Education is not intended to fill a container with knowledge. It is intended to light the fire of justice within you. The term ‘Philosophy’ in Doctor of Philosophy does not mean the field or academic discipline of Philosophy; #HealingTrauma
it means in the broadest sense, with its original Greek meaning, ‘love of wisdom.’ I share this not as a Psychologist as there are limits within any profession. I share this as a human being in the broadest sense in accordance with love of wisdom.
Throughout history it has been a privilege and more importantly a responsibility to share the truth for justice. For example, ‘homosexuality’ was recently considered an illness in Psychiatry; listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Thread: Psychiatry’s Dark Days: Healthy Scepticism).
It was removed from the DSM in the 1980s because activists shared the truth for justice. Medicine records similar prejudices; ‘drapetomania’, was a 19th century disorder of ‘slaves who have a tendency to run away from their owner due to an inborn propensity for wanderlust’.
Buddha said: “There are two mistakes to the path of truth. The first is not starting. The second is not finishing.” Not starting is to not know that truth even is an option available to us all. Not finishing is to stop half way and to never find your fire of justice.
The fire of justice is a natural consequence of the love of wisdom. You might say ‘well not every person has the privilege to become a Doctor of Philosophy?’ That is the truth. However, not every person with a PhD found their fire of justice. You do not need to have a PhD.
The only prerequisite for truth is clarity: to see things just the way they are. Confidence without clarity is disastrous – it has destroyed the planet and killed countless lives. The truth’s most beautiful quality is that it is non discriminant. The truth has no agenda.
Clarity knows that it cannot squeeze the truth, nor any precious life, into a box. This is a shock to some indoctrinated by Western culture; to learn that Psychology as ‘the science of human behaviour’, is a relatively new school, and therefore young science, compared to say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
For those aware of Psychology’s dark history, it’s future is looking bright: ⭐️ Bessel van der Kolk helped Psychology by pioneering our current understanding of trauma. He helped to demonstrate:
Trauma survivors recover best with top down (Brain Down: Gratitude, Empathy, Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, etc) and bottom up (Body Up: Yoga, Martial Arts, Ceremonial Dance, etc) processing. He also rightly criticised Psychiatry for being too top heavy.
Bessel van der Kolk challenged dominant paradigms, like the cognitive revolution, Big-Pharma, and Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Millions of trauma survivors have benefited from his contribution to Psychology. I often adopt his work for mental health:
The Western Medical Model uses the ‘Biopsychosocial Framework’: what biological, psychological, and social factors impact mental health? This is vital. However, young science stopped there. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Framework extended this to include:
body, mind, social connection, country, culture and spirituality. Such an approach encompasses the full spectrum of being human; each as a ‘protector’ that can empower us to keep well. Can they all be entirely measured by young science? No. But nothing existential can.
At some point you take science as far as it will ever go and stop, or, you put down the test tubes and immerse yourself into someone else’s school, tens of thousands of years older, humbly wiser. Since ‘Philosophy’ means ‘love of wisdom’ I stepped outside the box.
However, I was strictly instructed to colour inside the lines!? (Threads: I have a crazy beautiful story about Psychosis; My Recovery from Psychosis; What if Psychosis is not losing touch with reality?). I just described one example of the love of wisdom in practice. What about on a grand scale?
Psychiatry has been rightly criticised for over focusing on individualised diagnoses of mental illness while ignoring the larger ‘social context’ of humans; ‘Symptoms of inequality’ continue to be pathologised as ‘symptoms of mental illness’ located within the individual (Thread: Power Threat Meaning Framework).
Some have argued that the psychiatric diagnosis systematically pathologises people’s rightful and reasonable responses to unreasonable events occurring in oppressive, dangerous and damaging social contexts. This hides/denies the gendered, racist, classist, homophobic intersecting hierarchies of power that shapes individuals experiences and pervade inner life.
