Building Connections: The Sexual Assault and Mental Health Project
Building Connections is a long standing collaboration between NYSCASA and the Mental Health Association of New York State, funded by the New York State Office of Mental Health in collaboration with the Mental Health Association of Ulster County. The project provides ongoing technical assistance about trauma-informed resources and trainings to survivors of sexual trauma, rape crisis programs, mental health practitioners, addictions care professionals, educators, administrators of human services, and many others.
We support the numerous trauma teams in various counties of New York State by helping them gather and share information locally, regionally, and statewide, and we support the development of new teams, task forces, or committees dedicated to expanding trauma-informed practices. We conduct an annual statewide training on topics related to sexual trauma and recovery and make such events open to the public and affordable to low-income populations.
What is trauma-informed care?
A trauma-informed approach assumes that many people have had one or more experiences that fall within the spectrum of “trauma.” Such individuals are most commonly referred to as “survivors” in the field of human services. Trauma can be defined as an overwhelming event or sequence of experiences that threaten bodily harm and/or sanity, or bring about a permanent loss. Overwhelming feelings of fear, helplessness, and loss of control are present.
Trauma informed-care recognizes the need of survivors to be respected, informed, and hopeful regarding their healing. A trauma informed care perspective asks the survivor “What happened?” instead of asking “What’s wrong?” or focusing on the problems or symptoms to be “fixed.” It focuses on individual strengths and doesn’t over-emphasize symptoms.
Trauma-informed care understands the relationships between trauma and the variety of trauma symptoms as they may be presented in rape crisis, mental health, and substance abuse settings. That is, “post-traumatic stress symptoms” are understood as coping mechanisms to manage the traumatic memory and may also reflect ongoing experiences of trauma, either in the form of continuous traumatic experiences or “triggers” that recall the past events into the present time, where they are “re-experienced” as though they are a current threat.
Trauma-informed care involves working collaboratively with survivors, their support network, and other service providers in a manner that empowers and does not re-traumatize the survivor.
How are people affected by trauma?
Traumatic experiences, particularly when they are experienced during childhood, impact the brain of the developing child or adult individual experiencing the trauma. Because human brains are designed for survival and have innate defense mechanisms to escape and or manage traumatic experiences, we react to trauma in one of three ways: fighting, fleeing, or freezing. Each of these ways, particularly when used over and over again due to exposure to ongoing trauma, create neural patterns that become automatic for us as we develop and cause disruption or delays in the development of other areas of our brains that involve more complex, conscious choices or responses.
Here are some resources about how trauma affects survivors:
What resources are available for survivors of traumatic experiences to use on their own?
The internet offers a great number of tools to support individuals who want to “re-set” themselves from a past of traumatic injury. There are articles, videos, and instructional websites designed to support a person on their healing journey.
What may service providers want to consider when working with individuals who have experienced traumatic events?
When people recognize they need help for themselves, we need to acknowledge their wisdom in asking for support and do everything possible to help them accept and move themselves past these learned patterns that actually successfully kept them alive until this point. We don’t blame them or shame them about their past behaviors but, rather, thank them for trusting us with their history of trauma and allowing us into their private world of healing. We offer a mirror for them to reflect on why they do what they do, and how they can make different choices about living now that they have a witness and supportive resources to support them. We allow them space to practice different responses and communication about the narrative of their life’s challenges, and invite them to creatively re-invent their path toward the future.
Resources for service providers:
- SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Important Things to Get Right About the “Neurobiology of Trauma” from End Violence Against Women International
- Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services from SAMHSA
- The Facts about Trauma and Mental Health from RALIANCE
- Supporting Survivors of Trauma: How to Avoid Re-traumatization
- What is Culturally-Sensitive Trauma-Informed Care? from Health Care Toolbox
- Trauma Informed Principles through a Culturally Specific Lens from the National Latino Network
- Jane Doe, Inc., Webinar: The Neurobiology of Trauma
- Bessel van der Kolk: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
- Bessel van der Kolk: How Childhood Trauma is Different from PTSD
- London Trauma Specialists’ Psychoeducation Video: The Brain Model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Peter Levine: How Trauma “Sticks” In the Body
- Janet Seahorn: Understanding PTSD’s Effects on Brain, Body, and Emotions
- Sherry Hamby: Trauma Is Everywhere, But So Is Resilience
- Brooks Healing Center: Guide to Treating Complex PTSD During Substance Abuse Rehab
- Jane Doe, Inc.’s Initiative for Safety & Justice resources on trauma
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- BREATH-BODY-MIND™: courses, webinars, and additional resources on healing breath practice
- Is your organization trauma-informed? Find out here.
Join the NYS Trauma-Informed Network
The NYS Trauma-Informed Network connects advocates of trauma-responsive practices and systems to provide access to quality resources and foster communication.
In 2016, the New York State Office of Mental Health and Coordinated Care Services, Inc. (CCSI) convened trauma-informed care champions from around the state to connect and collaborate with one another. At the conclusion of that extraordinary day, the message was clear: we can accelerate trauma-responsive practice change efforts by being better connected to one another.
The NYS Trauma-Informed Network is funded by the NYS Office of Mental Health, informed by a multi-stakeholder Advisory Council and developed by CCSI. The information found on the website is applicable for all ages and takes a cross-sector focus to support to support integrated care from a trauma-informed, trauma-sensitive lens. Together we will shape and accelerate trauma-responsive activity across New York State, supporting a true statewide System of Care.