Becoming Trauma-informed, Agency-wide

by Jay Crowe
August 30, 2012

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Jay Crowe is the Behavioral Health Program Manager and Clinical Supervisor at Albuquerque’s Health Care for the Homeless, which is the recipient of a Grant for the Benefit of Homeless Individuals (GBHI) from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). Recently, Jay and three other members of his team were selected to participate in an eight-week virtual learning classroom on Trauma-Informed Care. The course is offered by SAMHSA’s Homeless and Housing Resource Network technical assistance contract, which supports SAMHSA's homeless programs grantees.

Our Executive Director really believes that having a trauma-informed culture is primary, which means that we must have buy-in from senior management. This is why we selected several managers to take the eight-week virtual learning classroom (VLC) on Trauma-informed Care. Most of my web-based educational experiences have consisted of dialing in, or connecting and watching a slideshow, without ever actually coming face to face with another person taking the course. With the SAMHSA VLC, everyone was on webcams and we were able to see not only the instructors, but the other participants as well. I was able to put faces to names. It is so important to see people’s facial expressions when connecting with another person, as it allows you to discern nuances in what they are saying and how they are learning.

One of the most important things I learned is that it is not enough to be only person-centered and client-focused, but that we must also be staff-centered. That really resonated for me. If we have staff who, over time, have been exposed to people who have experienced trauma, then we are likely to have staff who are experiencing vicarious trauma. If we don’t take care of ourselves, and if the staff doesn’t feel safe, then we cannot ultimately help our clients with their complex trauma in a thoughtful manner.

Currently, we are in the midst of an initiative to become a trauma-informed agency, beginning with making our agency a safe and welcoming environment. This is the first of five dimensions of becoming trauma-informed. One of my main goals is to make sure that we are trauma-informed all the way through the system, meaning that we are staff-centered as well as client-centered because we don’t want people to burn out.

And this is not the end; we hope to take this to an even deeper level. Trauma encodes itself within a person’s brain—codes that, when triggered, result in flight, fight, or freeze. It is complicated to transform that type of encoding, which is why we are committed to becoming a trauma-informed agency for everyone that walks through our doors, whether they are staff or clients.

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