During this week I read two articles that put some more meat around my thinking about connection and recovery from trauma and how as professionals we can have a far reaching impact on the children and young people they work with if we could place these things at the centre of our practice.
Suzanne Zeedyk thoughtfully explored why professionals are distressed by children’s distress and an article on Secure Start writes about social ties, a sense of belonging, interpersonal acceptance & mental health. Both articles explore connection, relationships and the outcomes of when these things are not the central consideration.
This is a difficult discussion to have because we are so wrapped up in the personal that sometimes, it can be far too noisy to listen to what is actually being said so please bare with me while we explore this together.
I’ll give you an example to explain (and this is one of many.) I was recently engaged in delivering training to around 80 teachers and social workers who were working with vulnerable and traumatised children and young people and I was talking about attachment and adoption. Because I combine my personal and professional experiences in my work, I used the example of being removed from my own mother at birth for a number of weeks and how I believed that this had impacted upon me and also upon my mother. I spoke of the feeling of loss and disconnect that I carried around with me all my life and explained how recent research had enabled me to understand what had happened to me much more clearly now.
Immediately, someone put their hand up and stated “well I was separated from my birth mother and adopted as a baby and I never felt like that and I had a wonderful upbringing and I love my adoptive parents.” I have become used to this type of response so while it took me a moment to configure my thoughts, it took me less time than it once did.
What this person had done, was she had gone straight into the personal space of her own experience which therefore must be the experience and anything outside of that was beyond her comprehension.
This is not unusual and it is what makes delivering training about trauma, attachment and how we can do this stuff better so challenging; the personal space becomes a place of safety, of truth and of reference. Inevitably, the child is lost.
Actually, what might have been really useful for the person in the room to internally observe, could have been to acknowledge that there are different responses and reactions to the things that have happened to us and reflect upon what might have made her experience so positive. In this instance, she had stated that her adoptive family were warm and loving. This should provide clues to build upon, not the basis for ‘truth’ about what the adoption experience might be for everyone else.
It is of course possible that she went home and reflected on the afternoon and what she had taken from it. I will never know that.
When we listen to everything without the understanding that our own lens through which we view the world is created through our own personal experience, then we are unable to hear what it might feel like for others. If we cannot hear what it might feel like for another person, then we cannot possibly connect with them and develop a relationship that can create real change. Because it is relationships that are the best therapeutic intervention known to us. That is what needs to be at the heart of all practice with all the people that we work with, not the box ticking that is so often what is given priority.
Recovery from trauma and or/traumatic events requires safety, acceptance and connection; all the things that we all want from our relationships with others because this is what it is to be human. The sooner that this is how services see their work as an integral part of the ‘system,’ the sooner real meaningful and effective change will be able to take place.