Working with Trauma: 2 days of learning and discussing

how to work with people who’ve experienced trauma and

how to look after the professionals working with them.

Sarah from the YMSN team attended One Small Thing’s conference on Working with Trauma in Leeds to help YMSN become a trauma informed organisation and develop our policies and practices to become more trauma responsive in our work. Many attendees were from the justice sector: prisons; police; probation and community rehabilitation companies; as well as from the third sector including Barnardo’s, Street Doctors and St Mungo’s.

Sarah Capel

Edwina Grosvenor

One Small Thing was set up by prison philanthropist Edwina Grosvenor. It facilitates and funds trauma-informed treatment programmes for the prison and community sectors that consider the individual caught in a cycle of crime and incarceration and aim to humanise their process.

The main contributors at the conference were leading experts in this field, ​ Dr Stephanie Covington​ and ​ Dr Karen Treisman​ . Workshops led by ​ the Nelson Trust​ and ​ Centre for Mental Health​ focused on trauma informed care in the community – including women’s centres – and of the link between trauma and mental health.

Listen To Conference Podcast

One Small Thing Conference


At the heart of becoming trauma responsive is changing the primary question we ask ourselves about the people we work with from “what’s wrong with them?” to “what has happened to them?”. We need to be curious about people’s experiences so we can understand, empathise and begin to connect with and help them.

Relationships are at the centre of healing, particularly for women. Most women who have experienced trauma and abuse will have done so at the hands of people to whom she has said “I love you”. She will often have little trust in relationships; being afraid of being let down and hurt again. Understanding this gives much power to the idea that:

“Every interaction is an intervention”

Dr. Karen Treisman

This understanding is really empowering for organisations like YMSN, where much of the work we do is around building self-esteem, encouraging well-being and developing healthy relationships. It reminds us that everything we do from the moment we welcome someone into a group or a venue can have a positive or negative impact. And if we embed universal precautions that assume every woman we meet may be a trauma survivor we will give ourselves the best chance at connecting and engaging with that person.

The language we use is incredibly important when both talking to and talking about the people we work with. Are we self-prophesying? Are we being guarded? Are we being patronising or dismissive? Are we describing someone as attention-seeking when actually they’re attention-needing? This runs from the language we use on our website and promotional materials, to the way we introduce ourselves to a woman seeking help.

 Physical Space

The physical environment makes a huge difference in creating a safe space where service users feel comfortable to share and engage. Women need a sanctuary where they actually want to come, which is safe, reliable, dependable, where they know there’s someone who will welcome them and see them as an individual. This can all be communicated by images, friendly staff, encouraging words.

A simple way of examining this for YMSN is by taking a “walk-through” at the Hub at Griffin Primary, with one of the women we work with there, to help us make changes to the experience of visiting and spending time at the Hub. This may include changing signage, using different cleaning products, putting up more pictures and inspirational messages. This deeper understanding of service-users’ experience will also help us when choosing locations for future
programmes and when we deliver work in partnership with other organisations.

Self-care for professionals

Working with women who have experienced trauma is very different to many other jobs and the conference helped us thing about ​ self-care, work stress, vicarious trauma, and burnout. During the conference we experimented with very simple ways of staying balanced and grounded at work and in our personal lives and learnt more about how to provide time and space for reflecting on and processing the stories we have heard and experiences we have had with the women we work with.

“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it, is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water and expecting not to get wet.”

Rachel Naomi Remen

Next steps for YMSN

Becoming trauma informed will give YMSN a new lense through which we see everything we say and do in our work; from our policies and procedures, to our website and course materials. Because YMSN has a small team and is still quite a young organisation it is great that we can develop our work with this new focus.

We look forward to keeping you up to date with how we implement these changes, some of which will be straight-forward, some of which will take
continuing work and reflection to embed.