Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is an investigative journalist who likes to embed himself in a situation to delve into the intricacies of a situation or experience.  In Missoula, Mr. Krakauer goes to Missoula, Montana to investigate the many systems and personalities that become involved when a rape allegation is made on a college campus.  I have heard interviews with Mr. Krakauer and he has stated that Missoula is not atypical.  He did not pick Missoula because it was different but because it was so similar to other college towns across the nation.
Jon does not leave any stone unturned in telling the stories of rape allegations in this college town that treats its football players as celebrities and heroes, granting the players a sense of entitlement that extends to the women who attend the college.  Mr. Krakauer interviews victims and family members and has access to interviews with the alleged rapists.  He also delves into the criminal justice system and campus investigative process and delineates how the allegations are handled differently in each setting. He is also explicitly describes the judicial process and how defense attorneys and prosecutors are often so concerned with winning that the victims and perpetrators often become pawns in the process, leaving victims to experience more trauma during and after the plea and/or trial process.
Jon Krakauer researched the impact of trauma on victims and is able to incorporate the work of Judith Herman, a clinical professor at Harvard and author of Trauma and Recovery, an important work on interpersonal violence and the trauma that occurs.  David Lisak, an expert on serial rapists and college sexual assault, is an expert witness for one of the trials in Missoula and Mr. Krakauer pulls from his research and expert testimony in order to describe the intricacies of understanding sexual assault.

Jon Krakauer’s greatest message in this book is that the refusal to hold perpetrators accountable is their greatest weapon and the justice systems’ greatest failure. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reading Recommendations and Resources - Week of January 11, 2016

A lot of information came out this past week.  There should be something below for everyone including advocates, educators, and survivors.

Three information sheets from the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network for working with children and families affected by trauma.

Children with Traumatic Separation:

http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/children_with_traumatic_separation_professionals.pdf

Sharing Power to Engage Children and Families:

http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/sharingpower1_final.pdf

Sharing Power - A Tool for Reflection

http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/sharingpower2_final.pdf

An article on traumatic brain injury and domestic violence:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/02/domestic-violence-tbi_n_7488168.html


An Education Writers' Association article  on how trauma affects a students ability to engage in the classroom.  If you read through the article you will find a link to a powerpoint that has some additional information.  I like this because of how it also discuss trauma's intersection with race and poverty.
http://www.ewa.org/blog-educated-reporter/when-grit-isnt-enough

Here is an article on boundaries that could be used in a support group:
http://www.susankingsleysmith.com/boundaries-not-what-we-allow-others-to-do/

An excellent article from the Joyful Heart Foundation on managing vicarious trauma and being kind to one's self.
http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/blog/bearing-witness-while-prioritizing-yourself

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Reading Recommendations Week of January 4, 2016

I have been lax in writing posts lately, but have been pondering how to send out all the information that comes across my desk from various resources.  There are many great articles that could be used to augment volunteer training and just provide general information on various topics regarding trauma, trauma responsive services, children and trauma, and working with survivors of intimate partner violence.  I have decided to start doing a weekly/bi-weekly digest that provides links to these various articles for you to browse through and pick and choose what you feel would be appropriate for you and your needs.  I hope this is useful for you.

This week's harvest is:

  A reminder that the period after the holidays is difficult for many people:  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/4937489-181/suicides-peak-during-holidays-not

The importance of art for at-risk children:
http://www.trivalleycentral.com/trivalley_dispatch/health_and_wellness/making-art-helps-children-at-risk/article_c1343280-ae53-11e5-9f13-23d8b586ef01.html

https://www.socialworkhelper.com/2014/10/08/children-experience-early-childhood-trauma-just-get/

The problems with memory and sexual trauma:
http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/12/23/3606576/memory-and-sexual-trauma/

An excellent training for any educators you may know:
http://www.ciscentraltexas.org/resources/traumatraining/

A powerful story on the dangers of assuming a rape report is false:

Some self care ideas:
https://www.evernote.com/shard/s160/sh/b38867c3-e564-4b1e-9028-ad1b57438ab7/843d284295cd7b56cc6e2827cd4724ac

