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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Brown

"Wait, What Do You Do...Trauma Education?"

Updated: Apr 6

To understand trauma is to never see people or our social systems the same again. As former comedian turned author/podcaster Russel Brand posited in a recent broadcast, to see the world through a trauma lens is to “take a pill in the Matrix.” The patterns are unmistakable.

“Wait, what do you do?”

This is the question I am asked most often. I am a Trauma Educator. Period, end of sentence—I’m not a therapist. Clinicians are fantastic, among my favorite humans...but we need a new lane. I intentionally choose to carve a different path, here’s why...

To understand trauma is to never see people or our social systems the same again. As former comedian turned author/podcaster Russel Brand posited in a recent broadcast, to see the world through a trauma lens is to “take a pill in the Matrix.” The patterns are unmistakable.

Judgement dissolves. Shame is extracted. Witnessing another human struggling automates the question:

“What happened to that person?”


“What’s wrong with that person?”

It’s impossible to see ourselves or anyone else the same again.

We locate the pathologies within individuals in our society. There is something wrong with him, her or they. If the person is lucky, they see a therapist to address what’s wrong with them. Why are they affected and effected...why are they not operating optimally? Few scans out to witness the larger connections and the near inevitability of the struggle.

As a former high school teacher, I often designed my lessons through a methodology called: “Backwards Design”. What am I aiming for my students to know or master at the end of this lesson? Its obvious that if we ask that question of ourselves as a community, we are living, teaching and privileging narratives and practices that will never arrive at the result most of us desire.

We are witnessing a dark time, particularly here in the United States. If we want to create a community of norms that are life-affirming as opposed to predacious we need a vision of who we want to BE, not just what we would reject. Understanding trauma is the first step in that conversation.

As a Trauma Educator I teach a variety of workshops and engage in political advocacy. In a civilization designed to oppress our authenticity and humanity—engaging in trauma work is a deeply political act. We live in a world where Goldman Sachs and other corporate interests headline the freshman orientation of our Congress and the commodification of everything and everyone reigns supreme. What if the people charged with creating the rules of our society understood the humans that make up that society? Who would we be if politicians were required deep knowledge of trauma for the privilege of governance?

Trauma is a highly complex topic that integrates understandings of biology, psychology, sociology—among other fields. Trauma need be understood from “top-down” and “bottom-up” expression. Toxic stress and trauma suppresses the immune system and creates physical illness. Understanding Trauma and epigenetics are essential to evolution and wellness—but also to the bottom-line. The healthcare savings of understanding trauma and how to best care for ourselves are incalculable.

Importantly, as one of my favorite trauma pioneers Dr. Gabor Maté states: “Trauma is not what happens to you, but what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.” The energy of trauma is carried in the body. Free will, grit and archetypes of strength need shrink to make room for the possibility of healing, progress and whatever success means for oneself. Unfortunately too many of our existing beliefs of how to succeed are not trauma-informed.

For example, there’s an enormous, important and heart-felt push to integrate mindfulness in schools. However, what’s missing from the conversation is the harm that may cause to already traumatized children. There’s a careful awareness of trauma necessary to utilize mindful activities in a diverse public space—there may be more negative consequences than benefit. We need a lane of experts to guide us in (hopefully) this transformative time.

My personal dream is that growth of this area of knowledge become elevated as a core necessity as we progress toward a more authentic and humane version of who we are meant to be. We need to both change the systems themselves, but also the lens of the practitioners within those systems. One of the greatest points of resistance I find in my work is that it invites inevitable vulnerability. If I know, that—under similar circumstances—I too could be affected and effected that same way, my sense of safety and certainty is threatened. My sense of control disappears, and I may regress to sit in fear and want to cling back to the illusionary walls of rigid prescriptive right and wrong ways-of-living. To engage in trauma understanding is messy. We have hierarchies of judgement around the symptoms of how trauma manifests in peoples lives especially in the area of addictions. For example, we have empathy for the anorexic, but we might more easily shun an obese person. The people that wear their traumas more visibly are easy fodder. The need to label and quantify human behavior keeps us focused on the level of trauma expression in the individual. Again, when we do this we fail to take space, step back and question the narratives that would have us reinforce that the pathology exists within the individual. Many are currently “having the rug-pulled-out-from-under-them." Through no fault of their own, due to coronavirus, a sense of safety and certainty has been upended. People's financial worlds, their familial stability and their vision of the future is in flux. I and others have experienced that before. Originating with acts of violence, predation, and misogyny my world was upended over 10 years ago. A deeply hurt person took their hurt out on me...but it was the assaults of ours systems that kept me from returning to stability and wellness sooner. Importantly, my experience of trauma and hurt ended up spilling onto others—despite how much I worked to prevent it. A bottom-up view of the institutions designed to help and heal, and their current misalignment with what’s needed for the humans they serve brought me to this work. Trauma education is about honoring our interdependence. When we acknowledge our interdependence we can witness how trauma passes through the human collective more powerfully than any other virus.

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