Now more than ever I’ve been hearing these two phrases: trauma-informed care and restorative practice/justice. They’re great phrases to describe things we all need, but if we don’t even know what they mean then how can we ask for help through their lenses? This post will offer a brief digest defining these two terms and some local resources in Rochester that offer support through a trauma-informed and restorative lens.
In order to be trauma-informed, we must know what trauma is and how it affects us. Whether it be from violence, discrimination, abuse, war, neglect, a catastrophic accident/event, or loss, trauma is what stays with us shortly or long after these disruptive events and experiences have occurred. According to SAMHSA, the third and last E of trauma are the effects that trauma has on us including:
- Inability to cope with the stress of daily living
- Difficulty trusting and benefiting from relationships
- The trouble with cognitive processes like memory, attention, and thinking
- Difficulty regulating behavior or emotions
I want you to imagine someone in your life who may struggle with one or all of these. Think about their identity. Are they queer? Black? Black and queer? U.S. statistics show that trauma disproportionately affects marginalized communities such as LGBTQIA+ folks, people of color, and people with low incomes. Similarly, gaining access to trauma-informed care is more difficult for these and other communities.
Trauma-informed care: strives to understand the whole of an individual who is seeking care whether it be from a friend, professional, family member, coworker, or other individual. It lets us know how to create a safe and holistic container around an individual or individuals who may be seeking care or need help that carry a history of trauma with them. Many resources offer some version of SAMHSA’s six principles of trauma-informed care to let us know how we can productively engage with individuals whether it be at the personal, interpersonal, institutional or systemic level:
- Safety: Ensuring the emotional and physical safety of the traumatized individual.
- Trustworthiness: Cultivating trust boils down to observing how the person’s needs are addressed. At a doctor’s visit, this might take the form of the medical practitioner explaining why, for medical reasons, they may need to ask for sensitive information or personal questions so that the individual understands they are asking for their wellbeing.
- Support: Rome wasn’t built in a day, or by one person. We don’t have time to address the decolonization of empirical mentalities here, but I use this phrase to exemplify something I am tired of hearing even in my personal life as a woman of color who struggles with mental health: you need a therapist.
PSA: people do not heal in isolation, nor can one person (even a therapist) ensure the holistic healing of one individual. The amount of times someone has recommended a therapist to me without asking if I’ve had trouble accessing health insurance, being sensitive to the very real financial barrier of the cost of out-of-network care, is a larger reflection of the hyper-individualistic attitude we seem to take in the U.S. towards healing from trauma.
SAMHSA suggests we need the support of trauma-informed peers (friends, family, mentors, coworkers, etc.) in order to be well as a larger part of community healing practice. If I think back to my own life, my best healing has been done with a community around me–not alone. From a logistical standpoint, it’s impossible to heal from the cultural trauma of racism or the trauma of being misgendered and assaulted in a public restroom alone. The same attitude of community care can and should be taken with mental health care as well, since it is informed by and affects the world around us.
- Collaboration: is necessary for both leveling the power differential in establishing a care plan and also making a person feel included in their own wellness. Someone struggling with anxiety may not be able to necessarily lead their own healing journey, but if they have the space in the dialogue to communicate their needs, what works and doesn’t work for them, people assisting them can better develop care for them.
- Empowerment/Choice: centers a person’s strengths and experiences. Even as we should acknowledge that our trauma is not the thing that made us stronger (it traumatized us), we can acknowledge that our perspectives from trauma may enable us to foster resilience and community.
- Cultural/historical/gender issues: Everyone is striving for cultural competency today. I see this phrase written in job applications and in diversity statements on organization websites. A secret? Our cultural competency is always in process. No one individual alive is completely culturally fluent. However, cultural sensitivity is something we can start building anytime, anywhere. We don’t need to be experts to practice being culturally sensitive whether we’re attending to someone’s accent, the way they dress, their religious practices, their pronouns, or any way they present that may reveal to us their trauma affects multiple intersections of their identity at once.
The things that make a trauma-informed practice or approach successful start with an acceptance and awareness that trauma impacts us all to varying degrees and in different ways. Trauma-informed approaches de-emphasize a “what is wrong or broken with this individual?” and rather ask “what happened to this individual?” Trauma-informed approaches prioritize solution-based services. Practicing giving trauma-informed care takes time and can be difficult. But if you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of trauma-informed care, you know how validating, rewarding and helpful it can be.
- Case studies and tips to practicing trauma-informed care with a sociocultural perspective can be found here.
- SAMHSA’s Guidelines for Implementing a Trauma-Informed Approach can be found on p. 12 of this document.
Restorative practice/justice: sounds like a fancier term for self-care; I personally think restorative practice goes deeper than the surface-level commodified meaning that “self-care” has come to take on as it’s co-opted by consumer industries across the world to affirm to a general public that lavender spa baths and eating a whole box of pizza will somehow alleviate our troubles. The New Yorker in me might still sneak a slice of pizza every now and then, but what does it really mean to have restorative practice in our life?