For example, decades of research demonstrates sexual violence and abuse as major predictors of women’s mental health distress; a connection now evident across all diagnoses: depression; self harm and suicidality; borderline personality disorder; bipolar disorder; emotionally unstable personality disorder; hearing voices and psychosis; substance abuse; PTSD, eating difficulties; phobias; and OCD.
The ‘Power Threat Meaning Framework’ is a trauma informed approach that connects external structural inequalities with our personal experience. It’s the way in which ‘the outside gets in’. This framework locates power centrally in understanding distress.
The Power Threat Meaning Framework: The negative operation of “power” (e.g. family members, educators, employers, governments, religious institutions, wars, climate changes), triggers the “threat system” and fight, run, freeze or collapse occurs.
The person triggered then makes “meaning” of the event/s (i.e. “Others are out to get me.”, “It was my fault.”, “I’m a bad person.”, “The world is unsafe.”). Trauma is when these meanings and threat responses endure once the danger is gone.
The Power Threat Meaning Framework asks: ‘What has happened to you?’ (‘Power’), ‘How did it affect you?’ (‘Threats’), ‘What sense did you make of it?’(‘Meaning’), What did you have to do to survive?’ (‘Threat Response’).
The framework also asks: ‘What are your strengths?’ ‘What access to Power resources do you have?’ ‘What is your story?’ The Power Threat Meaning Framework also names the key sources of Power:
Power by force or Coercive power (e.g. violence, sexual violence, threats, intimidate for compliance and to silence). Interpersonal power (e.g. close relationships, to look after/not protect, to leave, to give/withdraw/withhold affection). Economic and material power (e.g. valued possessions, services, to control others’ access to resources).
Legal power (rules/ sanctions, supporting/limiting power, offering/restricting choices). Ideological power (e.g. language, meaning, and perspective, to identify ‘subordinate’ groups on basis of class, race, gender sexual orientation).
Biological or embodied power (e.g. physical attractiveness, fertility, strength, physical health). Social/cultural capital (e.g. qualifications, knowledge, connections, privilege).
For the Power Threat Meaning Framework mental health ‘symptoms’ are survival strategies and our strength and resilience; ways of trying to protect ourselves from danger. The courage of survivors of sexual/physical abuse is no different to the courage of war veterans. They’ve the right to be acknowledged for their strength, courage, resourcefulness and resilience.
There are multiple levels of interventions for recovery and re/empowerment: Increasing safety, access to power resources and survival strategies; trauma therapies: individual and group therapy; increased access to group/community strength; and social and political change.
How is the Power Threat Meaning Framework more helpful than an individualised psychiatric diagnosis? This framework examines the social context of mental health difficulties over individual isolated distress; names the power and power abuses involved in the negative operation of power;
offers an understanding of the power process; links it directly to symptoms of distress, views symptoms as strategies of resilience and survival; recommends multiple levels of intervention for recovery and re/empowerment; reduces the risk of misdiagnosis of survivors’ trauma for example ‘bipolar’, ‘psychotic’, or ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’;
Importantly – the Power Threat Meaning Framework looks to change the social context to reduce inequalities and injustice.
It’s not hard then to see the how intergenerational trauma continues to plague society. One might now appreciate the sheer amount of resilience required for individuals to break any cycle of abuse inherent within the very system it depends on for survival.
How could we use the Power Threat Meaning Framework to address the negative operation of power inherent in Australia for cultural change?
According to Bessel van der Kolk: The prevailing brain-disease model overlooks four fundamental truths (Thread: Healing Trauma):
(1) our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being;
(2) language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know, and finding a common sense of meaning;
(3) we have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through basic activities such as breathing, moving, and touching; and
(4) we can change social conditions to create environments which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive. Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to life.
Traumatised people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. When something reminds traumatised people of the past, their brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present.
We learn to shut down the brain areas that transmit the feelings/emotions that signal terror. Yet our effort to shut off terrifying sensations, also deadens our capacity to feel fully alive. We therefore close ourselves off to the flame of justice burning inside.
Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend it.
Beneath the surface of protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an ‘undamaged essence’, a ‘Self that is confident, curious, and calm’, a ‘Self that has been sheltered from destruction’ by various protectors that emerged in their efforts to ensure survival.
Once those protectors trust that it is safe to separate, the ‘Self will spontaneously emerge’, and the parts integrate themselves into the healing process. The truth of being alive returns and the flame of justice burns bright.
Most great instigators of social change have an intimate experience of trauma. Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela. Read the life history of any visionary, and you will find insights and passions that came from dealing with devastation. All visionaries share the love of wisdom; truth is non discriminant. It’s only prerequisite is clarity. They then transformed the truth into justice.
Up until 1921, the punishment for gay sex in New South Wales was imprisonment for life. In Victoria it was the death penalty. Up until the 1980s, many individuals who were gay accepted Psychiatry’s illness model and sought to “treat” and “cure” their homosexuality (Thread: Psychiatry’s Dark Days: Healthy Skepticism).
However, other gay activists forcefully rejected a pathological model and presented modern research to the American Psychological Association. They disrupted the 1970 and 1971 annual APA meetings and explained to psychiatrists, the “homosexuality” diagnosis causes stigma.
In 1972, an anonymous “homosexual psychiatrist”, disguised his true identity (John Fryer, M.D.), due to the realistic fear of adverse professional consequences for coming out, and spoke of the discrimination gay psychiatrists faced in their own profession.
By 1973, APA’s Board of Trustees (BOT) voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM. However, some psychiatrists objected to the decision. The decision also did not immediately end Psychiatry’s pathologising of some presentations of homosexuality.
For in “homosexuality’s” place, the DSM-II contained a new diagnosis: Sexual Orientation Disturbance (SOD). SOD was later replaced by “Ego Dystonic Homosexuality” (EDH) which was removed in 1987. This ended medicine’s participation in the stigmatisation of homosexuality.
In 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). In many countries, the decision led to, among other things,
(1) the repeal of laws that criminalised homosexuality;
(2) the enactment of laws protecting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in society and the workplace;
(3) the ability of LGBT personnel to serve openly in the military;
(4) marriage equality and civil unions in an ever growing number of countries;
(5) the facilitation of gay parents’ adoption rights; and more.
Most importantly, Medicine, Psychiatry, and other mental health professions, shifted from asking “What causes homosexuality?” and “How can we treat it?” to focus on the wellbeing needs of LGBT individuals.
This is a brilliant example of Psychiatry situating pathology within the individual (i.e. homosexuality) when the trauma and stigma was actually the outside getting in: the negative operation of power.
Another group who experience devastating impacts of stigma are individuals who have an addiction. Imagine Australia treating addiction as a health issue, not a criminal issue? The operations of power using science and compassion, not punishment? (Thread: Don’t ostracise drug users; empathise with them).
All of the violations of human rights outlined in the 2021 Human Rights Watch World Report: Australia can be linked to the negative operation of power. The World Health Organisation declared that the health and wellbeing of countries depends on the systems that serve them: The appropriate operation of power.
I believe none of our individual efforts – towards First Nations people, refugees, women, the elderly, individuals with a disability, ill health, homeless, living in poverty, and climate change – will last long term without power.
All our stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. Human rights are non discriminant. Australia’s great leaders know this; what they need is access to power. Meanwhile people are dying. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for young Australians.
The last 20 years of trauma research has shifted treatment from purely bio-medical (medicine and psychiatry) and/or purely psychoanalytical (psychology) to include psycho-social (trauma-informed) and recovery focused (recovery-oriented) frameworks.
Trauma-Informed Practice is strengths-based grounded in understanding the impact of trauma: emphasising physical, psychological, and emotional safety for everyone, with opportunities for survivors to re-establish empowerment.
