What is Effective Trauma Care?

Trauma is inevitable in a fallen world. It can range from small “t” traumas to capital “T” traumas, but the common thread is the violation of your dignity as a human being. 

If trauma is inevitable, this means we are all encountering stories of trauma every day – in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.

So what are we to do when someone we love or care for is hurting? You might find yourself saying, “I’m so sorry to hear that,” but often, it feels like you’re not doing enough to truly help.

To make a real difference, we must begin by gaining a deeper understanding of the impact of trauma and abuse, starting with our own experiences.

Enrollment is now open for the new, self-paced Effective Trauma Care Online Course!

If today’s conversation strikes a chord with you and you’re ready to explore your own trauma stories to better support others with courage and care, we invite you to check out the newly launched Effective Trauma Care Online Course.

Featuring 8 sessions of compelling teaching from Dr. Dan Allender, the Effective Trauma Care Online Course will help you cultivate a deeper understanding of the impact of trauma and abuse while equipping you with the understanding and the tools to engage past trauma effectively.

Episode Transcript:

Dan: Let’s just start with this statement. I’m aging and as a consequence, one of the factors is that some of the most important work, I want people to engage, I hope they engage after I’m either not fully capable of doing what I’m currently doing or I’m in another dimension of the universe. And that basically means we have put some really important material into the format… And this is so ancient of me to use the word video, but into a streaming.. . Is it video? Is it streaming? What is it, Rachael?

Rachael: It’s an online course.

Dan: Okay, there it is.

Rachael: And that people will understand what that means. But yes, it is a series of videos available to you that you have access to. It’s not like a webinar where you come to an exact moment and you have to wait for it set a certain time and place. It’s just, it’s videos that have been recorded in an online course format that you can move through at your own pace.

Dan: Yeah. Again, just to say the technical ability to be able to do this is still for somebody who is still impressed that telephones connect you from one person to another person across the country. I mean, for somebody who doesn’t understand the concept of electricity, this is just like staggering the idea that important things that you want people to hear are available. I personally am hoping I get to live long enough that I get to be a hologram that you can buy one of the courses…

Rachael: And you show up in our living room and teach us the courses?

Dan: Yeah, well, I’ve always thought to do a fundraiser at my death so that I could actually preach my own funeral. I just thought that would be, I know…

Rachael: Dan Allender.

Dan: Okay, are we off topic?

Rachael: If we get back… But also I was just imagining you preaching own funeral and the audacity is just, I mean, it would be very hilarious. And also…

Dan: I think so. I think so. You might have to have a family time versus a more other, but nonetheless, the point is we do have some amazing technology to be able to have created an online class to material that is very dear to my heart and we call it Effective Trauma Care. And what we’re going to do today is to talk a bit about that, but to also come back to what we have such a passion for and that is engagement of trauma. And in that process, really what we’re doing is trying to prepare people to honor and welcome in their body and in their being the reality and consequences of their own trauma, and therefore to be able to be better prepared to address the trauma in others. And it kind of obviously begins with a few core assumptions that we have covered before. But I hope the redundancy bears no loss here. But look, trauma is freaking inevitable. You cannot live in a fallen world without some harm, whether we call it small “t”, capital “T” trauma, there will be some violation of your dignity today. Unless you stay in bed and pull the covers up, the chances are pretty high there will be some degree of violation, be it microaggressions, be it a misappropriate remark, it doesn’t really matter. But in every violation of your dignity, you will feel to some degree powerless. And that is the two-headed combination of all trauma of you were violated in some form and you were powerless to stop it. What makes it even harder is those two realms often lead to this third of feeling responsible, feeling complicit, feeling like it’s your fault. So when shame bonds powerlessness and dignity being violated, you’ve got the combination of a lot of darkness and it is such a ground for evil to utilize in ways that take the heart further and further from life, from love, from goodness. So if it’s inevitable, even if it’s decades ago and still has a profound effect, it requires addressing today that simple phrase of time heals all wounds, couldn’t have been a more stark deceit and lie. So we can only take someone as far as we have allowed our own hearts to go. So that’s the assumptive framework to open up this whole category of, well, what is trauma in a way that you don’t distance yourself from it because you’ve got other people who have suffered far more than you. And that’s probably one of the key issues here is that most people I interact with would say, I’ve had some less than good things happen, but I wouldn’t call it trauma. So how do you engage those people who dismiss or want to distance themselves from their own experience of living in a fallen world?

