Resilience of People Affected by Trauma

A big part of my recovery and decision to start dealing with my past was talking to my Minister. He helped me to feel comfortable, like I was normal, and I was accepted by him unconditionally, even though I talked about doing drugs and crime. He seemed to really listen and I never felt bad or stupid around him. This was a new experience for me. I still keep in contact with him and do talks at the AA meetings at the Church.
Trauma survivor

Too often, programs focus so intently on the problems that they miss the strengths and resilience people bring to the human service setting. Just as we spend time and energy on focusing on the impact of trauma, we must spend equal time on how people survived the experience, the strengths they have developed from having survived it, and how that resiliency has or will help in their recovery.

The most common approaches used by health care providers highlight pathology or illness, and inadvertently give the impression that there is something wrong with a person rather  than that something wrong was done to the person (Elliot et al., 2005). When working with people who have experienced trauma, it is crucially important to make the distinction between who they are as human beings and what has happened to them.

Trauma should be viewed as an “injury” that requires time and support to heal. It can be very challenging for individuals affected by trauma to believe that their experience does not define them or their lives, and that the trauma did not occur because there was something wrong with them. The task of service providers is to assist them in making this distinction more accessible to them.

Trauma-informed practice recognizes symptoms as originating from adaptations to the traumatic event(s) or context. Validating resilience is important, even when past coping behaviours are now causing problems. Understanding a symptom as an adaptation reduces the guilt and shame that is so often associated with trauma. It also increases a person’s capacity for self-compassion, and provides a guideline for developing new skills and resources so that new and better adaptations can be developed for the current situation (Elliot et al., 2005).

The language we use when speaking with or about people who have experienced trauma should also reflect resilience rather than simply being a description of them. This toolkit intentionally omits terms like “victim” and “survivor” because those terms imply who someone is rather than recognizing that they were impacted by a specific experience. Working from a resilience-minded perspective helps people who have experienced trauma to realize that they do have the skills they need to heal and recover. To identify and access these skills, they need to reframe their coping behaviours and knowledge from weakness to strength. As service providers, we play a very important role in assisting individuals to develop a new trauma-informed lens of practice.

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