Becoming Trauma Aware

By Abby Crawford

Over the past year, we at COCA have been working toward a strategic Trauma Aware partnership. We are experts in dance, theatre, voice, and art and design. Trauma? Not so much.

We found experts right here in St. Louis, and we pursued a partnership with Alive and Well Communities to help us become a Trauma Aware organization.


Simply: in service of our mission.

We cannot enrich lives and build community through the arts without a trauma aware lens. It is virtually impossible. We are in the “business” of people.  And if we know that over half of the general population has experienced a traumatic event and one in four have experience more than one, then we also know that trauma absolutely impacts our community of more than 55,000 St. Louisans.

Over the next two years, we will work strategically to ensure that:

  • All of our administrative staff
  • All of our teaching artists
  • All of our camp employees

are trained in Trauma Aware practice. From there, we’ll engage in the introductory Trauma Aware training a couple of times annually to ensure that all of our teaching artists and staff remain up to date.

We are not training our folks to be therapists – that’s not our expertise! We are training them to share a common language and lens to enable a Trauma Aware environment.

What does that mean?

A Trauma Aware lens is simple. When working alongside another human, instead of wondering “What’s wrong with you?” consider, “What happened to you?” We don’t have to know their back story. In most cases, it’s quite frankly none of our business. But just operating with a “What happened to you?” perspective can completely shift an environment from ignorant of trauma to Trauma Aware.

Earlier this year, a team of COCA staff, myself included, engaged in two full days of training with Alive and Well Communities. The training and subsequent coaching sessions set us up to be able to facilitate the Trauma Aware trainings for our staff and teaching artists moving forward. The two days with Alive and Well Communities were content-rich and inspiring. We have a long journey ahead of us to become fully Trauma Aware, but I’m stuck with a few reminders from our training that have helped keep me focused and committed:

  1. You don’t have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.
  2. This is not an excuse to begin “diagnosing” people.
  3. Trauma is real and perception is reality.
  4. Trauma impacts us all.

You don’t have to be a therapist to be therapeutic. This idea is one that makes me hesitant. As I shared at the beginning, we aren’t mental health professionals. That is extremely specialized and important work. What I learned in our training is that the mindset shift of What happened to you? impacts our actions and the relationships we build with others. It’s that simple. We can each work to provide an environment where folks feel safe, loved and valued…and we don’t have to know a thing about their trauma or be a therapist to do so.

This is not an excuse to begin “diagnosing” peopleAs we become a Trauma Aware organization, we will not diagnose those around us. It’s not okay, it makes light of very real issues, and it’s not our lane. What we will do, is work to be therapeutic, as I explained in item one.

Trauma is real and perception is reality. During our training with Alive and Well, our facilitator shared an anecdote about two siblings who had divorcing parents. He shared how the results of divorce manifested for the two children, each experiencing that life event very differently than the other. This example really resonated with me and has stuck with me. We all experience and assign meaning to the events of our lives very differently. What may be traumatic for me might feel easy to brush off for someone else. I keep working to remember that everyone’s trauma is theirs. It’s not our job to agree or disagree to the level to which an event was traumatic. Trauma is real. Perception is reality. The end.

Trauma impacts us all. As I shared earlier, more than half of the general population has experienced a traumatic event. Half. Trauma doesn’t know race, color, religion, or income. To think that trauma is relegated to certain kids from certain backgrounds is short sighted at best and biased at worst.

We are becoming Trauma Aware because it’s the right thing to do.

Interested in learning more about Trauma Awareness work in Missouri?

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