Facebook has a way of sucking you in…especially when you are a life-long learner like myself, and they keep showing you ads for new trainings and certifications and the such. Many of you have requested that I be writing more because you enjoy my pearls of wisdom. Since this topic has been forefront in my brain, I figured I’d get right on it!
Authenticity, Integrity, and Keeping It Real…how does this fit in? It concerns me greatly when I see all these advertisements addressing trauma training and become certified in 30 some hours, blah, blah, blah. It concerns me greatly. Why, you ask? First of all, understanding trauma is different than actually working with someone with trauma, which is also different than helping a person heal their trauma. Let me explain…
Many, many moons ago, I was involved in a training program that was backed by some highly influential people of the world (just sayin). During the course of our training, we were being taught how to stay present for people when they were discussing difficult issues in their life. Coming from a therapy background, with many years of experience, easy peasy for me. We all partnered up, and were taken into a guided meditation…in which we were then directed to go back to the most traumatic time in our life. Bringing us out of the meditation, we were then to sit and bear witness to a partner, not responding with facial expressions, words, or touch. Just sit and listen. Then we switched. Then we were told to take a lunch break.
The warning bells started going off in my head during the meditation, and the blood started simmering when I heard the sniffles and tears around the room. We left for lunch, and the more I sat with this experience, the more my blood boiled. I asked to speak with the instructor after lunch, addressing my concerns as a mental health professional. The instructor did not want to hear what I had to say, and I was given the message to know my place. And I was told something else that I’ll get to later.
Livid, was I! LIVID!!! The more I sat with it, the more upset I got. Why, you ask?
First of all, there are simple ways to teach being present and bearing witness to people without dredging up trauma. If you choose to dredge up your personal trauma, it should be done with your consent prior.
Second, my partner disclosed child sexual abuse that she had never shared with anyone, and the suicidal feelings that surrounded it.
Third, my partner never came back from lunch.
Four, I’m a mandated reporter in the State of Ohio as a Social Worker, meaning I still follow the ethical guidelines even when I’m not practicing in that role.
Five, there was no processing or following up to ensure the well-being of the students in the class prior to sending them off to lunch.
Six, I was not heard when I expressed my concerns about the safety and well-being of the entire group.
Seven, (the one I would get to later) I was told that we are all adults and should basically have all our shit together if we were going to do this program (steam was coming out of the ears at this point). Apparently, someone does not have an understanding of trauma.
So, what does one do?
After some consideration, consulting with my peers and colleagues, and sitting with my feelings for a bit, I made a decision. I formally removed myself from the program, and I wrote a letter addressing my concerns. I believe it is important to let people know the why, what, and how’s, and sent it to the board of directors of this program and the instructor. When a program goes against the ethical and moral standards of my profession, that is unacceptable to me, and I will not support their program.
Why does this still upset me after many years? Because mental health is not a trivial matter. Trauma is not a trivial matter. Suicidal ideations are not a trivial matter. And someone felt their training agenda was more important than the safety and well-being of the people in the training. Ego, power trips, a little bit of knowledge, and arrogance are not the way to teach, lead, or to help others. Teaching in this method also sent the message that it is okay for folks to utilize this method when teaching others. And when an instructor can’t hear their students concerns, it is a huge red flag.
And you know, I did receive a phone call from the instructor about my letter (which patting myself on the back, was well-written, professional, and shared some suggestions on how to teach bearing witness without jeopardizing the well-being of the students). Funny, this person was curious as to why I sent the letter to the Board of Directors. Because if you continue to use this training modality, there is a possibility that someone is going to get hurt, and you as the instructor, have a liability. And if you are addressing mental health issues as part of your not mental health based training, it might be a good idea to have a mental health professional represented on your board.
So how does this relate back to all the advertisements on social media? There’s a lot of people out there trying to make a buck. Some appear to be well-knowledgeable in their field of expertise, and others, sadly, are not, but they are still pushing their program. I truly believe most people have good intentions, but there is the saying that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.
If you are looking into a program or training or certification, ask questions, and ask as many as you need. Talk to others who have been through the program or were provided services from that person and get their feedback. A lot of times people put their instructors on a pedestal and God-like status. They are still human, they aren’t perfect, and there is no perfect training or trainer. Is this a program they developed themselves? What type of support do they offer during the program? Ask where the person did their training, how many hours of training they have in the subject they are presenting on, and are they licensed or certified? Licenses are a state’s grant of legal authority to practice a profession, while certification is provided by private organizations. As a mental health professional, my license overrides any certification I have.
Always, always, always trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, check it out. Again, ask questions. I’ve been a part of many wonderful programs that listen, hear, and provide feedback. Sometimes having those uncomfortable feelings are where we need our own growth, or it may be things aren’t legit. It’s also important to remember that you have the right to say no.
What did I learn from going through this? I actually learned some very valuable tools that I continue to use today, and I’m very grateful for the learning. A different program I was in had this famous saying, “Take the best, leave the rest”. I did. I also knew that I needed to advocate for what wasn’t right, and will continue to do so when needed in the future. I also do my research before signing up for a new program, because I want to have a general idea of what is expected of me and that my expectations for what I’m getting back from the program are appropriate. I also want to know that I'm investing my money wisely.
Learning is an interesting commodity. While valuable, it’s also very challenging. While entertaining and fun, it also at times makes you want to pull your hair out. Kindly make sure that the programs you participate in are legit, are for your highest and best development, and that the challenging and frustrating piece benefits your growth, not as a reaction to a shoddy program or instructor. Have fun, be smart, and enjoy the learning journey!