the rates have been stable since 2008. In contrast, adults aged 26 and older have higher rates of marijuana initiation than prior years. In 2016, an estimated 21.0 million people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment and of these 21.0 million people, about 2.2 million people received substance use treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.
Rates of serious mental illness among age groups 26 and older have remained constant since 2008. However, the prevalence of serious mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts has increased among young adults over recent years. Among adults aged 18 or older who had serious mental illness (SMI) in the past year, the percentage receiving treatment for mental health services in 2016 (64.8 percent) was similar to the estimates in all previous years.
“Although progress has been made in some areas, especially among young people, there are many challenges we need to meet in addressing the behavioral health issues facing our nation,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. “Fortunately there is effective action being taken by the Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with initiatives to reduce prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death, and dependence as well as many evidence-based early intervention programs to increase access to treatment and recovery for people with serious mental illness. We need to do everything possible to assure that those in need of treatment and recovery services can access them and we look forward to continuing work with federal and state partners on this goal.”
“Addiction does not have to be a death sentence – recovery is possible for most people when the right services and supports in place, including treatment, housing, employment, and peer recovery support,” said Richard Baum, Acting Director Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The truth is that there’s no one path to recovery because everyone is different. And frankly, it doesn’t matter how someone gets to recovery. It just matters that they have every tool available to them, including peer recovery support and evidence-based treatment options like medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.”
NSDUH is a scientific annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older. NSDUH is a primary source of information on the scope and nature of many substance use and mental health issues affecting the nation.
SAMHSA is issuing its 2016 NSDUH report on key substance use and mental health indicators as part of the 28th annual observance of National Recovery Month which began on September 1st. Recovery Month expands public awareness that behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment for substance use and mental disorders is effective, and people can and do recover from these disorders.
Anxiety in Children: How Can You Help?
Mental health issues amongst children are becoming more and more common, and this is a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s a good idea to become familiar with signs of mental ill-health, and think about how you might be able to help.
The first step is to recognize the symptoms. While small experiences of anxiety are a natural part of life, it’s important to recognize when it’s becoming more prevalent, and when it’s having a negative impact on a child. Symptoms might include an irrational and ongoing sense of worry, an inability to relax, general uneasiness and irritability, as well as difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating or sudden, unprovoked feelings of panic. Anxiety and depression are not always obvious in children and symptoms can vary significantly depending on the child. Because of this, it’s really important to involve professional medical help if you’re worried about someone in your care.
The second step is to work out if and how to talk about it. Simply letting them know you care can make a big difference. You might like to share a story about times you’ve experienced anxiety. This can be an avenue into a discussion around anxiety, and can provide an opportunity to ask if they have similar worries.
If you’re going to try to help a child with anxiety, there are a few key things to avoid as they can end up being accidentally unhelpful. Avoid phrases like ‘just relax’, or ‘calm down’ as they can escalate the feelings of anxiety and make the child feel like they are doing something wrong. Also consider and be aware of situations that might exacerbate your child’s anxiousness, for example being in loud, crowded places could evoke feelings of uneasiness or panic. It’s important that you can find the balance between understanding and supporting what your child might be going through and acting as a self-assigned counsellor – don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need to.
The next thing you can think about is how to empower your child to deal with particular triggers. For example, if your child is feeling anxious about a certain event – an exam, public speaking at school, or an upcoming sports game, you may be able to talk with them about whether you can help them to practice or prepare in a way that they might find helpful.
Perhaps practicing a speech in front of you could help them to pinpoint what it is about the experience that’s making them feel anxious. You can’t promise that they’ll ace their presentation or win their sports day, but you can help them practice what they’re concerned about and provide them with tools to manage the anxiety they may feel in these situations. You don’t want to create further anxiety-inducing situations though, so make sure your child is happy to try this out, and mix it up with fun activities too. Revisiting things that they are familiar with and good at can help to develop a sense of capability and foster self-esteem.
When dealing with anxiety, this three-step breathing exercise can be used as a tool to interrupt anxiety as it builds, and it is something you can practice together.
- Step 1: When you feel tension and anxiety building, stop and close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds.
- Step 2: Hold it for 2 seconds, then slowly breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds.
- Step 3: Repeat this as many times as necessary, gently bringing your focus back to the breath.
If you’re worried about your child, or someone close to you, it’s important to get the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Anxiety and depression are illnesses that often benefit from a range of treatment options, and often professional support is key to management and recovery.
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