Entering a new decade is an important time to look at where we are and where we’d like to go. It’s a chance to leave behind old ways that have not been so helpful and embrace new ways — the kinder, more trauma-informed, more compassionate ways that nurture our best selves. When it comes to mental health, I’d like to move past the things that aren’t serving us as individuals, families, communities, or human beings—and embrace and enhance the ones that are.
I have worked for more than 20 years in private practice to help advance the principles that I’m discussing today. I’ve written blog articles over the past 5 years in order to spread these important messages. It’s good to see such a shift towards positive change over this period. We’ve come so far!
And yet there’s still so much more to do…
My hope, my passion and my goal is that as mental health professionals and human beings, we prioritize the following pillars for 2020 and beyond.
1. View trauma clearly and with compassion — through a trauma-informed lens.
Trauma is not what’s wrong with you. It’s what happened to you. It is your history and how it impacts you. It happens every day, in varying degrees, to all types of people. It happens regardless of background, gender, race, religion, and socioeconomic status, in all different circumstances. The commonality? No matter what happened, or to whom, trauma is trauma. The common ground that unites us in support and compassion for those living with trauma is found here.
For too long, we’ve been categorizing people based on their experiences and behaviors. Mental health professionals are quick to use terms like Big T, Little T, BPD, PPD, ADHD and more. My belief is—these terms may not be helping anyone. Trauma is never little—because it’s trauma! Borderline Personality Disorder is a symptom of trauma. Postpartum depression and ADHD may actually be other ways people present with trauma. If we look at all mental health issues through a trauma-informed lens, we will be able to more effectively help people instead of getting bogged down by diagnoses. (This is one way to reduce the stigma that labels can inflict on people suffering with trauma.)
I believe that a bottom-up approach to therapy is the most impactful way to help heal trauma. That is because therapy must start with where you are – and that may be in the areas we call the primitive, lower regions of the brain. Therefore, healing must start by improving a sense of presence in your body and its response to your brain. There are no quick fixes to healing trauma. Single incident traumas might be the exception, especially with EMDR as it can help patients move quickly towards healing. For the most part, trauma takes time to heal. All this happens in a relationship of trust with a therapist who understands trauma-informed care and attachment styles. In an environment of safety and trust, the healing that’s possible is remarkable and life changing.
2. Reduce the stigma and bring awareness.
By reducing the stigma around mental health or mental illness, we can shift social attitudes to better offer the sense of safety people need to heal. Anyone dealing with trauma needs the support of acceptance and compassion to attend to the issues they are struggling with.
I love to see how a trauma-informed perspective is moving into popular culture in movies like Rocketman and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and plays like Dear Evan Hansen. This shift can be equally powerful – perhaps even more powerful – if each of us could be more open in our attitudes toward therapy. How can we achieve more openness? Let trusted friends and acquaintances see that you feel proud to say, “I’m in therapy!” or “Therapy really helped me!”
Many trauma survivors feel ashamed of their need for healing. They devalue themselves, out of the trauma-based belief that they have done something wrong to get themselves into this place. This includes the victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. From the #MeToo movement to campaigns like Ask for Angela (aimed at keeping people safe from sexual assault), I’m reassured that sexual assault is becoming less stigmatized along with mental health issues.
What would it be like to start a decade insisting there is no shame to be getting help? What if we all talked about therapy as any other normal thing to do — the way we talk about going to the supermarket, or the dentist? Think of how much universal acceptance (and cumulative healing) there would be.
3. Live with compassion.
If everyone could engage their most compassionate selves, the world would be an even more beautiful place. This means having compassion for all: for those facing addiction, for those with eating disorders or using self-harming behaviors, for members of the LGBTQ community –for everyone!
Living with compassion includes having compassion for ourselves! This might mean recognizing the need for better self-care, giving it to yourself and learning to feel worthy just the way you are. Part of this self-care might mean setting healthy boundaries to keep yourself safe. And when the world around us is more compassionate, we may find greater respect for our boundaries. If we can all work towards seeing the world through a trauma-informed lens, compassion will come more naturally. We will lean in to help others more readily. With each compassionate, trauma-informed word and thought, the stigma will be reduced!
These three pillars of trauma-informed care can empower greater wellbeing for everyone in 2020 and beyond. You can see each of the three pillars are interconnected. They feed and support each other. I believe they work together and build upon each other to spread hope and fuel healing.
The new decade is here, and the future is bright!
No matter how badly you might feel now, there is always hope. There are always helpers. There is always healing to be found in healthy relationships. There is always the possibility of a brighter, more joyful tomorrow. As we celebrate our successes over the past decade, let’s also look toward this new decade as a place for continued progress and growth. Onward!
May your 2020 be filled with compassion, acceptance and love. Are you ready to embrace support in your journey? Please do so with the help of a trauma-informed therapist. We are here to help!