I have learned a lot of lessons from teaching about trauma and resilience. In the second half of 2016, ChildSavers trained more than 3,200 people across Virginia. This training was on the basics of trauma-informed care and building resilience in individuals. Our reach went from Petersburg to Northern Virginia and from Southwest Virginia to the Shenandoah Mountains. As I traveled across Virginia, I was amazed at the communities committed to learning about trauma. This information helps communities deliver trauma-informed services to those they serve. I have had the opportunity to share this information with many people. I trained mental health professionals, first responders, public school teachers, and incarcerated adults. No matter where I went, I found people hungry to learn more.
Trauma Affects Everyone
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), was groundbreaking. ACES unveiled the affects of childhood trauma on the brain, health, and development. Within this study adults took a survey that scores the amount of trauma experienced on a scale of zero to ten. Having a score of six or more correlates to a reduced life expectancy by 20 years. However, this fact is brought into stark display when a participant in a workshop stands up and says, “I want my 20 years back!” I am constantly aware that trauma affects everyone and we all have our stories.
Most people in these workshops are professionals who work with children or adults. Many enter the helping professions bringing their own baggage. We are often referred to as “wounded healers.” This phrase was coined by Carl Jung. It is the concept that we are inspired by our own difficult experiences to help others with their struggles. ACES impacts a child for life, well into adulthood. In our trainings, we talk about the struggles of those who come to us for help. Yet, in exposing the impact of trauma on those around us, we inevitably shine a spotlight on our own experience.
Trauma Does Not Dictate Your Destiny
One of the most poignant moments I experienced was after a workshop in 2015. A young woman came up to me and said, “My ACE score is an 8. My brother’s was an 8 too.” She shared how she and her brother had grown up in a household with many challenges. They faced abuse, neglect, and substance use. Despite these experiences, she overcame. She was proud of her accomplishments: successful college graduation and a career that contributes to the community. Then she told me about her brother. He had struggled with drug addiction, crime, incarceration, and eventually took his own life. She wanted to highlight that the same childhood experience can result in very different outcomes. Stories like this show that although childhood trauma can change the brain and influence the course of your life, it does not dictate your destiny.
Resilience is Universal
We know that the burden of childhood trauma is only one factor that contributes to success. Although I may never know the extent of another person’s trauma, I know that resilience is a universal prescription that is right for everyone. Resilience will strengthen a person. It strengthens for both what they have experienced in the past and what they will experience in the future.
In training and teaching, we first honor the work and the commitment of people. The work done in our communities is difficult and often underappreciated but it is rewarding. When I do trauma-informed training, the most rewarding moments are when I see the light bulbs go on. Looking through the trauma lens and using a resilience-focus will help us all. It does not matter whether you are a human-services professional or a retail worker, we can all benefit from learning about trauma. We encourage all to learn the basics. Come join us for a free workshop and see for yourself.
You can learn more about upcoming workshops by joining our mailing list by clicking here. Want to learn more about trauma and resilience in your own life? You can take the ACES survey here and the resilience survey can be found if you continue scrolling down the page that contains the ACES survey.
By John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education
John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to supporting and strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity. His experience includes work with chronically mentally ill adults, substance abuse, residential youth care, foster care, and outpatient mental health. He has worked with homeless veterans in New York City, in a hospice home for those with HIV in the early stages of the AIDS crisis, and six years living in a home with eight teenage girls in foster care. He is an experienced trainer, lecturer, and keynote presenter. He is the Director of Mental Health and Lead Trauma and Resilience Educator at ChildSavers. John and his wife have a nine-year-old son and together, they have worked with over 50 children in foster care in their home.