Restorative practice and justice emanated from a practice in the 1970s that considers the offender or person who caused harm, to see their whole humanity, and to be integrated into the solution for repairing the harm they caused. It was initially meant to serve as a holistic approach to crime intervention and addressing criminal behavior by focusing on all impacted parties. Restorative practice has since expanded to be implemented in schools, workplaces, and other domains of human life.
The three principles of restorative practice include:
Encounter – bringing together all parties involved and facilitating a safe space for dialogue.
Repair – addressing the needs of all parties involved. This step seeks to repair harm and facilitate healing in a collaborative and inclusive manner.
Transform – victims, offenders, and other parties involved are transformed as a result of restorative encounters and the work that is done to repair harm from the initial transgression or crime.
Restorative practice may not always be able to be done with people or in a community setting. Sometimes we need to have restorative practice for ourselves. As a woman of color, survivor of domestic abuse, adoptee, and someone who lives with stigmatized mental health circumstances, I could write volumes on the apologies and reparations that I’ve needed to feel restored–that I’ve never received; this has led me to develop my own process of restoration to preserve myself as all of these identities and more.
This is by no means a linear process (just as healing isn’t linear), but I offer a few tenets of my process here:
- Press PAUSE. You don’t have to stop – the argument, conversation, event, participating, posting on social media, whatever your human self is doing; however, I find taking one more second before I do anything to go a long way these days, especially in conflict (internal or external). It’s the smallest part of de-escalation that’s easy to overlook in its efficacy, but pausing your own reactions can sometimes signal to other people who may be heated in conflict to also slow down. This is restorative practice.
- What do you need? This seems like an obvious question, but I’ve been amazed at how many times I’ve seen people (myself included) – some who have PhDs., some who claim to know what’s best, some with street-smarts, or any other kind of mental competency or emotional development credentials – truly not be able to identify what they need. You might be in an argument with someone and it’s escalating to a place that’s out of either of your control. After you’ve pressed pause, this is a great time to ask or rather reassess, ‘what do I or what does this other person need?’ Even if you aren’t able to answer this, that’s a good sign it’s time to step back from the conversation, your feelings, whatever the conflict is, and practice quiet or stillness before taking any kind of action again. This is restorative practice.
- Acknowledge and forgive. This one is always the one I’m the worst at. However, I would say this practice does cultivate strong mindfulness skills if you’re willing to engage with it. We’ve all made some decisions, said things, or acted in ways we’re not so proud of – whether it be towards ourselves or toward people we care about. Even if they cannot accept an apology from us, it’s important that we try to acknowledge and forgive our own behavior for our own ability to move forward in the world. At minimum, practicing acknowledgment and forgiveness gives us a chance to learn about ourselves – weaknesses, behaviors, strengths, what’s still developing within us, wounds we haven’t healed, what we want, and more. When we practice acknowledgment and forgiveness, we can start the process of repairing harm. This is restorative practice
- Take it all in. I’ve taken this to mean, take in other voices and perspectives: on restorative practice, healing, current events. Whatever it is, I find paying attention to the way people tell stories, the stories being told, and the opinions they are offering says a lot about the experiences they’ve been through and how they perceive them. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately: All About Love (bell hooks, 2001), Take What You Need (Jen Crow, 2022) to name two. Even though they are not specifically marketed as restorative practice books, both of these women offer so much perspective on restorative practice and justice within these works. The same can be said for watching a news segment, or reading an article or even a post on social media. As we take a critical eye to the story, how it’s told, who’s included/excluded, we get to decide if this restores us or exhausts us of our resources. Further, we get to decide if this is a voice, space, or resource that is safe for us. This is restorative practice.
As you might be able to tell, trauma-informed care and restorative practice are concepts that can and should be deeply explored. What I’ve offered in this article touches on the more interpersonal lens of these two concepts. But taking restorative and trauma-informed approaches to institutional and systemic collaboration, policies, and spaces has been and hopefully continues to be a way communities can resist, repair and transform harm being done.
Resources: some local resources in Rochester offered by the author that take a trauma-informed and restorative practice approach to care and community building.
- NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) – see programming here
- St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center – services offered
- Saint Joe’s House of Hospitality – services offered
- Yoga 4 A Good Hood – programming here
- Teen Empowerment – mission and programming
- Roc Rapid Response Network – resources
- Rochester Mutual Aid Network – community resources
- Conflict Center – restorative practice resources
- What is Trauma-Informed Care? Women’s Consortium. Link here
- Walker Center. What are the Five Principles of Trauma-informed Care? Here
- Buffalo Center for Social Research: What is Trauma-informed care? U Buffalo. here.
- Harvard Health Publishing: Trauma-informed Care. What it is and why it’s important. here
- trauma-Informed Care: A Sociocultural Perspective. here
- SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. Document here
- Conflict Center | Resources
- Restorative Justice: Breaking the Cycle of Crime | First Step Alliance