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Egg and I - Boundaries

As many of you know, I love to use analogies when I am talking about the various effects of exposure to trauma.  These analogies will pop up at odd times throughout my day when I am not thinking about my work and when I am occupied with something that doesn’t require a lot of thought.  This is just another example of how allowing your mind to rest can help it be more creative.
The other day I was peeling hard boiled eggs for salad and I started thinking about boundaries.  Sometimes I take the egg and lightly tap it against the counter and a small break will occur where I can start peeling away the shell.  Other times I may be in a bit of a mood and I strike it harder against the side of the sink, resulting in a larger break in the shell and the pieces falling off faster.  If the egg is fresh it may be more difficult to peel but there may be more damage to the egg white as pieces of it come off with the shell.
When the egg shell is removed from the egg, the egg becomes vulnerable and we are able to do anything we want with it.  
When a child’s boundaries are broken much care needs to be taken to ensure that the crack does not result in larger pieces of the boundary being removed.  Protective factors such as family support, education, and encouragement of developmentally appropriate physically and emotionally healthy activities can help keep further exposure from happening, increasing the resilience of the child and limiting future vulnerability. 
Many adults with whom we work have had a lot of damage to their boundaries.  I have worked with women who have had so many personal attacks against them starting at an early age that they have forgotten or have never known that that they can have boundaries.  They have been exposed for so long without protection that they no longer believe that boundaries exist for them. For some of them, the idea of personal boundaries may be an alien concept or they may be fearful of setting boundaries because when they do so someone comes along and tries to break their shell again.
We don’t know what has happened to someone when we first meet them.  We don’t know if their shell was removed all at once, in large chunks, or they just have a few cracks.  However, we find out soon enough that they struggle with maintaining boundaries and they may need our support.  We can help them find the resources and strength they need to further protect themselves.  This includes modeling appropriate boundaries and respecting their boundaries.
Unlike the eggs I use for salad, with the appropriate support and building up of community and protective factors, someone who has had their boundaries damaged can rebuild their life. 


Monday, August 31, 2015

Boundaries and the Art of Compassionate Detachment

As I work with advocates I often find that many of them struggle with maintaining healthy boundaries with the survivors with whom they work on a daily basis.  It is so hard to listen to the stories of abuse and see the effects of trauma without ending up giving a little bit more of ourselves until we are eventually drained and feeling our own loss of hope.  There is also a tendency, at times, to enter into special relationships with people with whom we feel a connection.  This may feel like friendship to someone who hasn't many friends or like parenting to someone who feels the need to connect with a motherly figure. It feels good in the short term, but can eventually lead to hurt feelings and a break in the relationship.

We talk about establishing healthy boundaries in our world.  Sometimes this can feel like we are cutting ourselves off from people in order to preserve the advocate/survivor relationship.  However, we can also lend ourselves to the idea of "compassionate detachment."  This allows us to still be caring but we separate ourselves from the outcome of the relationship.  We remember that the person's growth is a process to which we are caring witnesses.  We witness their emerging  power rather than impose our own will and desires.  We also are compassionate with our selves by letting go of the outcome.

Here are a few good articles I found on compassionate detachment that I hope you will find helpful.

https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/compassionate-detachment-the-being-and-doing-of-coaching-part-one/

http://helenabbott.com/coaching-and-personal-development/compassionate-detachment-what-the/

http://www.rewiringthesoul.com/2008/07/compassionate-detachment.html


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Defining Success: Why We May Feel We Are Working Harder Than the Survivor

