As we engage with partners, we must reflect on how individual and collective stories, histories and experiences have impacted individuals and communities. If we do not, we risk creating relationships and settings where people may be re-traumatized and/or feel unsafe.
Trauma is a term used to describe the challenging emotional consequences that living through a distressing event, series of events or set of life circumstances can have for an individual, group, or community. In simple terms, trauma is any experience that overwhelms a person’s or community’s capacity to cope. Within trauma-informed approaches, “trauma” is understood as a predictable and logical response to experiences that are often recognized as life-threatening, unpredictable, and illogical. Traumatized people often feel disenfranchised and perhaps most vulnerable. We need to create strategies to target our populations experiencing the most health inequity and work towards breaking down these barriers to improve health outcomes.
Community trauma can impact participation in community engagement activities and processes. With this in mind, we must incorporate recognition of trauma into our engagement approaches through a trauma-informed approach. When we use “trauma-informed” language, the communities we engage with will be more likely to enter into relationships with us willingly and trust that their safety needs will be met. This approach requires us to thoughtfully listen to individuals and communities, regularly check in to make sure people feel safe when engaging with us and respond to concerns and requests in a respectful and timely manner.
The core principles of a trauma-informed approach include:
- Do no harm: Be aware of past and ongoing trauma and avoid re-traumatizing people. This requires transparency and consistency in communications and processes as well as creating environments that focus on safety and minimizing stress. We need to be aware that the actions and decisions we make/enforce can have a range of impacts on individuals based on their racial, cultural, gender, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds and experiences.
- Self-awareness and reflection on how different racial, cultural, gender, geographic and socioeconomic groups experience our processes, decisions, words and actions.
- Acceptance: Meet people where they’re at, accept the realities of community conditions and set expectations accordingly. Everyone is welcome to participate.
- Community Empowerment: Emphasize self-determination, inclusiveness and sustainability in community engagement approaches by fostering community voice, choice and control.