"Becoming a Trauma-conscious Society"

is slow, but we are moving in this direction. What do I mean by a trauma-conscious society? The phrase, coined by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk in his book The Body Keeps the Score, has to do with understanding that many individuals are suffering from trauma due to conditions and situations of all sorts and that punishment of trauma-related behavior is not the answer. Education, compassion, and treatment are key.

Society is aware of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), a condition which can result from trauma, in veterans and victims of terrorist acts; in survivors of natural disasters, such as tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes; and in people who live in war zones, are refugees from war or are victims of crime. There seems to be an awareness that car accidents, and other types of accidents that cause injury, can cause PTSD. 

Generally though, society does not associate PTSD with a host of other causes, for example: rape and sexual assault; incest, including exposure to pornography; domestic violence; poverty; medical trauma; and preverbal trauma. Witnessing domestic violence and medical trauma can also cause PTSD. And what about trauma resulting from bullying? In a society that discriminates against LGBTQI folks, women, people of color, and a host of others, the accumulation of countless incidents day after day must also be considered. 

Note the following facts provided by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, internationally known trauma expert, from his book The Body Keeps the Score: “Since 2001 far more Americans have died at the hands of their partners or other family members than in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. American women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as breast cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that firearms kill twice as many children as cancer does” (348). Trauma is one of the biggest threats to the health of our society. It’s time we paid attention to this fact.

Schools are brimming with children, teen-agers, and adults who are coping with triggers. People act out, often inappropriately, to deal with misunderstood, unconscious, or puzzling emotions. Many of us do not understand that our behavior is the result of unresolved trauma, so we hurt ourselves and others. Punishment is most often the way we cope with those who disrupt society. But is this approach effective?  

“We are on the verge of becoming a trauma-conscious society” (347). We are not yet there though. Let’s do all we can to bring our understanding of trauma into our work places, schools, and other institutions. Let’s share what we know with others. Let’s pay attention to and heal our own wounds; as a result, we can better help others manage theirs. Let’s demand that our institutions and the services they offer do more than punish those with trauma–treatment, compassion, education, and healing are in order. 

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