Asking the right question to find the root of vulnerability
Say you're walking down the street and you see a seemingly homeless man sleeping in a doorway. What is the first question that comes to mind? Too often question number one is "What's wrong with him?" The underlying assumption of this question is the root of much misunderstanding when it comes to working with vulnerable populations. "For many folks working in the social services and non-profits, they have traditionally looked at working with clients and community members from this perspective because it is the basis of practices like clinical diagnosis and case planning," said David Prodan, Program Manager at E4C. The essential question that needs to be asked, said Prodan, is "What happened to him?" "Without taking the time to understand the trauma in someone's life, it is difficult to help them approach healing with compassion and commitment," said Prodan. The reality is that many people who find themselves in need of help have experienced trauma and many are experiencing multiple mental health challenges, addictions issues and living damaging lifestyles. Many of these problems can be traced back to the trauma that started the chain of events. "In many cases, people want to share deep histories rooted in the culture of the moment," said Prodan. "Whether it's surviving residential schools or the intergenerational effects experienced by survivors' families, there are major social factors that led to the trauma itself." Other life experiences, like abusive relationships, enduring harsh religious practices or fleeing war or persecution in another country can all manifest in differing social behaviours, he said. Prodan said the cultural context and knowledge of trauma is integral to a worker's ability to help a person in a vulnerable position. "Without knowing the context of where, when, why and how that trauma affected their life, it becomes challenging to help them," Prodan explained. "By becoming trauma-informed, helping professionals will have the right skill set to truly offer effective services to those most in need. It is very necessary for social service providers to learn, respect and understand people's stories if they are to succeed in helping someone overcome adversity." REACH Edmonton sees the need for frontline human service and emergency service workers to have this understanding, and is working closely with community partners like the Urban Core Support Network and Centre for Race and Culture to offer a number of training opportunities this fall (listed above). These events also include a three-day Cultural Context of Trauma conference in September. Registration for this conference is full. These training opportunities will educate participants on how to look at culture, trauma and the challenges that many vulnerable people are facing which may not be apparent on the surface. These events will feature talks from professional trainers and community animators with extensive experience within vulnerable communities. To sign up for any of these sessions, click on the links above to register online or email Michelle.Harvey@reachedmonton.ca.