Rachael: I actually have a lot of compassion because in some ways I was one of those people myself. And we talk a lot about how the trauma Olympics isn’t helpful because at most if that’s your starting point, you’ll either do one of two things. You’ll pity other people who actually have suffered more than you feel you’ve suffered or you will minimize the harm that people have experienced and neither of those are helpful for you or other people. And so for me it’s like I want to understand how is that serving someone? Where are they in some ways exploiting the harm of other people in their comparison to soothe and feel better about their own harm? Because one of the realities, if the past, if time doesn’t heal all wounds, then there’s the initial wounding that comes. And trauma is tricky because it’s like, it’s really the body’s response to terror, to violation, to abuse, to feelings of powerlessness, to neglect, however you want to frame what is causing your body to feel under levels of threat. And that’s all contextual. So it doesn’t help to take someone else’s story and say, well, but I didn’t experience that. So there must not be comfort available to me. And I could say this because I just talked about this with my spiritual director because we did some centering prayer to open our time and I will bring this back, so don’t worry. I started a time by saying, in this season of the chaos of our lives and our kids being in two different sports and at that age where they’re really active and having a one year old and my husband’s finishing a PhD and just trying to get all the things I kind of phrased, how do I connect with God? That’s the question I’m pondering today and I have a lot of things to talk about. And so she said, let’s do some centering prayer. And if you’ve ever done centering prayer, you just pause and check in with your body and you try to listen to what God might be saying in spiritual direction. They’re just making a lot of space. And I kept hearing this refrain from a song that I love, a worship song come into my rest. And I kept pushing against it, especially in the midst of all that’s happening in the world war, genocide and atrocious terror and violence. And I felt this like, well get in line. You’re doing okay. What kind of rest could you possibly need with all that you have? That can’t be the word for me. That’s just what I long for. So okay, I’ll go back to the centering prayer. Jesus, what is it? What’s my, and it just kept coming back, kept coming back, and what ended up happening was this beautiful imagination of mother God holding me in her arms in the same way I hold my baby in my arms, which led to all kinds of like does God delight and just, do you love caring for your daughter? Even more would God not love that? Is there a kind of connected rest for you that your heart most longs for? Long story short to just say, I would fall into the category of often minimizing the trauma I have because it doesn’t look as bad as other people, and yet that never helps me heal in my own life and it doesn’t actually help me love people better. So that imagery of putting your oxygen mask on first only, if you’re actually doing the work, only makes you more compassionate, more angry at places of injustice, more committed to loving justice, to doing justice, to loving mercy, to growing and humility, and to growing in a kind of hope that becomes, I think in the best way, dangerous in imagining what’s meant to be so… long story to get there.

