Published on December 5th, 2013 | from CAMH

Addressing trauma is part of recovery

Jennifer Chambers is Coordinator of the Empowerment Council, an independent voice for clients of mental health and addiction services. CAMH funds the Empowerment Council, based on the best evidence that a partnership between an independent  client voice and a health care facility is the ‎best way to get representative and meaningful engagement. In this guest post, Jennifer sheds light on the need for more trauma-informed care.

Schizophrenia, bipolar, depression – what do these words actually tell us? A reality known to most clients and far fewer professionals is that the majority of people with mental health and addiction issues are survivors of abuse or other trauma. The role of the Empowerment Council at CAMH is to be a voice for clients, and we have been speaking about the impact of trauma for as long as we have existed.

Clients have been seeking help to deal with trauma for a very long time. Yet, little attention has been paid to this crying need. People are often asked about symptoms but seldom about life experience.We are deluged with advertising about our faulty brains and the need for pharmaceutical solutions, but there are no advertising campaigns about the long-term effects of abuse.

There are no hefty donations given for recovery from trauma. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that abuse – type, severity, age when it happened – plays a major role in what gets defined as mood disorders, psychosis, and other diagnoses. The time to bring trauma to the forefront is now. All services need to be trauma-informed – sensitive to the effects of trauma. There needs to be much more counseling and therapy for survivors of trauma for both men and women.

The culture of psychiatric hospitals has been such that strong emotions are often treated as symptoms that must be contained. People showing strong feelings can even end up restrained, sometimes a trauma in itself. But emotions are part of our healing. It’s a reality that’s lost when we are reduced to biochemistry.

Addressing and understanding the role of trauma is crucial to moving forward in life. Survivors want the opportunity to get beyond numbness and pain, to regain our true selves and our capacity for joy.

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16 Responses to Addressing trauma is part of recovery

  1. This rings so true for the young people who seek out the services my office provides.
    Important message, and beautifully shared.
    Thank you.

  2. I’m glad that the young people who seek you out found someone who listens. Being heard and believed can change a life.

  3. jenniferchambersblog says:

    I’m so glad that the young people who come to you find someone who listens and believes. What a life changing difference that can make!

  4. elly litvak says:

    Bravo Jennifer! This is the most frustrating aspect of supporting people in their recovery. Why is it that we can agree that trauma is the source of many psychiatric diagnosis where therapy is an important part of the recovery process but it is not covered by OHIP. Psychiatry IS covered by OHIP and generally only offers pharmaceutical solutions.

    • jenniferchambersblog says:

      Indeed. What and who gets funded in mental health care has a profound effect on our society. What does it say about us as a culture that prescription writing is funded, but therapy is largely not?

    • julie wood says:

      Careful Elly about using oxymorons like “pharmaceutical solution”!! Pharmaceuticals tend to substitute for solutions. Of course your point is right on.

  5. Lee says:

    “All services need to be trauma-informed – sensitive to the effects of trauma.” Well said Jennifer. To take this beyond the mental health field, I work with this in an education setting. I work with teachers and staff daily in a private special education school that serves students from a residential treatment program on campus, as well as students with emotional and behavior disorders that the local district has determined that they cannot serve. The holidays bring on even more stress for these kids. I had lengthy conversations yesterday explaining how we were going to have to adapt to their trauma and not expect them to adapt to us. Ideally in the near future I would like to spread it throughout the community that I live in.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

    • jenniferchambersblog says:

      You too. Good for you for advocating for the right direction of who should accommodate who! There can be a lot of needless stress and tension created when institutions require everyone to comply with rules rather than be sensitive to the needs of the humans.

  6. J says:

    Thank you for writing this. I have been through several mental health intake processes for various organizations over the past few years, and not one of those intakes has asked about trauma. Additionally, when I have brought it up myself, the providers have interrupted me, ignored me, and generally refused to consider it.

    One thing I would like to point out is that trauma can take forms other than abuse (though abuse is unfortunately far too common in our society). I personally have not been able to find a program funded by the health care system that provides introductory trauma treatment for people whose trauma has not been caused by abuse. I need some assistance, but have been unable to find it.

    Your article will make more people aware that trauma is something that is often at the heart of so many mental health issues.

    • jenniferchambersblog says:

      I’m sorry people, organizations and funders have been so oblivious to your needs! You are quite right that trauma is a broader definition than abuse. I have, for example, known people strongly effected by serious car accidents. Let’s hope that enough of us speaking up about the need for funded trauma care might get some resources moving in that direction.

  7. julie wood says:

    What a great article, Jennifer, this rings true. And so do all the comments that speak about trauma being deeply personal, and not necessarily easily identifiable to others. I am certain that people have different sensitivities and thresholds of tolerance due to all kinds of factors, including their experience, their belief systems, their personalities and the degree to which they relate to others, and how much they care about conforming to certain expectations. Trauma is very complex and subjective. More exploration of this topic and a push for greater awareness will definitely be a good thing because you are right, this should be in the forefront. I bet that when we learn more we will find that all psychosis and depression have an element of trauma, although other factors may be “contributors”.

    • jenniferchambersblog says:

      An intelligent analysis of the need to pay attention first and foremost to the person, from which realities like their experience of trauma, their interpretation of it, or other important aspects of themselves and their lives can emerge.

  8. Patricia Jane says:

    I certainly agree that a holistic, that is, bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach is better than simply prescribing medication. Yet simply assuming trauma or abuse in an individual case is no better. Depending on how broadly trauma and abuse are defined, all human beings have suffered them to some extent. (How many of us were never “pushed around” emotionally or physically as a child?) Yet, all human beings, including some who have experienced horrific physical and emotional abuse, don’t develop a mental illness or mental health problem. A competent practitioner, whether a psychiatrist or a psycho-therapist, would give a client the space and time to explore their life experiences if they wished, but would not insist that the client who has no experiences of abuse and trauma to report has simply forgotten them.

  9. Thanks for a great article Jennifer! What you say is so true for me based on my 30 years of clinical counselling practice. Over the past 10 years I have had great results in resolving trauma (and associated substance abuse) using Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) and I now also teach this approach to other mental health professionals. TIR is completely person-centered and very powerful in rapidly reducing the effects of trauma of all types. Unfortunately, as you point out, there is still virtually no funding available – certainly here in BC – for trauma victims, other than pharmacological.

    • Thanks for writing Pauline, it’s interesting (though not surprising) that the problem is the same in B.C. Glad to hear you are providing an alternative! Follow the money, as they say, to see who benefits from the current system and who does not, to explain the irrational overemphasis on pharmacology.

  10. Dr Lisa Lefebvre says:

    Very well said Jennifer, trauma care is sorely lacking in our healthcare system. I struggle to help my clients access it every day.

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