Friday, August 3, 2018

Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement


By Sam Piha


Photo Credit: Medium.com
Shawn Ginwright is a university professor, author, activist, and youth program leader. He is also a leading voice in the expanded learning field, deepening our understanding of new concepts and frameworks by bringing in the importance of context, culture, and race. 



Dr. Ginwright recently authored an article entitled Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. Below we offer a few excerpts from his article and urge everyone to read it in its entirety.


“Practitioners and policy stakeholders have recognized the impact of trauma on learning, and healthy development. Trauma informed care broadly refers to a set of principles that guide and direct how we view the impact of severe harm on young people’s mental, physical and emotional health. Trauma informed care encourages support and treatment to the whole person, rather than focus on only treating individual symptoms or specific behaviors.

While trauma informed care offers an important lens to support young people who have been harmed and emotionally injured, it also has its limitations. For me, I realized the term slipped into the murky water of deficit based, rather than asset driven strategies to support young people who have been harmed. Without careful consideration of the terms we use, we can create blind spots in our efforts to support young people.”


Dr. Shawn Ginwright
He goes on to explain how current formulations of trauma informed care presumes that the trauma is an individual experience, rather than a collective one:

“To illustrate this point, researchers have shown that children in high violence neighborhoods all display behavioral and psychological elements of trauma…


Second, trauma informed care requires that we treat trauma in people but provides very little insight into how we might address the root causes of trauma in neighborhoods, families, and schools. If trauma is collectively experienced, this means that we also have to consider the environmental context that caused the harm in the first place. By only treating the individual we only address half of the equation leaving the toxic systems, policies and practices neatly intact.


Third, the term trauma informed care runs the risk of focusing on the treatment of pathology (trauma), rather than fostering the possibility (well-being). What is needed is an approach that allows practitioners to approach trauma with a fresh lens which promotes a holistic view of healing from traumatic experiences and environments. One approach is called healing centered, as opposed to trauma informed. A healing centered approach is holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action and collective healing. A healing centered approach views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but rather highlights the ways in which trauma and healing are experienced collectively.”


Dr. Ginwright goes on to offer some thoughts on practice and policy: “Shifting from trauma informed care or treatment to healing centered engagement requires youth development stakeholders to expand from a treatment based model which views trauma and harm as an isolated experience, to an engagement model which supports collective well-being. Here are a few notes to consider in building healing centered engagement.
  • Start by building empathy.
Healing centered engagement begins by building empathy with young people who experience trauma... However, building empathy is critical to healing centered engagement. To create this empathy, I encourage adult staff to share their story first, and take an emotional risk by being more vulnerable, honest and open to young people. 


Fostering empathy allows for young people to feel safe sharing their experiences and emotions. The process ultimately restores their sense of well-being because they have the power name and respond to their emotional states.
  • Encourage young people to dream and imagine!
An important ingredient in healing centered engagement is the ability to acknowledge the harm and injury, but not be defined by it. Perhaps one of the greatest tools available to us is the ability to see beyond the condition, event or situation that caused the trauma in the first place.

Research shows that the ability to dream and imagine is an important factor to foster hopefulness, and optimism both of which contributes to overall well-being. Daily survival and ongoing crisis management in young people’s lives make it difficult to see beyond the present. The greatest casualty of trauma is not only depression and emotional scares, but also the loss of the ability to dream and imagine another way of living.


By creating activities and opportunities for young people to play, reimagine, design and envision their lives this process strengthens their future goal orientation. These are practices of possibility that encourage young people to envision what they want to become, and who they want to be.
  • Build critical reflection and take loving action.
Healing and well-being are fundamentally political not clinical. This means that we have to consider the ways in which the policies and practice and political decisions harm young people. Healing in this context also means that young people develop an analysis of these practices and policies that facilitated the trauma in the first place. Without an analysis of these issues, young people often internalize, and blame themselves for lack of confidence. Critical reflection provides a lens by which to filter, examine, and consider analytical and spiritual responses to trauma. 


The other key component, is taking loving action, by collectively responding to political decisions and practices that can exacerbate trauma. By taking action, (e.g. school walkouts, organizing peace march, or promoting access to healthy foods) it builds a sense of power and control over their lives. Research has demonstrated that building this sense of power and control among traumatized groups is perhaps one of the most significant features in restoring holistic well-being.”



Dr. Ginwright has spoken at three of our How Kids Learn conferences. You can view his presentations here: 


HKL 1, part 1

HKL 1, part 2
HKL 4

HKL 6 

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Dr. Shawn Ginwright is Associate Professor of Education, and African American Studies at San Francisco State University and the author of Hope and Healing in Urban Education: How Activists are Reclaiming Matters of the Heart.

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