“Mental Health”, Trauma Informed Practice & Wellbeing

Zebra offers a range of workshops and reflective learning in:

  • trauma-informed practice
  • mental health awareness
  • mental health recovery
  • strengths-based approaches
  • personal wellbeing
  • community wellbeing
  • wellbeing in the workplace
  • organisational wellbeing

All this is underpinned by our solution-focused approach – a mindful stance and useful set of skills to move from problem-solving to building solutions and signs of wellbeing and hope.

Most Zebras have a background in the “mental health” field (100+ years between us, indeed), and throughout our 18 years we’ve utilised this experience as we’ve run learning & reflective workshops locally and nationally such as ‘“mental health awareness’ and ‘recovery’.  

We put speech marks around these terms to denote that these are contested areas: that is, these terms, and the concepts to which they attach, should not be seen as incontrovertible givens backed by unchallengeable evidence.

Rather, we think it essential to raise awareness that these are matters for debate rather than givens, and that this is key to improving the lives of people who access helping services, e.g. “mental health”, substance use, homelessness services; and those who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Furthermore, our interest is in the relationship between traumatising experiences (particularly, though not exclusively, in childhood) and a person’s subsequent struggles, the kinds that typically result in someone accessing such services.

 

We share and support the view systematised in the Power Threat Meaning Framework, that the emotional, mental and behavioural struggles that tend to earn a person a psychiatric diagnosis are better understood as a consequence of the person’s traumatising experiences . These might include: adverse childhood experiences, adverse community environments, major incidents in conflict contexts; and, indeed, some of the person’s subsequent efforts to cope and survive (what PTMF describes as “What you had to do to survive”).

In 2019, we made this categorical shift from titling this area of our work “Mental health” to Trauma-informed Practice.

We welcome the rapidly emerging discourse re: trauma-informed thinking, practice, services, organisations, societies and culture. Whilst the idea that people’s current struggles can probably be explained by emotional trauma acquired through past adverse experiences is not new (we all recognised this in our decades of helping work practice and service management), what is new, and very welcome, is the systematising of this into a thoroughgoing framework for making sense of and responding helpfully to people carrying trauma.

However, Zebra Collective believes that working through the logic of a trauma-informed perspective, and implementing trauma-informed values and principles in practice (at both service and individual practitioner level), has very significant implications and challenges:

(a) An implication:

The psychiatric diagnostic framework does not fit with a trauma-informed perspective: as is argued in PTMF, once you have shifted to a narrative perspective (something’s happened to this person that explains the current struggle), diagnostics are redundant (let alone being questionable from a scientific and philosophical perspective).

(b) A challenge:

It’s easier for us to take on a new idea than it is to give up an old idea (belief) we’re holding, which is deeply embedded – even to the extent that it may be unconsciously held – but reflected in our practice; thus, trauma-informed learning requires BOTH the introduction of trauma-informed thinking and practice, AND the opportunity to notice existing beliefs, attitudes and practices which are challenged by trauma-informed, and which may have to be given up.

Zebra is developing extensive experience of trauma-informed work. We believe that this should be construed as culture change work, i.e. one-off “training” sessions on the topic are unlikely to have much impact (see (b) above). We are currently engaged in a number of such change management programmes, one with a housing association that works principally with people who are marginalised (e.g. refugees, people who are homeless), one with a city police force, and one with all the homeless services of a unitary authority. This latter is being intensively evaluated…

Wellbeing

And finally, back to “mental health awareness: we are regularly asked to work with organisations on this. Our position now is that we draw extensively from the Power Threat Meaning Framework, this alternative to psychiatric diagnostics.

Our workshops present the PTM Framework in some detail, looking at:

a. Power (this includes use and misuse of power on personal, community, healing system and societal levels)

b. Threat (as used in PTMF, in essence this means “trauma”)

c. Meaning (narrative – how a person makes sense of their life and experiences), and

d. Threat responses (what the person has had to do to survive)

Two of the core questions in this field are (i) how do we make sense of these experiences? and (ii) how can we be helpful to someone who’s struggling?

Zebra believes that, even as the first continues to be debated (broadly, between diagnostic perspectives on the one hand, and meanings- & narrative-based perspectives) on the other, what is of most importance to most of the people we work with (typically e.g. “mental health” support workers, homelessness workers, substance use workers, police officers) is the second question.

Thus, the principal focus of much of our work in this field is on this question, “How can we be most helpful to someone who’s struggling with their thoughts, feelings and behaviour?”, and we draw on wisdom from trauma informed practice, solution focused practice and the PTMF, which complement each other brilliantly.