At the beginning of Risking Connectionâ training we discuss the differences between a traditional approach and a trauma informed approach. These include: The traditional approach maintains that the treater is the expert, and the client the recipient of this expertise; the main value in the traditional method is control and elimination of symptoms as opposed to collaboration and understanding the adaptive function of symptoms; and the idea that the treater should be unaffected by the work is replaced by understanding that all treaters are emotionally impacted by the work.
As we finished this exercise in a recent training, one participant said: "I can see that in this method you do not hold the clients accountable. This will not work for me, I work in a juvenile justice facility and we have to hold the clients accountable or how will they ever learn?" Furthermore, she stated that she sees the clients as making choices, and her job to point out that there are consequences to these choices.
This comment contains several of the most common fallacies or mis-beliefs about the trauma informed approach. We have to take these concerns seriously as they represent one of the largest obstacles to implementing this method.
First of all there is the idea that we are recommending "not holding the client accountable".
When you look up the definition of holding accountable you find it is associated with words like blame, find fault with, censure, to place the responsibility for, reproach, reprove, reprehend, criticize, to hold responsible; hold culpable. We don’t seem to speak of holding someone accountable for good things or positive achievements.
We are as usual stuck in the middle of a dialectic- to use the words of DBT, the client is doing the best she can, and she needs to learn to do better. Our treatment must include both validation and a push for change.
A child’s past and his current reality influence the choices he makes. If he is presented with the opportunity to steal a car and the urging of peers to do so, many things so influence whether he does or does not:
Does he have any self worth? Does he think there is any one who cares what he does? Has he learned values through loving attachments? Does he have a sense of hope for his life? Does he think he has anything to lose? Is he in the grip of intolerable anger, despair or fear and does he have any skills to manage whatever he is feeling? Is he mired in shame from other events and actions of his life? Does he have attachments with other friends or does he feel he will be alone forever if he alienates these friends? Does his mind have the capacity to think before he acts?
If he decides to steal the car, gets caught, and is presented (involuntarily) to us for treatment, how can we best help him? What interventions on our part will result in him being more capable of turning away from him next opportunity to break the law?
It would be neglectful to ignore the fact that he stole the car, to never mention it, or to act as though it was some how all right to have done so because of difficulties he has had in his past.
It would also be neglectful to ignore the factors that contribute to his vulnerability to such actions. We would be less helpful if we did not offer treatment that increases his self worth, forms strong relationships, emphasizes the relationship consequences of behaviors, build up avenues for achievement and hope, helps him learn both emotion management skills and relationship skills, and teaches him how to calm his biology to increase his ability to think.
A trauma informed approach confronts the behaviors directly. The treaters bring to the discussion respect, an assumption that every behavior is adaptive and solves a problem, information about change, a strong connection, and hope for a better future.
In a trauma informed approach we answer the question: "how will he learn not to do this again?"
He will learn by a strong, respectful and straightforward investigation with his treaters of what happened and what contributed to his decisions.
He will learn through developing attached relationships. Within these he will learn values. He will have something to lose that matters. He will learn that he has strengths and talents. He will find hope. He will also learn through specific strategies to teach him emotion management and relationship skills.
It’s not so much that we do not hold him accountable. It’s that caring and be cared about, skills and achievement offer so much more power for changes than simply explaining that if you steal cars you may go to jail.
How would you answer this person’s comment? What are your views on this central concern about trauma informed care? We need to do much more thinking and talking about this. Click on “comment” and express your ideas.