Cultivating Resilience and Building a Trauma-Informed Organization

Topic: Cultivating Resilience and Building a Trauma-Informed Organization

Perry Dougherty of Still Harbor presented at the Next Mile Project to educate the nonprofits about how to best care for their employees’ well-being.

What is Still Harbor?

  • Still harbor works with individuals and organizations to understand their purpose and elicit their ‘gifts’ to make change
  • They operate at the intersection of spirituality and social justice
    • Discerning purpose, vocation, and call to service
    • Aligning to and attuning values, beliefs, motivations
    • Healing, reconciling and understanding in relationship to self, others, and the sacred
  • They believe in ‘accompaniment:’ the notion that one needs to take a holistic approach and consider all factors to understand an issue or organizational entity

Still Harbor strongly believes in helping yourself before helping others (Metaphorically – On an airplane they ask you to place your mask on before assisting others). Why?

  • Social justice work is very personal and often intermixed with employees’ past pain.
    • This can interfere in accomplishing one’s goals
  • When we don’t feel healthy and whole our work is often compromised
  • Many nonprofits’ ultimate mission is long term change
    • Thus, employees cannot burn out as human resources are the most valuable assets many social justice organizations can provide.
  • Those attempting to effect positive change need to model what it looks like to heal and to be healed
  • If the ultimate goal of a nonprofit is to promote equality or oneness, it is important to consider oneself not only as helpers but also as those in need of help.
    • Everyone deserves to say ‘me-too.’
    • Becomes a point of solidarity

Dougherty discussed the importance of fostering a nurturing, healing environment in times of peace so that during crisis or after trauma exposure employees are better equipped to cope.

What is trauma exposure?

  • In simple terms: witnessing trauma (See slides for a full list of symptoms)
    • Seeing suffering, observing substandard qualities of life, listening to those involved a natural disaster or social unrest, etc.
  • Individuals and organizations often neglect the employees who are exposed to trauma
    • Many are quick to dismiss their own feelings about such exposure due to the relative nature of their experiences: “I didn’t live through it,” “she had it worse than I ever did,” “How can I be upset when they dealt with x, y or z?”
    • Organizations can get so wrapped up in their goals to help others they forget to help themselves
  • Every social justice nonprofit is exposed to trauma as a result of going to the most marginalized areas in the world

Proactively create resilience in a time where there is no crisis. What is resilience?  

  • The capacity of a person, group, or system to sustain its core purpose and wholeness in the face of dramatically changed circumstances
  • The capacity of a person, group, or system to recover from stress and adversity well.
  • Not simply ‘get-over-it’ psychological toughness. It includes healthy, though often painful integration of new information or circumstances.
  • Need to cultivate resilience on an individual and collective levels

How to Cultivate Resilience:  

  • Grapple critically with our purpose, beliefs, values, and understandings
  • Connect with ourselves, others, and something greater than any one of us
  • Open ourselves for potential change
  • Need to create an environment that integrates reflection, focus, connection, and integration

What it takes to build a Trauma- Informed Organization  

  • Establish a safe space to foster open discussion
  • Embrace the various ways trauma can impact someone and encourage justice workers to understand that their responses are not signs of weakness but of humanity
  • Place real value on caring for oneself as well as for others.

Case Study: Haiti Earthquake and Still Harbor’s Akonpanye program  

  • Still Harbor established a safe haven where Haitians, Haitian-Americans, and emergency response personnel could gather to openly discuss their feelings about the disaster
  • Lessons learned:
    • People yearn to find ways to communicate their feelings. They need a space to fully understand their feelings then discuss them.
    • Often have profound spiritual questions they need to muse on in a safe setting. (ex. Why do bad things happen to good people)
    • People often feel alone as a result of their experience. They believe others cannot understand or they try to rationalize feelings away (They had it worse, so I shouldn’t worry).

Take a look at the PowerPoint here