Healing from trauma is dark and painful. Heather, a 15-year-old girl a Nexus-Gerard, was experiencing that pain one night when she returned to her dorm from a long difficult therapy session. All she could think about were the memories of her past abuse that had resurfaced during her Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) session. It was relaxation time on the dorm, but Heather could not stand the silence at that moment. She needed distractions to help her stop thinking about the memories. Heather began to argue with her peers; anything to break the silence. This behavior was quite unusual for Heather. She was usually a positive leader for the group and often offered her peers support if they were struggling.
Providing a Safe Space
Jess, one of the Youth Care Professionals working that night, noticed this was out of character for Heather. Rather than calling out Heather’s behavior in front of the group and demanding compliance with the rules, Jess pulled Heather aside and quietly asked her if she was ok and if she would like to talk. Jess knew, at that moment, Heather just needed someone to listen and understand, not reprimand her for her behavior. Heather explained to Jess that she was not sure it was worth the emotional pain she was experiencing to continue to work through her trauma. She was struggling to see how this difficult journey could possibly make her life better. To Heather, it was so much easier to numb herself with drugs and alcohol, or have control of the pain by cutting herself, than to face the trauma from her past. Jess just listened as Heather explained that, throughout her life, she has felt invisible and forgotten unless she was causing trouble. How, any attention, even being punished or beaten for making careless mistakes, was better than just being invisible. Jess continued to sit with the youth, and just listen, not telling her what to do or how she should feel. When Heather had finished talking, Jess acknowledged how difficult it must have been for Heather to talk about her feelings and her past. Jess assured Heather that she does see her and all the hard work that she has been doing and looks forward to seeing her every day. Heather thanked Jess for listening and actually hearing her.
Trauma-Informed Care Training in Practice
This is just one example of the countless moments that occur every day at Nexus-Gerard. These moments do not happen by accident. Not only do the staff have a passion for helping youth but they are extensively trained in how to carefully listen to what is really being said and to identify the meaning behind the youth’s words and behaviors. This training is crucial to developing staff that are able to support these children through the healing process. Nexus-Gerard makes this training a top priority because we believe that every child is worth it and every family matters. We understand each time we help a child change the course of his or her life, we create the potential for healthier families, stronger communities, and a better world. Simply put, changing one life changes everything.