Featured CEO: Building a trauma-informed community with Tamara O’Sullivan
The Blue Knot Foundation is the National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma. The foundation advocates for and provides support to people who have experiences of complex trauma, and those who support them, personally and professionally. This year, Blue Knot is advocating for building a trauma-informed community – in line with this is amplifying the voices of lived experience and expertise.
Complex trauma is defined by the foundation to include lots of different, often damaging, experiences. It also refers to the effects of those experiences. The experiences can occur at any age – in childhood, as a young person, in adulthood and into old age. Examples include violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation or growing up without a person who is able to care for, understand and protect you.
Tamara O’Sullivan, Blue Knot’s National Executive Manager of Training, Practice and Organisational Change, is a psychotherapist who is in charge of developing trauma-informed training programs.
In the years that you have worked in the human service sector, what does trauma-informed care mean for you?
Trauma-informed care means walking alongside, meeting people where they are at and seeking to understand what has happened for them. It means reflecting on our own choices and actions and those of others with compassion and empathy. To create a felt sense of safety so there is the space created for the potentiality of change. It is understanding our own humanness and the humanness of others.
Why is it important for social workers to provide trauma-informed care?
A trauma-informed approach is important for everyone to adopt regardless of the roles we enact both personally and professionally. The way we choose to interact with others will guide the responses we receive. A trauma-informed lens draws on an acknowledgment and a curiosity that each individual has had life experiences that have shaped the way they see the world. This understanding and compassion for each other allow for the creation of a felt sense of safety and the opportunity to build trust, collaborate and feel empowered to choose the next steps. Without this application of a trauma-informed lens, barriers and challenges to ‘working with’ others are more prevalent.
One of the key concepts of trauma-informed care is that healing occurs in relationships. It is the opportunity to experience a felt sense of safety, to integrate new meaning-making and rewire our neural pathways to support our growth and healing. As workers we have a responsibility to undertake our own self-reflection and self-care to be able to create safe and healthy relationships for those we work with.
Are there steps to becoming a trauma-informed organization? How was this applied at Blue Knot?
It is an ongoing process for an organisation to become trauma-informed. The key lies in the relational aspects of our culture and wellbeing of our organisations. Building trauma awareness is the first step, as understanding complex trauma and vicarious trauma creates the foundations for understanding the impacts of trauma and what is needed
to provide trauma-informed care. There must be buy-in from the top-down and bottom-up, so the steps are enacted across the organisation and applied at every level.
It is important that an organisation understands where it is currently functioning in relation to understanding trauma and applying trauma-informed principles as this will shape the process. These reflections and evaluation are inclusive of culture, processes, and external relationships with all stakeholders.
The next phase is applying learning and once a level of trauma awareness has been attained, interactions and processes must be considered at a deeper level, as to how we are being trauma-sensitive and trauma responsive in the way we respond and offer our services.
At Blue Knot we are constantly reflecting and re-evaluating as growth and change occur; authentic conversations and collaboration are important in moving through challenges and celebrating successes.
As a practitioner of trauma-informed care, how did you transform your organization to better include this practice?
From an organisational perspective, the daily practice of keeping trauma-informed principles present in our mind is key. It is about the way we interact, using the language of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment. Building on people’s strength and skills and acknowledging the resilience of our teams through growth, change and life experiences. Regular reviews of processes and systems occur, as well as collaborative meetings and being open to identifying what is working and what we need to do better. This is the ongoing work we do. Awareness of the need for trauma-informed care is the first step in the process of transformation.