Designing Trauma Informed Meetings

Designing trauma informed meetings Walking into all of our meeting spaces is “trauma” – stories of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE’s) the trauma from families, violence in our communities, anger, difficult or overwhelming emotional experiences.  This trauma resides in our bodies and shapes behavior and the ability to listen, learn and participate. We’ve all adapted and most who show up at our meetings have found ways to function.

Trauma affects our brains – our executive function (how we organize information and tasks), it effects our reactions , it effects our ability to learn and process information and can affect our memory.   For many people when they are stressed they are not picking up what is happening around them.  They are occupied in their internal world of trauma and the associated neurological patterns of  fight, flight, tension, freeze, or protect.   Our bodies in stress response have the capacity to release 1400 different stress chemicals and hormones, designed to help us survive and deal with danger.  These stress chemicals through don’t help meetings go well.

How we design our meeting spaces can create an environment that heals. I recently was working with the Washington State Community Network leaders,  We spent time delving into what we know about creating spaces that heal, spaces that are trauma informed.  The community networks have been dedicated for 13 years to reducing the prevalence of ACE’s in our communities across the state and healing generation to generation. Here is some advice for working in fields where trauma (historic or current) is present:

Don’t be surprised that:

  • People have difficultly navigating stressful situations, sometimes small amounts of difficultly is overwhelming.
  • People can feel hype vigilant or hyper reactive.
  • People have a hard time building relationships with others.

Create space for grace, patience and understanding:

  • When possible: Let everyone know in advance that you want to make this a safe space.
  • Acknowledge people know best how to take care of themselves and each other and what they need to learn best.
  • Create what feels like a real invitation.
  • Create space that allows non-traditional participation.
  • Ask people to create understanding for how people are acting, but not excuses.

Raise the Vibration:  

  • Change the vibration of how we are together.  Vibration of music, play, movement..
  • Positive emotions, embodiment, & arts bring coherence, raise DHEA levels and helps heal.
  • Create authentic connections – Laughter, fun.
  • Take a lot of time to say thank you – from true place of gratitude.
  • Emphasize resilience.  How to build resilience in students and youth.

Practice Emotional Intelligence: 

  • Acknowledge emotional responses.   “This is tough issue…” – set stage for emotions.
  • Stay in your own center when emotion and story show up, not let it derail.
  • Incorporate what’s in the room, who is showing up and how are they showing up – adapt.
  • Grace, understanding, compassion, empathy.
  • Our interactions with people  change how things are.   Our interactions can change their response.
  • Practice self-regulation – check my own drama practices.

Build Safety:

  • Space itself needs to be safe – perhaps much safer in loud pizza place for youth.
  • Build agreements, check assumptions:  Set standards for each group.
  • Balance between respect for needs and permission to meet own needs.  Set standards for each group.
  • Look for patterns of relationship and what helps create an environment of safety.
  • Sit on the ground… more you are closer to the ground, the more you are real.   Where you sit and how you sit effects everything.
  • If stress levels are raised, need to have ways to release energy.   Water wheels, clay, pipe cleaners…
  • Tell enough of my story so they know I am real, genuine, caring.
  • Encourage people to sit next to person who supports them – person who is a calming influence on them.

Encourage Contribution:

  • Welcoming, acceptance, participate with authenticity, let heart be open.
  • See things in a strength based approach – everybody has something to contribute.
  • We all have wounds and we all have gifts.   How do we have sense of welcome and ability to contribute their gifts?
  • Have paper for at least 20% – enough for those who would benefit for having on paper.   No one left out of learning.
  • Everyone has opportunity to share: create room for a variety of ways to participate and give feedback.

Embrace diversity:

  • People with high ACE’s have just as much diversity as people who don’t.
  • Make it OK for people to process differently.
  • Notice what helps – do more of that.
  • Bring an open mind – ask open ended questions.
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