Why Your Spiritual Practice Should be Trauma-Informed
The main issue with toxic spirituality is that it lacks the kind of nuance which is required for it to be applicable to the lived experiences of all individuals on the planet, which is somewhat ironic considering the entire purpose of existence, according to New Agers, is to live and experience.
According to the Buddha, and many other mainstream religions, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche, to live is to suffer.
At least we call agree there: life on earth as we know it is inherently traumatic.
And yet, modern forms of religion and New Age spirituality, particularly in the West, have a tendency to gloss over this trauma and encourage people to ignore it, think positive, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Incidentally, that very mentality is Western culture’s influene on spirituality itself.
Trauma-informed spirituality acknowledges the impacts of trauma in individual life experiences. Rather than dismissing trauma through overly-simplistic spiritual concepts, trauma-informed spirituality accounts for nuance and trauma’s impact on the nervous system and aims to create a safe container for individuals with trauma to reconnect with and feel safe in their own skin.
In order for them to do that, the practitioners and communities themselves must be well-versed in the ways that trauma affects the nervous system and the impact this has on mental health, as well as tactics for creating safe environments. Its goal is to utilize spiritual philosophies and practices to aid in the healing process.
Trauma-informed spirituality understands the connection between trauma and society, as well as ancestral trauma and the ways this trauma is passed down from generation to generation through familial relationships and cultural climates. It takes into account the kinds of trauma that people may face depending on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any combination of those things.
Why Your Spiritual Practice and Spiritual Business Should be Trauma-Informed
As I’ve discussed before, there is no regulatory body in spirituality that is designed to protect people from harmful practitioners, harmful ideas, and harmful environments. That means it’s up to us as a community to police ourselves and take on the responsibility of creating an environment where people can truly do the healing we claim to provide.
In order to do this, we have to first understand exactly what we are dealing with when it comes to the life experiences that our clients and community members may have had.
It is estimated that 80% of Americans will experience a traumatic event at least once in their lives.
- Before the age of 18, 46% of children will have experienced at least one traumatic event. 22% will be sexually abused. 28% will be physically abused.
- More than half of people who seek psychiatric care have experienced childhood trauma.
- In two-thirds of individuals suffering from alcoholism, the addiction is directly attributed to childhood trauma.
- 75% of women in substance abuse treatment have been sexually abused or raped at some point in their life.
- Individuals with a history of trauma are at a significantly increased risk of further victimization in adulthood.
- Individuals who have experienced a traumatic event are more likely to have been incarcerated. In California, 70% of prisoners have been in foster care at some point in their lives, meaning they were subjected to neglect or abuse significant enough to require their removal from their biological parents.
- More than one in three women and one in four men have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.
- Exposure to trauma also correlates with a statistically significant decrease in life expectancy, and a higher rate of developing physical diseases like liver disease, COPD, and autoimmune deficiency.
These stats came from an online trauma information course I recently completed.
After seeing these statistics, it’s pretty clear that we live in a society of traumatized people, and in fact, many of our society’s cultural norms which are rooted in sexism, homophobia, and racism can be traumatizing to those they oppress.
As a spiritual practitioner, healer, or coach, you are working with traumatized individuals every day, whether you know it or not, and whether they are aware of it or not. We have to presume that all individuals we serve have a history of some type of traumatic event and amend our practices accordingly. It is our responsibility, as someone who is helping them heal, to understand trauma, triggers, signs of a trauma response, etc. so that we can create the most caring, compassionate environment for them to heal in, instead of re-traumatizing them or compounding that trauma.
That requires taking a hard look at ourselves, our beliefs, and our biases. Many mainstream spiritual beliefs and concepts are absolutely toxic to trauma survivors, and practitioners and well-meaning spiritual people who don’t understand what trauma looks like risk abusing their clients or friends, and abusing their power over clients and friends.
What does it mean to be trauma informed?
Being “trauma-informed” is becoming trendy, and a lot of influencers and coaches are using that phrase in an incorrect way, so we need to establish what being trauma-informed actually means before it gets out of hand –– and to protect you from being harmed by people claiming false credentials.
Simply knowing about trauma does not mean you are trauma informed. It means you are trauma aware.
I’ve seen a few coaches on the ‘Gram claiming their services are trauma informed when they have had no training.
Following Mastin Kipp, the Holistic Psychologist, or other mental health professionals on Instagram does not make you trauma informed. Reading books about trauma does not make you trauma informed. Having experienced trauma does not make you trauma informed.
Being a trauma-informed practitioner or coach means that you have learned about and implemented the trauma-informed framework in your practice.
