At a time of crisis, don’t forget the basics

Monday, 20 April 2020 - 10:07am

Our sector is used to supporting very vulnerable people, with compassion, at times of crisis. During this pandemic we must remember to use our skills and knowledge, with the empathy and understanding that shapes our practice normally, to respond to the challenges faced.

The extraordinary nature of this pandemic has permeated every aspect of our lives and every faction of society. To be thrown into the unknown and unexperienced, with a lack of clarity about what the future holds too, can cause immense anxiety. Some of you may have felt that you’ve been operating in survival mode for the last few weeks. Responding to the initial changes, working in a new normal and all the while supporting very vulnerable people, is a level of pressure we could never have imagined.

When operating in survival mode, or a state of doing instead of thinking, we can easily forget what we knew before. As we try to anchor and equip ourselves with the barrage of information about Covid-19, we may forget to harness the learning and experience we already have. But it is exactly that which will assist us to respond to some of the most challenging situations we face.

For several years now we have together been on a journey of bringing a psychologically-informed approach to our work. In order to better support those with histories of trauma, and reflecting on our own emotional needs and reactions, services have become safer and more empowering for staff and clients. Understanding the importance of relationships and changing the way we recognise and respond to behaviours has helped us to improve the services we provide.

Our focus more recently however has been about responding to the physical needs of individuals; providing accommodation and other essentials and supporting people to social distance and self isolate. However we must not forget the importance of meeting and responding to psychological needs and reflecting on the behaviours and reactions we see. We must also take note of our own feelings during this time; how are coping with anxiety and how are our emotions coming into our work?

 Trauma-informed care, an approach which takes the histories and emotions of clients and staff into account, emphasises the following good practice:

  • Building trusting relationships – trauma can deeply affect how individuals relate to others and respond to help. Taking the time to listen and get to know people, whilst being consistent and predictable, will help to build trust which is the bedrock for effective support. It is important to remember that people will engage in different ways so be responsive to that.
  • Empowerment over control – loss of control is a key factor in trauma, and very often has been experienced by individuals when coming into contact with services. We must empower people, through the language we use and information we provide, to make their own decisions. Trying to control a person’s behaviour can embed their trauma, and may ultimately mean they disengage from support. Managing our own reactions to their choices, and not feeling like we need to control people, is essential.
  • Focussing on safety – supporting people to find physical and psychological safety is a key component of this approach. Many of behaviours you are seeing may be symptomatic of someone feeling unsafe. Explore how they feel about their physical environment, the relationships they have, and the way they cope with anxiety. Look proactively for ways to address any areas of need and don’t forget to take gender and culture into account.
  • Working in a strengths-based way – people with histories of trauma often have low self-esteem and may feel that things can’t improve. Not only that, they’ve often been in contact with many services that have labelled them. Working with individuals to recognise their strengths and goals, and to identify their coping strategies, will help to foster resilience and hope.

Now more than ever it is important that you keep check of your own emotional needs too. Be sure to use support offered by your organisation during this time and find out what support is being offered to keyworkers in your area.

To find out more about trauma-informed practice, catch up on our 15th April Wednesday Webinar and check out the following resources:

Related TIC resources on our covid-19 resource list

+ Chris Andrew at Connection at St Martins, drew graphic minutes during our webinar which featured discussion of Trauma-Informed Practice and Multiple Disadvantage:

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Jo Prestidge

Senior Innovation and Good Practice Project Manager (Housing First)

Jo is a senior innovation and good practice project manager, leading the Housing First England project and advocating for Trauma Informed Care.