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YWCA Training Prevents Re-traumatizing Clients

On March 22nd and 23rd, the YWCA hosted a two-day training session designed for community members and agencies who provide support for traumatized clients, which focused on trauma, inter-generational trauma, self-care, and resiliency.

Susan Saville, the Director of Residential Programs at the YWCA Saskatoon, attended the workshop and describes what was learned throughout the two-day experience.

“Trauma informed training educates people on how direct service can re-trigger trauma in people,” Saville said.

“With the people coming into the shelter, we don’t know all of their history…sometimes the way that a service is delivered to people who have already been traumatized can re-traumatize, unknown to the people working with them. So just educating people to be aware of the signs and symptoms [helps] to be very sensitive to the fact that you’re dealing with a population that may have been traumatized already.”

An interesting topic that stood out for Saville was the concept of “power over” relationships, which recognizes the way in which several variables–something as simple as the kind of language used by the caregiver–can affect a client if they have been previously traumatized.

“This is what stood out for me: if you start to recognize ‘power over,’ which is a big part of most of the systems we work within, [people] use ‘power over’ a population that is already powerless,” Saville said. “So just the way signage is written, the way intakes are done, and the hoops people have to jump through to meet a basic need can be very disempowering. Often the people providing the service become accustomed to using ‘power over’ as the fastest way to get the results but it’s not necessarily the best way.

“So a simple example used was when you walk into a waiting room and they’ve got ‘No Smoking,’ ‘No use of Cell Phones,’ and just a lot of “no” rather than a simple sign that says ‘Thank you for not smoking’ or ‘thank you for not using your cell phone.’ It’s the same message, just two different ways of delivering it.”

Saville credits the instructor, Duane Bowers, on his methods of getting the importance of having trauma informed training across through a variety of media. For Saville, the exercises and storytelling portions of the workshop resonated with her the most.

“Another thing we did, that I thought was quite powerful, was when he you working with a partner. One person closed their fist and the other person had to try and open that fist,” Saville described. “So right away, people were prying away at fingers and trying to force a person to open their hand. So then [the instructor] simply asked one of the participants in the exercise, ‘Would you please open your hand?’ and they did. Just by asking us to open someone’s hand, everyone resorted to physical force, when really all you had to do was ask. It’s a very good example of how systems operate and how we are programmed to operate in that way.

“We just have to make conscious effort not to do that. So I think the more educated and informed the people working in an agency are, and the more trauma informed the agency becomes, the less trauma it will inflict on others.”

Saville works in the Crisis Shelter and Residence community within the YWCA, which provides both crisis shelter as well as long-term residences for women who can stay up to a year or longer, as they try to reestablish their lives. In her position, she encounters clients who may have experienced some sort of trauma at a point in their lives. So the knowledge she gained through the Trauma Informed Training workshop is proving invaluable to her.

“The more Trauma Informed an individual is, the less likely it is that they will build ‘power over’ relationships with clients,” Saville explained. “Trauma Informed care recognizes the possibility or probability that the clients and staff of an agency have experienced trauma in their life, and provides service in a way to ensure that it does not trigger a traumatic response from the past experience or create a new traumatic response.”

When asked about what she would like to say to people who may be less informed about how to avoid re-triggering traumatic experiences for others, Saville asks that we remain empathetic, open-minded, yet aware.

“We need to realize that we never know someone’s story. So if you’re trained to watch for signs and symptoms of stress, mental health and wellness, early signs where someone is getting into trouble, you try to be sensitive to that. On the other hand, you try to get them hooked up to resources that can help them,” Saville said. “It’s a very delicate thing. It’s all about building relationships with people and getting them to trust you. Take time to build relationships to get the results you want rather than to ‘power over’ people to get the results you want.”

The two-day Trauma Informed Care training was provided by YWCA Saskatoon to a group of 130 staff and community care providers, including other YWCAs in the province. This important training was made possible thanks to donor funding.

By Lyndall Mack