Trauma-informed care is a framework for human service delivery that is based on knowledge and understanding of how trauma affects people’s lives, their service needs and service usage.
The US government (and others) has established guidelines about what constitutes a trauma-informed framework. This framework follows the same principles, no matter from who or where you learn it.
The trauma-informed framework consists of 4 pillars and 6 key principles of trauma-informed care.
The 4 pillars of trauma-informed care are:
Realize: the types of trauma and the prevalence and impact of trauma on society. Every team member must understand trauma and its potential impact upon an individual.
Recognize: the signs and symptoms of trauma, and trauma’s effects on the brain, nervous system, and behavior –– not only in clients, but also staff. Trauma-informed systems aim to mitigate the effects of trauma within the whole organization/system. This is why your marketing and company culture must also be trauma-informed.
Respond: in a caring, compassionate, and therapeutic manner. Respond appropriately with dignity and respect. This requires that you have worked on your own trauma.
Resist Retraumatization: Recognize and understand the potential for retraumatization. Feeling powerless is central in those who have been traumatized. Understand the abuse of power inherent in trauma victims, and understand that the power difference between the person seeking services and the person providing it will be threatening. People who have been victimized are sensitive to power differentials.
The 6 key principles of trauma-informed care means understanding and/or applying the following concepts throughout your practice and business:
Trust / Transparency
Peer Support / Validation
Collaboration & Mutuality
Empowerment & Choice
Being trauma-informed does not qualify someone to treat trauma. It simply means that you and your organization understand how to engage with someone who has experienced trauma.
Trauma-informed frameworks take a universal precautions approach: assume that everyone has experienced trauma.
Unless you thoroughly understand and apply the 6 key principles, and build this framework into your business from top to bottom, you are not considered trauma-informed.
You do not need a degree in mental health to be trauma informed, but you do need to have:
- Basic knowledge of human behavior
- Basic knowledge of trauma, it’s impact on individuals bodies, lives, and society
- A high degree of emotional intelligence and self-awareness
A lot of spiritual beliefs violate these principles. A lot of coaching methods violate these principles. And obviously, as I continuously point out on my blog, most marketing and business methods violate these principles.
Trauma-Informed Spiritual Practitioners
Trauma-informed spiritual practitioners not only understand how trauma impacts one’s thoughts, they also understand its ongoing influence on the nervous system and know how to recognize the signs of a trauma response in progress.
Trauma-informed spiritual practitioners look at their practices through this lens, whether it be a physical or emotional healing practice, or forms of divination.
- a trauma-informed astrologer or tarot reader has a thorough understanding of nuance when it comes to victim-shaming and creates a safe container for their clients.
- a trauma-informed reiki practitioner or somatic healer understands the nuances of touch and consent as they pertain to victims of physical trauma, particularly sexual trauma.
- trauma informed spiritual practitioners understand how certain triggers may affect a client and are careful with any material that may feel threatening to a client’s nervous system.
- trauma-informed spiritual practitioners are aware of the power dynamics at play in the practitioner/client relationship and understand their role in wielding that power responsibly.
Trauma-informed spiritual practitioners have a thorough understanding of boundaries and personal safety, and can guide their clients back to a sense safety during a trauma response to avoid retraumatization and aid their clients in safely processing that trauma.
Most importantly, a trauma-informed practitioner has identified and worked on their own trauma so that it does not complicate their ability to work with others.
When you consider that everyone has some form of trauma, and that trauma is at the root of almost all of our societal issues, the importance of becoming trauma-informed, especially when working with others in a spiritual guidance or healing capacity, becomes abundantly clear.
Tips for Creating a Trauma-Informed Spiritual Practice
- Thoroughly understand the nuances of healthy boundaries
- Learn to identify signs of trauma responses: fight, freeze, flight, or fawn
- Consult with clients about their triggers and trauma history before a session
- Learn about the mental and emotional struggles that trauma victims face, including societal backlash
- Work through your own trauma first
- Understand that you may not be qualified to work with every kind of trauma
- Eradicate every instance of coercive messaging, high-pressure sales tactics, and emotional manipulation from your business model.
- Eliminate cost barriers for the most marginalized (and subsequently, most traumatized) groups. This means extracting your business from capitalism as much as possible, being actively anti-racist, anti-ableist, pro-feminist, and gender inclusive.
There’s not a lot of resources out there for this, but I’ve worked fairly diligently to create as many as possible on my website via my blogs and redefining spiritual terms/concepts through a trauma-informed and socially responsible lens on my spiritual encyclopedia page, and I am constantly adding new articles with tips for a more socially responsible, trauma-informed version of business over on my conscious business blog.
I intend to create more resources in the near future, so be sure to check back regularly.
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