I could wish that I was cool enough to discover thoughtful gems such as this video by myself. I have Portland State University to thank for bringing me into contact with something that I viewed as a means to an end but ended up learning a thing or two. The attached video is about an hour long, so you may need to review it in a few settings or listen over an extended commute as I did.
This material came to me as a component of my undergraduate studies in Criminal Justice but the parallels to the industry in which I have devoted more than 15 years of my life are rather astounding. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is a respected author, the speech follows the material in her book Trauma Stewardship, and speaker, including a TedTalk on this subject matter. Her keynote speech was given before service providers including hospital staff, counselors, teachers and various practitioners who come into contact with people in trauma and how those professionals ensure that their tanks are fueled enough to continue to respond. We have always said, that our team members have to remember that while we restore damaged properties for a living and have seen "a thing or two" (to borrow the tag line from Farmers Insurance), many of our customers, if they are lucky, are experiencing their first water or fire damage. When water, fire or other disasters strike home or business, there is emotional, mental and at times physical trauma. Something deeper than building materials is impacted when a structure is damaged. Our teams are meeting and responding to people in stages of trauma, most obviously when they are responding to conditions such as the recent hurricanes or the sad reality of a crime scene clean up.
My interest in the parallels was peaked as so I jotted a few notes as I listened, so my unpolished review includes these thoughts:
1. There is a collective toll from serving those in trauma which can be exacerbated when the system that is supposed to be supporting those on the front lines is compromised, broken and/or dysfunctional. Our job as leaders in our fields, at whatever level we find ourselves, is to work towards a system that enables, encourages and empowers our team members to care for themselves, care for the team and care for our clients. Emotional intelligence and empathy are key (more thoughts on this HERE).
2. Many people respond to repeated trauma by attempting to numb themselves. Numbing has consequences as a) shutting yourself down is removing the one thing in your power which is your ability to "be present" (you will have to listen to hear a more eloquent explanation of this by the author); b) shutting out increases the likelihood that you are losing awareness of doing harm to self, others and those you are serving; c) you cannot selectively numb out and numb back in, if you numb out in the professional arena it will have collateral damage into other arenas of your life. In contrast to numbing oneself or shutting things out, which have negative long term effects, we want to find ways to expand our capacity to be present. The author/speaker present simple concepts such as breathing exercises and provides other tools as well. Leaders should be aware of these consequences and lead by example in practicing positive measures as well as presenting these tools to their teams.
3. A major component of personal health relates to your ability to effectively move trauma through your system. When we regularly are caring for those impacted by trauma there is a toll on our selves and our teams known as vicarious trauma which we should be aware of so that we can address in positive ways.
4. For those that think Laura is just "rainbows and unicorns" spreading psycho babble, foremost she brings her experience from being on the front lines of trauma response and she has some rather stern warnings to those who might pigeon hole themselves as victims in there roles of responding to trauma. The speaker shares the power of an attitude of gratitude and shares how those principles can practically be applied to meetings to weave this vision throughout an organization. At one point the speaker gets rather pointed with the audience reminding them that this job is not being done to you, you have chosen to serve in this field, some people may need to find other lines of work and those that remain need to connect with what brought them to the field and carry on.
Trauma isn't always about one major event but rather can be cumulative which includes vicarious trauma from serving those who are in trauma. Those in positions of leadership in service fields should be aware of these concepts for themselves as well as for their teams. Investing in a holistic approach to personal and group health can go a long way to strengthening individuals while building a group that is poised to help themselves, the team and their clients.
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Jon Isaacson has a monthly feature column with Restoration & Remediation (R&R) Magazine titled The Intentional Restorer