We recently had the pleasure of having Dr. Shawn Ginwright, author of the book “The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves”, come and speak to our staff about healing-centered engagement. According to Ginwright in “The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement”, “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.” Dr. Ginwright’s research has played a pivotal role in the programming we offer to our girls and gender-expansive youth, who experience the highest levels of trauma, but are often taught to internalize, deny or minimize their feelings in ways that lead to self-harm or compromises their wellness. Here are a few of the key takeaways we learned from our discussion with him:
1. Start with the Right Question
When it comes to creating long term effective change, we typically approach the problem with the question, ”What do we need to do?”. We are so well-connected to the problem that we can become attached to the outcome. And when we seek out help, we often get in the habit of looking for steps and solutions which will give us the outcome that we need. Dr. Ginwright framed a new way of finding solutions – rather than asking ”What do we need to do?”, we need to refocus and ask ‘Who do we need to become?”. Healing-centered engagement calls for us to put ourselves inside of our own work, because our understanding of the impact of our presence and how we show up, is a vital part of the work we do to heal our schools and communities. Once we know who we need to become, we get the clarity to move toward more expansive solutions.
2. Addressing Our Own Trauma is Key
People assume healing centered engagement is a process that is solely for youth to engage with, but our own inner work as facilitators, teachers, etc. is just as important to the process as it is to the girls we engage with. In order to help others, we have to address our own wounds first, otherwise our own trauma can end up translating into the work we do and can unintentionally perpetuate harm. Once we have made space for our own healing, we are better equipped to help the girls we serve.
3. Youth Are More Than Their Trauma
Another common misconception about healing centered engagement is that people believe it means they should throw away trauma-informed care. This is a question we receive a lot in our Professional Development Workshops as well. Dr. Ginwright took the time to clarify that while trauma-informed practices are a great starting place, healing-centered engagement continues to build upon that work for greater levels of healing. An unintentional consequence of trauma-informed care is that youth are solely defined by their trauma. However, youth are far more than the worst thing that ever happened to them. When we transition to healing centered engagement, we allow youth to process their trauma, and also envision a bright future for themselves.
4. Dreaming is a Muscle
We can help youth make space to move beyond their trauma by creating room for them to dream. When working with youth who have been traumatized, the focus is often on survival and success. Survival as an endpoint is actually a result of oppression because it assumes that surviving is the best we can do. Dreaming leans into the realm of possibility. When youth engage with dreaming and creativity they are able to do a few things: it allows them to lean into what is possible for their life and what they want; they are able to separate themselves from what happened to them; and with that vantage point, it allows them to become an observer of their trauma. In the observer role they can separate what happened to them from their identity. Dr. Ginwright says, ”Dreaming is a muscle. If we don’t use it, it will atrophy. If we use it, it will get stronger.” We can better serve our girls by creating spaces and practices where they can strengthen their ability to dream.