A Healing Centered Approach to Trauma
I recently read an article by author, Shawn Ginwright, a leading expert on youth activism, youth development, and professor of Africana Studies. In this article, he discussed a healing-centered approach to working with trauma, which he defines as “ holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action and collective healing. A healing-centered approach views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but rather highlights the ways in which trauma and healing are experienced collectively. The term healing centered engagement expands how we think about responses to trauma and offers a more holistic approach to fostering well-being” (Ginwright, 2018, n.p)
His words really spoke to me as I feel this approach aligns very closely with the way in which I work with clients who have experienced trauma. My work with refugees, immigrants and other communities who have experienced complex trauma has taught me the beauty, and often necessity of healing as a community. Dance/movement therapy is therefore a well suited modality to work with trauma survivors due to its conduciveness to group work and its inherent ability to bring people together through movement.
The increase in awareness about mental health and the effects of trauma within our society has been beneficial in helping to normalize and validate people’s experiences, often helping survivors feel less isolated. However, with this increase in awareness, there is also a risk of overidentifying with trauma and mental illness. Ginwright (2018) describes this phenomenon as being very deficit based; by placing labels on someone who has experienced trauma, or by only asking them about their trauma, they may feel like they are being defined by their trauma. This can often lead to feelings of isolation and shame, which are already a common symptoms of trauma.
With that said, how can we begin to heal as a community and shift our conversations of “what’s wrong with you” to “what’s right with you?” In therapy, we often call this a “strengths-based approach.” Ginwright’s theory of healing centered engagement moves beyond strengths- based by emphasizing the context of the community, which is where I believe the healing happens. By focusing on the well being and what we want to achieve, instead of focusing on all of the symptoms we do not want to experience, we may be able to take one step in this direction. Trying to find ways to connect, whether that is as simple as having a few friends over, spontaneous meet-ups, or organizing healing spaces for people to move, talk, and be together are all integral in beating the isolating effects of the trauma that we face as a society.