May 25, 2016
From Mandy Davis, LCSW, PhD, Co-Director, Trauma Informed Oregon
Actively Listening to What Is Most Important
A challenge when teaching and training about trauma informed care is providing opportunities for people to apply the knowledge after training. I excitedly accepted an invitation from Teri Petterson, MD with Oregon Pediatric Society (OPS), to sit in on an experiment to do just this–see Teri Pettersen’s blog. The experiment involved using actor’s improvisation skills with medical professionals to enhance their skills and comfort when applying some of the principles of trauma informed care. We participated in several activities that demonstrated the importance of how we communicate and listen and our ability to be flexible in the unknown. I was most moved by an activity where we talked for 1 minute about a time when you were really angry (e.g., your partner not doing the dishes, a worker not finishing their job, a driver cutting you off, etc.) The listener was not to repeat back what the person said, a common active listening activity, but instead speak to what they understood was most important to the person sharing. A story I listened to appeared to be about the frustration of technological challenges at the office. As I listened I realized (and checked in with the participant) that the most important thing was a reliable, predictable environment so that this person could meet the patients’ needs and do their best work for the patient.
As a social worker I have had several opportunities to learn listening skills. However this exercise, listening to what is most important, has the potential to improve our ability to build relationships and identify effective solutions even when time is constrained. For example, after a patient shares a list of ailments what might be most important to them is that the doctor understand the level of pain the person is experiencing, the complexity and connections between the ailments, the stress of getting their medications filled, or the fear they will never feel better.
I appreciated the willingness of these medical professionals to move out of their comfort zone to practice these skills and to share the challenges to connect in this way in the healthcare industry. I also realized, while I shared this space with physicians, that they rarely get the support, time, or training to create relationships with patients that is prioritized in social work. I look forward to continuing my exploration of innovative ways to apply and practice trauma informed skills across multiple disciplines and systems.