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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Bryan

Want Empathy in the Workplace? Shift to Trauma-Informed.

What does trauma-informed mean anyway? When people hear me say what I do - help organizations become trauma-informed - they tend to "other-ize" trauma - imagining terrible things happening to people down on their luck, or people who have been impacted by situational trauma. Usually they haven't heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, and they almost never have taken the ACE survey, so they can't imagine than trauma-informed applies to them personally, or would help their organization. But trauma is ubiquitous - it's anything that stuns us like a bolt out of the blue, leaving us disconnected from our bodies. Understanding this definition, in combination with the neuroscience generated by the ACE study, helps us to appreciate how deeply our lived experience becomes our biology. Adopting trauma-informed principles across social sectors is like practicing universal precautions in medicine - you never know who is impacted so best to be cautious with everyone...and these principles benefit everyone, regardless of trauma exposure or not.

What is the shift? It is checking your assumptions about people at the door, and instead of thinking, "what's wrong with you?" you wonder, "what happened to you?", which leads to empathy. Not sympathy - feeling sorry - empathy: understanding behaviors and situations from that person's perspective. Which, more often than not, points toward solutions - or at the very least explains what's going on.

What are trauma-informed principles? Different organizations are creating models of trauma-informed, including the Missouri Model, and Aetna Medicaid. But the model I appreciate most is SAMHSA's Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach, which is the image I have for this post. When adopted, not only for clients but for employees as well, it means that work spaces feel safe - emotionally as well as physically. And people are affirmed in their experiences, given voice and choice, are trusted with transparent leadership practices, and are heard when struggling with race and gender challenges. All of this has the potential to build trust, strengthen relationships, and be transformative.

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