Dan: But what you’ve captured is that we can know a lot and we’ll talk about this in the Effective Trauma Care, you can know a lot with regard to your left hemisphere, your cogitation, your deduction, your intellectual process. But if we don’t tend to the right hemisphere, which is going to be experienced through images, sometimes sensations, and we know one of the effects of trauma is that we splinter or we fragment. And oftentimes where that resides in our brain is more in the right hemisphere and we need to tend to the, and sometimes disorganized, the chaotic, the things that don’t make sense in a way in which we care for our body as we do so. And I think that’s one of the realities that when you understand more about the nature of what all forms of trauma bring fragmentation change in your brain with regard to your left frontal lobe in your thalamus with regard to the ability to integrate data that’s coming from both hemispheres, there are so many effects in our body, i.e. our brain, let alone our stomach, our viscera, our vagus nerve in our breathing. And so when we begin the process, we’ve got to have a strong theoretical frame and I think a strong theological frame, but we also have to have enough data about what’s happening in us so that when we know we’re fragmenting or another person may be that we don’t rough shot, we don’t push quickly through, but your own spiritual director probably even if you weren’t in capital “T” trauma, I don’t know how anyone in this current day doesn’t feel some of the effects of global and again, Israeli/Palestinian trauma and larger traumas with regard to other portions of the world. All that to say, our ability to begin to tend with kindness toward processes we either don’t understand, or perhaps even worse, despise, keep us from being able to do the work that really is restorative. When you were talking, I was thinking about a Psalm. We’ve actually engaged a number of times on this podcast in a Psalm 131, I know how to soothe myself like a weaned child. And you were in the process of doing something, we’ll use the word, biblical. You were soothing to be able to receive so that you have more to give. So effective trauma care is again, trying to build a theoretical frame, biblical theological, psychological, somatic, neurologic in order to open the door to, and this will seem a strange phrase for certain people, but to understand more clearly the spiritual warfare that is being perpetrated against you, that keeps you from doing the work. So we’re bringing a lot of spheres of perspective into an ultimate path, inviting people to see what the effects of trauma, that fragmentation, that numbing, that isolation, that really is a form of doing harm to what faith is, what hope is, what love is. And if we can begin to see the harm, but also the intentionality of what the kingdom of evil wants through your and other people’s trauma, then we have at least both a better map, but also I think a more defiant intention to be able to say, hell no! No. I am traumatized and this is how I’ve responded to my wife or my spouse in the past. Hell no. So I do see this as a conference for people who are what could be broadly called professionals, but my real passion is to engage anyone who wants to have a better marriage, to have better friendships, to have frankly just a better life, living out the freedom of the gospel. That’s who this is designed for to invite you to that process. What’s keeping me from my past and current heartache and harm, which we’re going to call trauma. How is it keeping me from living in a way that’s opening the door for myself and for others to know so much more the goodness of God? And that frame from Psalm 27:13, I would have despaired if I did not believe that I would see the goodness of God in the land of the living. I want that to be a north star. If you don’t deal with trauma, I don’t care how positive, I don’t care, how, shall we say, forgiving/trusting you may be. There’s going to be something of despair that continues to circulate in your bones and your blood if you don’t do the work to see what the effect of trauma has been, how evil has opportunistically used it, and in many ways to attempt to occlude and blind you to your own glory and to the glory of God.

Rachael: And if that is not compelling to you to want to come and do work and to take advantage of this opportunity, I don’t really know what is. And one of the things I loved about what you’re saying is what I love about this conference, because it was really eyeopening to me to experience Effective Trauma Care. It was something we had been doing for a while, even though I had been working at the Allender Center for a while and I hadn’t experienced it. And then when it was so helpful in the different frames that it brought that you’ve put words to that, it was bringing in some ways the theological biblical frame for why we believe trauma care is like a necessary missional work of the kingdom of God, how it’s connected to us in our own lives and our capacity to others. But just even some of the basics of trauma like 101, because there are so many areas in our world, I think about, man, how different would our schools be if teachers got trauma-informed training as a core part of their training and all this behavioral kind of control they’re trying to do a traumatized kids, they start to have a different frame for how much could all of us benefit in the year of our Lord 2023 with a trauma frame that helps us understand how people are trying to mitigate compounding harm they’ve experienced and why road rage is like a gut impulse for someone to defend themselves, which I’m sure they later look at and just think, how in the world did it get to this? Why people are so rude right now? It doesn’t make it any better, but at least for me, the effective trauma care frame I carry with me on my better days when I can have a little more freedom of how my own trauma shapes, my defensive coping mechanisms, I can actually move even just with strangers who are so traumatized right now with a lot more grace, a lot more wisdom, and I think a lot more effective ways of offering care in really small moments like helping someone be able to regulate in a moment, being able to diffuse something that could move toward an escalation that’s just so unhelpful if I can see something of what’s happening. So I think that this material…