I have to admit it.  There have been times in my life as a direct service provider that I have said “if I am working harder than my client, there is something wrong.”  What I am realizing now, though, is that the fault was not with my client.  It had to do with my expectations and the fact that I was focusing on my goals for her, rather than letting her define what success meant.  Even if we had come to an agreement on the goals, there is a good chance that the client was submitting to what I was promoting.  Survivors are very skillful at deferring to others in order to feel safe in a relationship in which they perceive the counselor/shelter manager/advocate may have “power over” or access to things that the survivor needs. 
In a study by the Full Frame Initiative in California, available here http://fullframeinitiative.org/how-do-survivors-define-success-report-recommendations/ it is noted that too often we define success based on our own expectations or the those of our funders and we forget to ask survivors how they define success for themselves.  We can get so caught up in promoting an end to the abusive relationship, permanent housing, employment, parenting skills, etc., that we end up creating a menu of goals for survivors to choose from rather than sitting down and really delving into what is meaningful for the person.  The above mentioned study found that a change in the abusive relationship was considered success by only 7% of the persons who participated in the study.  In fact, “across all survivor responses, they most often credited themselves, family members, and God/faith as the top enablers of moments of success, as well as the top supports for coping in between.” “This is not a wholesale dismissal by survivors of the importance of services, but a reflection of the place that services and professional relationships hold in achieving personal success.. . . clearly services and formal supports help survivors take steps towards that ‘authentic self’ but they are not the only or even most important factor.”
We work very hard to be empowering in our work with survivors and feel that the support and services we provide are a way to do so.  However, we forget that empowerment can be brought forth in a person through strong connections in the community.  Isolation, a tool of the abuser, may have limited connections and through new connections the survivor may be able to find herself and be engaged in ways that are more meaningful than those we can provide in our structure and limitations.  We also know that in our best efforts to provide support through empowerment we still are trying to help survivors navigate systems that are less than empowering and are often abusive.  This can lead to stalling and disengagement if survivors feel this is all we have to offer. 
The Full Frame Initiative study recommends that “programs do ‘success planning’ in addition to “safety planning” based on survivors’ idea of success. Practitioners should learn to ask about what successful relationships and opportunities survivors do have.”  We can also provide more opportunities for success in non-traditional support groups or by increasing engagement within the community.  These will provide those “moments of being connected” and “belonging to something bigger than me”, and “accomplishment and opportunity” that survivors seek. 

The full report will give you recommendations for moving forward.



Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Origins of Addiction - from Dr. Vincent Felitti and the Adverse Childhood Study

In this film,  Dr Vincent Felitti, from Kaiser Permanente presents information from the ongoing 17,000 person Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study to challenge the conventional view that certain chemicals are intrinsically addicting.  He presents the evidence gathered in the ACE study to show that “addiction is not a disease, but is an unconsciously attempted response to minimize the effects of abnormal life experiences. Addiction can be seen as the unconscious, compulsive use of psychoactive materials in response to the stress of life experiences, typically dating back to childhood.”
Dr. Felitti discusses patients, including the woman who was the first person to draw his attention to the issue of using substances (in her case food), who are engaging in behaviors normally considered harmful in order to alleviate and protect from the pain of childhood experiences.  He primarily addresses food, alcohol, nicotine, methamphetamines and heroin addiction.  They are a few of the things that may be seen as public health problems but may often be “personal solutions to long-concealed adverse childhood experiences.  Describing bad habits as self-destructive behaviors hides their functionality in the life of a trauma survivor.”
As I think about how we try to address substance abuse, the heroin crisis, and human trafficking, I am drawn to the conclusion that we will fail in our attempts to resolve the crises until we begin to talk about the long held private conditions that lead to the public problems.  “These life experiences are very likely to be lost in time, and protected by shame, by secrecy, and by social taboos against exploring certain aspects of human experience.”  So many of us were raised in families and cultures where we did not discuss shameful family secrets.  As we grew up we were seen as the problem when the legacy of adverse childhood experiences presented as addictions and mental illness.
At this point in time treatment options are few and far between and minimally address the origins of the addiction.  By failing to address the adversity experience in childhood by so many people, we fail in our attempts to treat.  When treatment fails, we blame the person instead of recognizing that by “treating someone’s attempted solution, we may be threatening and causing flight from treatment” or forcing them to find another, possibly life-threatening, solution.
When these childhood experiences are named and validated as the source of long term difficulties in adolescence and adulthood we are removing the stigma and helping persons understand that it is not about having something wrong with them, but that something was done to them.  The next steps are to assist in finding healthier solutions and recognizing the strength and resiliency that helped them find solutions in the first place and survive in the midst of extremely adverse experiences.