By Dr. Sandra Bloom
In May of 2019, CTIPP was selected by the American Psychiatric Association to receive the APA’s Distinguished Service Award for meritorious service to the field of psychiatry. It is an honor to receive such praise, especially for a young, entirely volunteer organization. For many of us, our careers have been a Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice since the 1980’s, long before this organization was formed. When we first gathered together in 2016, the field of traumatic stress studies had grown widely and the scientific basis of understanding stress, trauma and adversity had become voluminous. But we all sensed that something was still missing – an organization to promote a common language and understanding about trauma, to influence and support trauma-sensitive legislation, and to lobby for trauma-resilient communities.
We know now that most of our social problems are related to exposure to childhood adversity and trauma across the lifespan, exposure that is often multigenerational. The big deal about this subject is the challenge of creating the deep change needed to prevent problems instead of simply treating symptoms. Today, when someone is hurt badly, leaving them emotionally, physically, and spiritually scarred, they are labeled as either “bad” (they have done something wrong) or “sick” (there is something wrong with them). If they are “bad”, they go to the criminal justice system; if they are “sick”, they go to the mental health system; and if they are both “bad” and “sick”, nobody wants to deal with them.
What “trauma-informed” really means is that neither of these mental models are helpful. Yet these ideas inform just about everything we do, often without our awareness. We not only need to stop labeling people as bad and sick, we need to understand the nature of psychological injury, and what it takes to heal. This was the key learning that my colleagues and I had in the 1980’s, captured in a phrase that has become a social “meme” – “It’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you”.
Trauma-informed care means developing a sensitivity to the lived experiences of those who have been deeply and badly hurt. Human beings do the best we can to cope, but our coping often leads to more problems. Being trauma-informed does not mean that we are making excuses for problem behavior. It means that the scientific findings around adversity and trauma are providing us with better explanations, and better explanations can lead to improved interventions and outcomes – including better financial outcomes.
Humanity is in a position – for the first time in human history – to decide what we want the future to be; whether to improve the wellbeing of all living beings, or regress to an isolated and fearful existence. This decision point parallels the choice that every individual survivor of trauma and adversity must make – to do the very difficult work of healing and recovery, or to stay on a path that ultimately leads to destruction.
CTIPP is building a movement to create a future that is better than what the present has to offer. I remain hopeful that our vision will continue to crystalize as we work to develop systems that promote recovery and post-traumatic growth for individuals, families, communities and societies. We can change the policies and practices that perpetuate negativity. We live in the most advanced and interconnected society this world has ever known. One of the amazing things we have witnessed is that when trauma-informed policies and practices are embraced, positive return is almost immediately felt. Massive expenditures are often avoidable, but to do so requires intentional care and timely preventative steps. If our society would spend as much time working to get to know and help people as it spends on labeling them, amazing things could happen.
CTIPP is at the center of a consistent effort to move beyond the practices and policies that currently cripple our communities. Change is a long and tiring process. It is amazing to look back at the changes that have happened since we each began this work, and overwhelming to look ahead at all the work left to do. We need to be resilient and to bringi positivity into our world. We need to come together and be vulnerable, through the highs and lows.As we continue, solutions will emerge.
I thank the American Psychiatric Association for their recognition of CTIPP. The support we have received in just a few years has been gratifying. I hope that all readers of this post will consider financially supporting our cause and spread our work throughout your networks. Together we can make a difference, and with your help, CTIPP can continue to flourish.