Dan: I love that some of the audience knows a bit of my story, but I’ll say it pretty quickly. My biological father died in a car accident my mother and I were in when I was about four years of age, and eight months later I’m in kindergarten, and I was already because of what we’ll call developmental trauma, meaning family of origin trauma already, let’s just say I’m a difficult child, but also with very complex, difficult and a mentally ill mother. So by the time I got to kindergarten, I was my first encounter with Dr. Dave Shelby, the principal of Barrington Elementary School. My first encounter was probably within the first month being… I was sent to the principal’s office as a kindergartner. And probably within the year Dave and I became good friends. And here’s this educator principal starting his life and career. And he eventually, as a five-year-old, invites me to call him Dave because I think he knew I’m going to be seeing a lot of him through my years. And I did. I ended up, a lot of my education was in Dave’s office, but he may not have, shall we say, trauma training, but he seemed to know how to care for a highly traumatized kid. And to my great advantage, he eventually went being the principal of this elementary school to being the superintendent of the school system that I was part of. And so there were times in high school, particularly that I made it well beyond the principal’s office where I was sent to the superintendent’s office. And so Dr. Shelby and I spent a lot of time together. And what I can go back to is the man had what we know to be central for dealing with the effects of trauma, attunement, the ability to read, to read and to be with you, not judge you, but to be able to read and yet with enough strength to know how to contain. And he knew how to set limits and to bring consequences, but also how to create freedom for me within the space that I was trying to burn up. So I would say, I am here on this podcast in part because I had the benefit of a very gracious, kind, strong man who knew how to deal with a very difficult, highly, shall we say, emotionally dysregulated child. And so when we’re looking at some people in our church and we just go, oh, they’re just, they’re out of control, or they’re just, that person’s just mean, et cetera, et cetera. Well, we don’t know. We just don’t know the stories that have brought people to be who they are. And if we could know, I’m not saying those people will give us access, but if we could know what has brought this defensive, aggressive or withdrawing or in other words, what we normally talk about with regard to trauma is fight, flight, freeze, fawn. So you look at a person, they just seem so insincere. Oh, but you go, fawning isn’t a lack of sincerity, it’s a fear-based response trying to mitigate something of the chaotic heartache that might come if I’m displeasing to you. So if we began to have a lens for looking at the highly problematic dysregulated kindergartner, I was, instead of just saying, he’s a bad kid, he’s a juvenile delinquent. And I was, but there was more. So I think that’s again, what we’re hoping to bring, to train, and to begin to send out into different conversations, different perspectives that allow for different language that invite different engagement with stories. So many of the people who will look at effective trauma care course are not going to have their offices professional settings, but telling you the ability to be at a lunch with somebody who’s going through trauma and be able to do more than just say, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry yet that’s a great beginning. But in one sense, we actually believe you can do so much more work. And yeah, eventually somebody may need the week by week, month by month, year by year work, in fact, most occasions, absolutely. Nonetheless, the carrying the pallet to the roof and lowering it down into the direct care of what real transformation can bring. Lemme tell you, I’ve just seen people who have gone through this course who have made huge differences with regard to their friends, their family, their children. And that’s one of the reasons why as I come to the end of my, I’m not predicting my death or my end professionally, but I am in the latter portions of my life I wanted, we wanted to make sure some of that material would linger a lot longer than perhaps this mound of flesh. So in that, it’s that invitation of what can we do to help you face the reality of your own harm in a way in which you begin to find greater capacity to be able to receive the attunement of others, but particularly of Jesus, and to be able to be held well and know what it is to bear God containment, good honor, but in a way that addresses to us the heartache that’s deepest in all of us. And that is that sense of shame. How do we combat that and not become shameless, but actually become far more tender and far more capable of receiving our own and other people’s tears and receiving our own and other people’s anger on our behalf to be able to know comfort, but also have movement that takes on evil far more directly than what we have done.