The National Center for Trauma-Informed Care defines trauma-informed approaches and trauma-specific interventions as based on principles “designed to address the consequences of trauma in the individual and to facilitate healing.” Our knowledge of these consequences and how to facilitate healing is fairly new. It has resulted from advances in medical technologies in the past 20 years enabling researchers to safely and noninvasively measure changes in blood flow in the brain in real time, allowing them to observe and describe differences in brain functioning associated with various developmental experiences and insults, including childhood trauma resulting from abuse or neglect.
It was formerly believed that psychological and behavioral disorders related to child maltreatment were caused by irreversible brain damage. We now know that, except in rare cases, irreversible brain damage is seldom the case. Rather, the experience of complex (i.e., chronic, unpredictable) trauma leads to physiological adaptations in the way that the brain functions. These adaptations occur when children are raised in often very unpredictable situations where survival is the overriding concern. Thus, the physiological functions that ensure survival (the nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze response) become stronger and more efficient while those that compete with the survival instinct (thinking, planning, impulse control) remain weaker and disorganized.
When people live in a state of fear and uncertainty, they naturally become hypervigilant. Hypervigilance is an important, life-saving trait associated with highly reactive lower regions of the brain and it ensures quick and effective responses to threat. Anybody in the midst of conflict and violence must become hypervigilant as his or her survival truly depends on it. In a healthy functioning individual, hypervigilance will arise when necessary, but the individual will return to a state of calm when the threat is no longer present. It is well known that chronic traumatic stress, such as that experienced by soldiers living in combat zones and refugees, often leaves its mark on otherwise healthy adults in what we commonly call PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We now also know that the brains of children who have experienced complex relational trauma have developed in such a way that they live in an almost constant state of alarm that may instantly progress to fear or terror for no apparent reason. Living in a state of constant hyper vigilance is associated with physiological changes that interfere with learning and lead to all sorts of undesirable behaviors, not to mention physical and mental health concerns. Children with this trait may be either highly disruptive or completely “checked out” at school and have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. None of this is their fault, nor is their behavior willful. It is adaptive. Understanding and appropriately responding to people’s behavior from this perspective is essentially what it means to be “trauma-informed”.
Trauma-Informed Care Means Understanding Human Behavior Through A Trauma-Informed Lens
Understanding the impact of trauma on the brain is the first principle of trauma-informed approaches, because it gives us a new lens through which to interpret and respond to the socio-behavioral and cognitive challenges characteristic of individuals who suffer the effects of long-term exposure to trauma. Trauma-informed approaches, by definition, are distinct from trauma-specific treatments in that they are not designed to treat the effects of trauma. Rather, trauma-informed approaches aim to help individuals and systems incorporate knowledge and principles to promote an environment that is responsive to the needs of those affected by trauma. Most of all, they seek to prevent re-traumatization and to promote recovery and resilience through trauma-informed service delivery. There are a number of organizations that provide training in trauma-informed approaches.
Natural Lifemanship™ offers a unique training in trauma-informed approaches for adults who work or live or work with others who may have been affected by trauma. Natural Lifemanship for All of Life’s Relationships (NL4All) equips adults with the knowledge and experiences needed to transform challenging relationships. Understanding human behavior through a trauma-informed lens is only the beginning. Natural Lifemanship teaches principles allowing one to respond to challenging behaviors in ways that benefit and build relationships with people suffering from trauma-related disorders while facilitating their recovery by promoting the reorganization of neural networks. The ability to self-regulate is first developed through relationship, and relationship remains a primary vehicle for change throughout the lifespan.
Natural Lifemanship™ Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP) is an innovative trauma-specific intervention. It is a specialized and highly effective mental health treatment model based on our extensive knowledge and experience in horse psychology combined with our clinical expertise and years of counseling individuals and families impacted by complex trauma. There are profound parallels between the brain functioning of horses and of humans who live in a state of alarm. Our therapy model is based on these parallels and emphasizes principles that have proven effective in promoting cortical engagement in horses, allowing the horse to become less reactive and more responsive to requests from its human partner. Likewise, mental health practitioners trained in NL are able to effect similar results with their human clients.
There are two ways mental health professionals use Natural Lifemanship™ in their therapeutic work. One way is to employ the NL principles in the delivery of various other therapeutic modalities, such as Play Therapy, Art Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or EMDR. The other way NL is practiced is in its original form, as the original model of Trauma-Focused Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (TF-EAP), a unique model of EAP developed by Natural Lifemanship™ co-founders, Tim and Bettina Jobe.