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Introduction

The experience of trauma takes away choice and control. The trauma-informed healing environment maximizes opportunities for choice and control. Healing happens in the context of relationships between families, youth, and providers built on mutual trust, respect, and empowerment. Providers and families that team together in a partnership are more successful in meeting common goals.

Trauma-Informed Partnership

In defining a trauma-informed approach to services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has set forth principles that reflect a growing appreciation of partnerships and the power shared within them.

SAMHSA’s Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach Partnership in Practice
Safety: Throughout the organization, staff members and the people they serve feel physically and psychologically safe; the physical setting is safe, and interpersonal interactions promote a sense of safety. There is a difference between being physically safe and feeling psychologically safe, and both are important. Simply asking about a family member’s sense of safety in the service setting is a great first step toward building a relationship focused on healing and good partnership.
Trustworthiness and transparency: Organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency, with the goal of building and maintaining trust among staff, family members, and others in the organization. Trustworthiness and transparency aren’t always easy – they require honesty, lots of time devoted to communication, and acknowledgement of accountability by families and providers alike.
Collaboration and mutuality: There is partnering and leveling of power differences between staff and clients and among organizational staff, from direct care staff to administrators; there is recognition that healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making. Working together with mutual respect requires commitment, especially when differences of opinion arise. The commitment is worth the effort. It makes it easier for families, staff members, and management to meet shared goals and offset power differences.
Empowerment, voice, and choice: Throughout the organization and among the clients served, individual’s strengths are recognized, built on, and validated, and new skills are developed as necessary. The organization aims to strengthen the experience of choice for staff, clients, and family members.; and to recognize that every person’s experience is unique and requires an individualized approach. Empowerment does not happen by chance, but by choice. Sharing power in a partnership is integral to trauma-informed services; the shared-power relationship focuses on learning rather than compliance, and it supports lasting change. Learning to “speak one’s truth” is an important part of the relationship regardless of one’s “role.”
Peer support and mutual self-help: These are integral to the organizational and service delivery approach and are understood as a key vehicle for building trust, establishing safety, and enabling empowerment. Peer support is about valuing lived expertise; it should be available and nurtured by the provider or agency.
Cultural, historical, and gender issues: The organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases (e.g., those based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, geography, etc.); offers gender responsive services; leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections; and recognizes and addresses historical trauma. Services that are a good cultural “fit” encourage better engagement than services that are being imposed from an outside culture.

Strategic Sharing

By sharing their own experiences with trauma and healing, family members and youth can help motivate, inspire, and create new opportunities to educate others. Sharing stories can also help build supportive, trusting partnerships. Strategic sharing is the practice of telling a personal story in a way that promotes healthy and positive change. Training in strategic sharing is also a key part of advocacy. The members of the NCTSN Partnering with Youth and Family Committee recognize the importance of providing support to family partners and youth who are interested in sharing their stories.

Sharing stories can be a powerful means of communicating with an audience. While the pivotal events of a story may not change from audience to audience, the way the story is told will be unique each time. A story does not have to be long, just carefully thought out to achieve a meaningful goal. To this end, storytellers should know why they are sharing with each specific audience, and what parts of their stories they feel comfortable and safe in sharing.