The Blue Knot National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma have a vision for a ‘trauma-informed world’. By employing trauma-informed principles, we can build a ‘trauma-informed’ society that creates possibilities for recovery on a grand scale (Thread: What is Trauma-informed Care? What is Blue Knot’s vision for a trauma-informed world?).
What can we do personally? Becoming `trauma-informed’ does not require clinical training or specialist skills. It requires basic knowledge only. The best way we can be there for others is by looking after ourselves first. This give us the strength we will need to help others.
It helps to keep up self-care based on the ‘protectors’ described earlier: body, mind, social connection, country, culture and spirituality. This encompasses the full spectrum of what it means to be human; from the body to Existence itself.
It helps to have a basic understanding of our body’s Threat System (fight, flight, freeze, collapse) and our body’s Social Engagement System (peace, joy, love, compassion, blissfulness and ecstasy; Thread: Threat System vs Peace System).
It helps to be realistic: wellbeing is like a game of snakes 🐍 and ladders 🪜(Thread: Window of Tolerance: safe enough and okay enough vs too much or not enough). It helps to know what strengthens wellbeing: intimacy and play (Thread: What is Intimacy and Play?)
Perhaps the most helpful thing I’ve learnt from my 20 years Psychology experience is Dr Kristin Neff’s research comparing self-esteem to self-compassion (Thread: Why I switched from self-esteem to self-compassion?).
I believe the ultimate solution for justice is switching from self-esteem (i.e. the need to be ‘special and above average’; aka ‘survival of the fittest’ leaving others behind to die) to self-compassion (kindness, common humanity and mindfulness; aka ‘enlightenment’; you are worthy; #WeAllBelong).
Self-compassion helps us to put an end to being in a constant state of threat (fight, flight, freeze, collapse) because the need to be the number one person on top is no longer our life’s goal. It is kindness, common humanity and mindfulness that helps to strengthen our self-soothing system (peace, joy, love, compassion, blissfulness and ecstasy).
A strong self-soothing system increases our window of tolerance (optimal state of arousal); snakes 🐍 and ladders 🪜 becomes easier to play. I define mindfulness as – nonjudgmental acceptance of the present with openness and curiosity; the ‘opposite’ of our intellect.
Put simply: the scientist uses his intellect to dissect the frog 🐸 – pulls it apart, knows all it’s pieces, then it is dead. Mindfulness teaches us to experience the frog, child, loved ones, or stranger with openness and curiosity instead (Thread: How to hold your Frog).
This greater sense of awareness puts the breaks on our obsession with using our intellect to dissect each other and carve up the planet. Because we use this cutting instrument incorrectly most of us have now been cut in half:
not good enough, smart enough, fast enough, skinny enough, pretty/handsome enough, rich enough, powerful enough. We all must examine this MYTH! Is a child born half or whole? All of us were born ‘whole’. So why fight to be the number one person on top! (Thread: A daily reminder that you belong).
This obsession is just a byproduct of self-esteem (i.e. the need to be ‘special and above average’; aka ‘survival of the fittest’) via our intellect. This hierarchy is not the ultimate truth. The intellect sees staircases we must climb to the top; awareness sees only life.
We will always need both: discipline and play (Thread: Enlightenment: Is reality an illusion and are we all hallucinating? What does it mean to ‘break the glass wall?). Truth, freedom, love are not on top. They all live inside us. No qualifications or endorsements required.
Neuroscience finally confirms what Wisdom Traditions knew tens of thousands of years ago: awareness, compassion and purposeful action benefits all life. The truth is universal and has no expiry date. There is no excuse for injustice. Ignorance, arrogance and the negative operation of power are obstacles for trauma informed change.
There are two mistakes to the path of truth. Not starting. Not finishing. Why do I share the love of wisdom with you? To keep the fire of justice alive: Knowledge is power. All the 21st century needs is humans willingly to break the cycle: the negative operation of power.
Source: A compilation of the key pieces explored in Trauma Informed World.
Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong
Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist
#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #WeAllBelong
Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo
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