From Ana Hristić, MA, LCSW, Director of Education & Workforce Strategies, Trauma Informed Oregon

The Hosting a Meeting Using Principles of Trauma Informed Care handout is a useful compilation of suggestions for all who wish to begin to inform their practices of hosting gatherings using safety (and other principles of Trauma Informed Care (TIC)) as a lens of consideration.

Here are some additional ways that I invite physical safety when hosting a training:

  • ensure that all participants know where the restrooms are, and if gender neutral bathrooms are not available explicitly invite people to choose whichever restroom best meets their needs;
  • have several more seats available than number of participants expected, so that the last person who arrives late still has a choice of which chair to sit in;
  • ensure that the chairs do not all have armrests or other exclusionary barriers that invite only a certain body type to occupy them;
  • prior to the training, meet any additional accommodations and translation needs;
  • if visual or audio material is used, ensure that captions are on; and
  • photography and other recordings are not permitted without prior informed consent of all participants.

When these (or other) environmental specifications are not met, I use transparency with participants. Ignoring or minimizing the lack of safety perpetuates harm. Naming the proverbial elephant in the room is the first step toward repairing the harm done when being in a non-inclusive space.

Setting a standard for emotional safety during a TIC training is equally as important (though at times overlooked), and so here are a few examples of what I do during trainings:

  • include pronouns when introducing myself;
  • share the agenda and, as much as possible, stick to the timeline that is provided, including breaks;
  • at the start of the training, point out what is and is not going to happen during the training, so that people are prepared (e.g., “you will not be asked to share your trauma stories”);
  • refrain from asking participants to completely turn off their phones as access to the outside world is a point of safety for many people;
  • name obvious, and sometimes not so obvious, power differences in the room; and
  • ensure that the training material is reflective and inclusive of all, especially historically marginalized identities.

As I enumerate some of these attempts at co-creating safety in our trainings, I am reminded of words shared by my mentor several years ago, “Safety doesn’t always guarantee comfort . . .my job as your facilitator today is to ensure safety, but not necessarily to ensure comfort.”

Over two years ago, a participant in one of my trainings reminded me of my mentor’s words, when they left behind feedback (via an unnamed index card) stating, “So, I’m finding that with all the dominant ‘white’ talk in the TIC world, it is creating an adverse effect—it’s flipping the script on the ‘white’ community who are now becoming traumatized by their own skin color. The oppressor is becoming the oppressed.”

I had many reactions to this note, some that are reawakened in my body as I write this . . . An important point of consideration for me was to ask; however, is there something more/different I could do to ensure that ALL individuals’ emotional safety is met (without conflating it with emotional comfort)? What can I learn from this feedback, without necessarily jumping to conclusions about who, what, when, where, why—and wow . . . really . . . that’s what you took away from spending 4 hours in my training?!—and getting lost in the rabbit hole of reactivity.

One thing I came to, which I’ve started doing since I read this note, that I believe is another way to invite emotional safety, is when introducing myself as the facilitator for the training, I explicitly name/honor my identities as well as my positionality within the TIC world. For example, as a white cisgender facilitator, I will always talk about TIC in a way that questions and challenges its origins, strategies, and (intentional or unintentional) impacts,  especially with regard to racist policy and racial inequity. As an immigrant from a country that no longer exists on the maps of the world, I will always talk about TIC with a heavy dose of respect for the power of historical and generational trauma. As a former clinician/caseworker/advocate, I will always underscore TIC’s (sometimes overlooked) focus on resiliency and recovery. And as a fellow warrior for justice and liberation, when I train on TIC I will always elevate the importance of not just “self-care” but workforce wellness—as too many dear ones in the field of social service have been impacted by the incessant disregard for their wellness on the job.

For me, TIC is not a neutral stance. TIC is positional—maybe even political (meaning, “relating to the way power is achieved and used”). Thus, for participants’ emotional safety, and in some sense their ability to consent to participate in a TIC training with me, I am now transparent about the voice and body that stands before them as the messenger of TIC. In so doing, I am seeking to not necessarily create comfort—as I am thoroughly aware of many people’s discomfort to talk about racist policy and inequity, for example—but to invite emotional safety fueled by honesty and transparency.

I wonder, if the person who left me that feedback had heard my new introduction at the start of their training, would they be a bit more available to hear the actual content and message of the training? I wonder how far TIC could really go, if we were honest from the beginning about where we stand with regard to TIC, and if we spent much less time in reaction to each other and instead in creation and collaboration.

I honor and appreciate the effort that it took for that person to leave me their feedback, and I invite us all to consider sharing the burden/opportunity of co-creating safety (physical and emotional) in our trainings and communities.

On another note:

The application for the April 2020 cohort has just gone live—please find all the details here: https://traumainformedoregon.org/train-the-trainer/

Stay connected to your peers who are doing the work! The latest inquiry on the Discussion Forum is related to staff wellness plans! Do you have some thoughts on the topic?