Choice and Voice

Why this resource is helpful:

Mandy Davis, Director of Trauma Informed Oregon, reflects on the importance of voice and choice in implementing trauma informed care, and shares lessons learned and considerations for application.
Quoted From:

"Survivors of trauma have been denied their voice and often repeatedly. This can mean literally being silenced. For example, by an abusive partner who cuts off access from friends and family. Additionally, it can mean being silenced by messages society sends that they should not speak up (e.g. seeing those who harm elevated in a community). One"s voice can also be denied when it is directly ignored for example when someone asks for help and there is no answer. There is also the experience of one"s voice being minimized, misunderstood, and/or used against them. Survivors of sexual assault often report the added layers of trauma experienced as they seek help after an assault-having their experiences not believed, details challenged and misrepresented, or being told "nothing can be done". When voices are suppressed by systems and this part is important it leads to more trauma. This is why this principle is critical in our work.

So how can we include the voices of those impacted (survivors, staff, partners, etc.) in planning, evaluating, designing, and delivering services? Organizations can contract with partner agencies doing this work and/or hire staff with lived experience in an area(s) relevant to its work. A note it is not sufficient to have colleagues who identify as survivors speak to and influence decisions from this experience, if it is not part of their job. We have written before about this, but it is worth repeating that including survivor voices as part of developing a trauma informed organization is not about just passively listening or bearing witness but is, instead, for the purpose of influencing decisions about how the organization functions. I find that a combination of external and internal critique from those impacted is necessary.

TIO implements this principle by actively seeking and sharing other"s voices and experiences. We do this by listening to the Oregon Trauma Advocates Coalition (OTAC)our youth advisory board. We listen to our Steering Committee, and our staff and interns. And, importantly, we listen to and elevate the affinity group feedback we hear. The blogs and vlogs are also ways we share voices and experiences. I am grateful for each person that contributes and as I engage with their words, I think how I can use what was shared to transform practices.

Sharing your experiences and having it help others is often healing. For organizations, hearing from those impacted leads to better practices. As you seek input and guidance from staff and those supported, you are likely not to get one answer but instead several which can lead to more creative solutions. Seeking input and incorporating voices takes time and relationship. Stories are shared when someone feels safe and they feel you will not exploit their story or harm them for sharing. We must build this into our timelines. "Not having time" for people"s voice perpetuates the pain of being ignored or unseen, which leads to more violence.

Now let"s talk about CHOICE. Similar to a survivor"s Voice, Choices have also been denied by an abusive person/people or by systems. An abusive partner will deny the choice of where to go or who to see, and the system will deny the support needed to move to a safe space or see one"s children, for example. In this way, the choice is really that which will cause less harm. It"s an illusion of choice because harm will happen either way.

It is worth taking the time to reflect on how policies and procedures deny or elevate choice for those served and staff. Take a moment and assess how you feel when choice is denied or not offered to you. As an organization or a provider, if you can not change a policy or procedure, at least understand what feelings will result and be transparent and accountable to causing this. There is much to the concept and application of Choice here are few thoughts/lessons I have experienced."

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