From Cheryl Mills, President, Haelan House

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway

When my Co-Founder, Susanne Frilot, and I started to plan The Healing Trauma Conference and form the nonprofit organization Haelan House, we started with a leap of faith that we could trust each other. We were essentially strangers. It would be evident enough going forward whether that trust was warranted or not. We did share a common goal—to educate people about how trauma affects them and to help people access tools, resources, and support to heal trauma. And this is what we’ve learned in the process . . .

“It takes two to do the trust tango—the one who risks (the trustor) and the one who is trustworthy (the trustee); each must play their role.” –Charles H. Green, The Trusted Advisor

Venturing into this territory, to put on The Healing Trauma Conference, required us to trust each other and to trust that what we were doing was guided by the purity of our intent and our willingness to do what was required to make it happen. It also required that the people who stepped up to help us found us trustworthy to carry out the task.

Trusting people or circumstances that are unfamiliar often takes a leap of faith. In fact, that leap is essential to know whether or not someone or something is trustworthy. How do you as a leader, or provider—essentially a stranger—prove your trustworthiness to your staff, clients, and their families?

It’s Who You Are, Not What You Know

“We are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications.” –Lolly Daskal, President and CEO of Lead from Within

Susanne and I are not therapists. We get asked that a lot. But that fact doesn’t impede our ability to develop an organization and an event that brings together people who have experienced trauma, their caregivers, and those who provide healing tools, resources, and services.

Credentials and years of experience may tell someone that you have acquired a certain level of knowledge on a given subject, but plenty of people have lots of knowledge, or years on the job, and that doesn’t necessarily equate to being someone who can be trusted. Events in the news regarding the unethical, abusive, or criminal behavior by “experts” or people in positions of power, have proved otherwise. That said, generalizations about certain professions or all people who have influence over your career, don’t help. We need to remember that these are individuals who did things that harmed others. Trust is earned and given by an individual. A team of trustworthy individuals makes a trustworthy organization.

What We Don’t Know

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” –Mother Teresa

Being transparent for us meant that we needed to admit what we didn’t know.

In order for people to step up and help us make The Healing Trauma Conference a reality, we had to be transparent about what we knew or didn’t know, and where we needed help. Yes, this made us vulnerable. We held several meetings explaining what we wanted to do and asking for help and advice about moving forward. And the universe brought us the people and the resources we needed to put on the first event last year, and again this year.

We admit we don’t know it all, and we include and collaborate with as many people as possible who know what we don’t so that the conference will help as many people as possible. We continue to ask for help.

We honor honesty. Even if we think the truth will hurt we are honest with each other (in a compassionate way). Being honest helps to keep the air clear.

Our planning team is good about keeping their minds open and receptive—actively listening to what is being said and being open to ideas and possibilities for doing things differently or more efficiently helps us create a better organization and conference. We’ve learned a lot from each other, and everyone who has advised us, this way.

Trauma as a Barrier to Trust and Communication

At times there is disagreement during the stages of planning. How the disagreements are handled sometimes have something to do with what’s going on under the radar.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Founder of Non-Violent Communication talks about unmet needs. When we are communicating it’s important to try to understand what another person’s needs are that aren’t being met, or expressed. If we can meet each other’s needs, it’s a win-win.

Our own traumas influence how we are in the world. We need to look at ourselves and see what our own traumas lead us to bring to the table. It takes an awareness of self to see our patterns of relating clearly and to know what types of behavior serve us and which ones don’t. And to further recognize when patterns that don’t serve us are operating in the background.

Trauma itself can present an inherent distrust of certain situations or people. The memory of the lack of safety, or harm as part of a traumatic experience, can create associations that aren’t accurate in the present moment, but nevertheless affect a person’s ability to trust and/or communicate clearly. Those associations will forever affect a person’s ability to trust and communicate their needs plainly unless some healing has occurred.

As someone who experienced years of emotional and verbal abuse, I am aware of my style of communicating, or lack thereof, because of my response to those experiences. These patterns will show themselves in times of conflict in particular. If I’m not aware of my patterned behavior around conflict our communication will suffer because I have shut down. Needless to say, that’s not a healthy way to communicate. Bringing awareness to this pattern helps me to recognize my tendency to shut down or tune out so I can choose to respond in a way that helps me to get my needs met and respond to others in a more open and compassionate way.

Trust, trustworthiness, transparency, self-awareness, honesty, openness, patience, and compassion have helped us to create an effective team who is passionate about helping people heal from trauma.

This year’s Healing Trauma Conference will be launched online May 1, 2020. Transitioning from a live event to an online event involved even more trust, that if we didn’t know how to make this happen we would figure it out. We firmly believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Trust in the process and each other. So far, so good.

We hope you’ll join us online on May 1st.


Cheryl Mills is the President and Co-Founder of the nonprofit organization, Haelan House, and Co-Founder of The Healing Trauma Conference. She is also a Qualified Teacher of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness Meditation, and other Mindfulness Based programs for behavior change.
Haelan* House’s mission: “Heal the root cause and effects of trauma…creating health, resilience and wholeness.”
* Haelan is an Old English word for healing.