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ACE Awareness Summit 2017 Links Individual and Organizational Trauma

On October 24, the ACE Awareness Foundation brought together nearly 150 therapists, practitioners, advocates, and community members for its annual summit held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center.

The event highlighted the impactful, innovative ways the Memphis community is working to overcome trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with preventative models, such as the Foundation-supported Universal Parenting Places (UPPs).

Nationally renowned psychiatrist Dr. Sandra Bloom gave a presentation titled, “Creating, Destroying, and Restoring Sanctuary: Trauma-Informed Care, the Crisis in Human Service Delivery Systems, and the Sanctuary Model.” Dr. Bloom is the founder of the Sanctuary Model—an evidence-supported, trauma-informed blueprint for change that promotes safety and recovery from trauma—who has consulted more than 350 social service and mental health programs nationally and internationally for the treatment of trauma.

Dr. Bloom’s presentation traced the similarities between individual and organizational trauma. She noted how trauma is a public health problem that we have only recently begun to understand and address. Dr. Bloom cited findings from a new study released from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which found that at least 38 percent of children in every state have had at least one ACE. As stress, adversity, and trauma touches everyone, Dr. Bloom argued, we must ensure everyone is informed of its long-lasting effects. The enormity of these problems means they can’t be solved without collective action. Integrating systems or organizations, such as education, housing, welfare, justice, and corrections, is the new frontier. We need to work together to be more trauma-informed and trauma-responsive.

Dr. Bloom detailed her experience as a psychiatrist in Philadelphia when she and her colleagues first began understanding that ACEs were responsible for their clients’ current adult struggles. She described a trauma-organized person as having a lack of basic safety and trust; loss of emotional management; problems with cognition; communications problems; problems with authority and power; a confused sense of justice and social responsibility; and an inability to grieve or anticipate the future. When a person struggles with trauma, they adapt based on the resources around them. Unfortunately, these adaptations become habits that can be difficult to overcome.

To help individuals break through maladjusted habits and learn to cope with trauma, Dr. Bloom and her colleagues developed the Sanctuary Model. This model is organized around four pillars that are essential to creating a sense of community: shared knowledge, shared values, shared language, and a shared practice. “Creating Sanctuary” refers to the shared experience of creating and maintaining physical, psychological, social, and moral safety within a social environment—any social environment—and thus reducing systemic violence and counteracting the destructive parallel processes that are a result of chronic and unrelenting stress.

Organizational trauma carries similar characteristics to individual trauma. When systems or organizations are under stress, they may experience unemployment, racism and sexism, and corruption, all of which can lead to lawsuits, crime, and suicide. Dr. Bloom argued that the hallmark of trauma is fragmentation, adding we live in fragmented cities, states, countries, and cultures and that our systems of care are also fragmented. As trauma is ultimately about the abuse of power, a healthy system or organization must be committed to safety, value diversity and creativity, allow for open and frequent communication, be committed to learning and social justice, use a shared language, and be open to change.

Dr. Bloom praised the ACE Awareness Foundation for pioneering the Universal Parenting Places to combat the effects of trauma and urged everyone to document what they are seeing and the impact of their work to build a greater collective understanding. In this way, the event was a great showcase of the Memphis community’s growing recognition in the national conversation on childhood trauma through creating preventative models to help families and communities heal together.

A sincere thank you to Dr. Bloom for her thought-provoking presentation and to all who attended!

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