Being more aware of trauma helps us understand others better

About two-thirds of people have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE).  There are so many kinds of trauma and different ways of experiencing it. These are some of the things participants learned at a Support Staff Training Day workshop on Trauma-Informed Care given by Denise Michelle Brend, an Assistant Professor at Université Laval and a Canadian Consortium on Child and Youth Trauma co-researcher.

Denise opened her talk on May 24 by explaining the three E’s of trauma: events, experiences, and effects. Different people experiencing the same trauma can have very distinct experiences. “Their memories can be night and day,” she said. An event can also be extremely triggering for one person and not at all for another.

Greater awareness of trauma can help us understand why people do things and to respond in a way that will improve a situation. Denise listed some types of trauma: intergenerational, developmental, complex, post-traumatic stress disorder, shared, betrayal, and complex.

Working at a place like Dawson means that employees have “potential exposure to a great number of trauma survivors,” she said.

Denise spoke about a study on adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and said that the more ACEs a person experiences, the greater their chances of taking up smoking and drinking or committing suicide. However, she emphasized that having ACEs does not mean a person is doomed.

“If toxic stress stops, the brain can undo stress-induced changes,” she said. Mindfulness, exercise, good sleep, and healthy social interactions can help advance us toward better health. She also said that people with ACEs who work as counsellors and social workers (sometimes called “wounded healers”) report greater satisfaction with compassion and have lower burnout rates.

It is important to understand that people who have experienced trauma have what she called “adaptations.” These are automatic and unconscious reaction patterns and the goal is to avoid intolerable experiences.

Trauma and ADHD can look the same, Denise said. Also, trauma can be mistakenly called personality traits, family traits or culture.

Trauma can be in the past or people can be living with it or through it for a long time. One type of trauma that stands outside of time is intergenerational trauma, such as that caused by colonialism, slavery, or the Holocaust. It can be transmitted genetically as the trauma adaptations of survivors get passed down to the next generations.

In closing, Denise quoted Maya Angelou when she called on the more than 40 participants to “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Last Modified: June 1, 2022