Healing Centered Engagement in a Trauma-Informed World6 Comments
Above photo caption: Youth advocates rallied together before a day of legislative meetings to share affirmations and words of encouragement with one another.
Imagine a world where we have all that we need to thrive. Imagine that this world also celebrates all of our intersectionality. Young people’s potential is not predictable by race, socioeconomic status, or geography. In fact, in this world we never would have created the social constructs of race, but if they were to exist, we are celebrating every identity, culture, and nationality for their differences – we embrace the unique and the unfamiliar. Gender and sexual orientation are expansive and fluid. No one feels othered, left out, or invaluable. Everyone feels accepted, included, and cared for.
This is the kind of imagination cultivation that healing –centered engagement invites us to do.
Trauma-informed care (TIC) has successfully shifted how we parent, educate, and provide care to children and young people. TIC has supported helpers and providers who were experiencing burnout and fatigue reinvigorate their approaches and pivot from asking What’s wrong with you?! to What happened to you?, allowing us to better support youth who have experienced traumatic events. In health care, TIC has had a significant impact on how we diagnose and treat mental health and behavioral issues. TIC gave us the neuroscience, research, and language to better our understanding of how events and environments can influence our physical reactions to stressors and overall behaviors and wellness. In Virginia, we have seen statewide support of more trauma-informed policies and processes, including legislation that provided funding for the development of regional Trauma-Informed Community Networks (or TICNs).
Then in 2020, we had to acknowledge and grapple with collective trauma: the global COVID-19 pandemic and the collective racialized trauma of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many Black and Brown individuals, families, and communities that have been victims of systemic racism. Although these events put a spotlight on trauma as a collective experience, the concept of collective trauma is not new to those with generational and historical trauma in their ancestry because of a violent displacement or diaspora.
Dr. Shawn Ginwright, thought leader, educator, and founder of the Flourish Agenda, lovingly calls us in. I recall initially finding Dr. Ginwright’s 2018 think piece on Medium to be challenging in its critique of TIC. I was working full-time as a clinician, and I remember feeling defensive of the TIC framework that had helped me to be more compassionate, empathetic, and holistic in my approach to care work and therapy for young people and families. The article highlights the many shortcomings of a deficit-based framework and urges us to consider structural changes rather than merely addressing individual symptoms of trauma. Through his work with young Black activists out of Oakland, California, Dr. Ginwright shares how he came to realize that collective healing was the first step on our path to collective liberation. During a storytelling session, a young scholar shared that young folks are worth more than the things that have happened to them. Young people are aspirational and hopeful and imagine more for themselves beyond their traumatic experiences.
Dr. Ginwright reframes our thinking: if trauma can be collective, then so must healing.
Healing centered engagement (HCE) is comprised of four tenets. Per Flourish Agenda, the HCE framework…
1) is explicitly political, rather than clinical
2) is culturally grounded and views healing as the restoration of identity
3) is asset driven and focuses on the well-being we want, rather than the symptoms we want to suppress, and
4) supports adult providers with their own healing.
HCE also examines the individual and interpersonal changes required for institutional change to be truly possible and lasting.
“Healing Centered Engagement is a paradigm shift that confronts racism and racial inequity by examining an individual’s core values and beliefs, and the way those values and beliefs can impact our interpersonal relationships as well as our relationship to systems, institutions, policies and practices.” (Flourish Agenda)
Healing Centered Engagement at Voices
Opportunities to be fully seen and accepted have healing properties. When we can be in community with those that not only accept but embrace our intersectional identities, we feel valued and empowered.
When we first assembled Virginia’s Youth in Action, our initial goal was influencing Virginia policy with the wisdom and expertise of young leaders across the state. Naturally, we looked to HCE for guidance. We included personal and cultural storytelling in the group’s orientation session and witnessed our youth leaders quickly become a community, eager to celebrate and root for one another. In the months that we grew and learned together, we did not anticipate the possibility of multigenerational healing. As we prepared for our annual Youth Advocacy Day at the General Assembly, we did not realize we were creating opportunities to strengthen personal and familial narratives as parents and caregivers witnessed the next generation’s advocacy and truth-telling.
(Caption: Advocates participated in collaborative artmaking as we imagined better mental health systems for our communities.)
We also joined with mental health providers, agencies, and community healers to host Healing for the Healers, an advocacy day with a focus on mental health. Amid the busy, frenzied halls of power, we led a healing circle to reflect on who and what we imagine for our communities. We created intentional space for healing and anchored ourselves in hope and possibility.
As we built on our strong foundation in trauma-informed care and realized all of the possibilities in becoming an HCE-forward organization, the Voices team began to look inward. We formed the “Healing, Equity, and Restoration Team,” lovingly abbreviated to HEART. Although still nascent, we know that committing to how we heal and restore ourselves as individuals will help us work better together as colleagues seeking equity and lasting change.
Imagination, possibility, creativity, joy, and rest – these are some of the outcomes of leading with HCE that we have witnessed and experienced. We know that healing-centered work is not new to many Virginians, especially Black, Brown and Indigenous communities who incorporate collective healing practices into daily living. We also know that there is still much work to be done in Virginia so that every person in the Commonwealth feels seen, accepted, celebrated, and cared for. We believe HCE can help lead the way, and we invite our colleagues, partners, and communities to join us on the journey.