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Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness



Synchronicity prevails.

Here I am talking with Stephen W. Porges about his new co-edited anthology, Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies, and his Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) and its expanded use with trauma survivors.

Then I read David Treleaven’s new book, Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness. He is clearly Polyvagal informed and savvy; furthermore, he’s talking about incidents in the past that I’m reading about in my local paper, today.

Some background is necessary—while reading David’s new book, there was social, cultural, and racial trauma occurring in grand proportions in my hometown.

Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old African American man, died when police fired 20 rounds, eight of which impacted the young man’s body—six in his back. The officers believed he had a gun; it was a cell phone. Black Lives Matter, an organization Treleaven mentions in his book, has been staging massive protests. Unrest is an understatement. Trauma is widespread.

To toss in more trauma, Stephon’s 25-year-old brother Stevante Clark has been in and out of police custody since his brother’s death. He first stated that he was having mental health issues, difficulties dealing with his brother’s death but was then quoted as saying, “I thought I had mental health issues, but I talked to a chaplain in there (in jail) and they told me I gotta quit saying that, ‘cause I don’t have that.” He was recently released on personal recognizance, facing four criminal counts including assault with a deadly weapon and making a death threat.

The local papers are bringing up past police killings including Freddie Gray whose neck was broken while in police custody in Baltimore, and Eric Garner, a young African American living in New York who was arrested for selling single cigarettes on the street. When police couldn’t handcuff Garner, they used a choke hold, Garner was quoted as saying, “I can’t breathe.” He died on the way to the hospital.

The traumatic stress from these events, impacting those in the respective families and in the surrounding communities is apparent, real. The outreach moves beyond our locale, beyond the United States. It is resonating around the world.

Now, why, you may ask, am I talking about all of this when I’m supposed to be reviewing Treleaven’s book?

Because he talks about it, too. He brings up Gray and Garner and other experiences to ground the realities that we live with in terms of trauma. He talks about race, ethnicity, affiliation, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, and more, all of which have been associated within a person’s trauma story because of social and cultural bias, prejudice, abuse. “Oppression—defined as an “unjust exercise of power and authority” (pg. 183)—”continues to engender traumatic experiences every time there is another hate crime or police killing,” Trevealen writes (pg. 10).

Treleaven is clear that understanding the social context of trauma is a central part of what he calls ‘trauma-informed’ or ‘trauma-sensitive’ work (pg. 17). While many may consider trauma to be an individual experience and work with a client in isolation, i.e., focusing on systems inside the body—the relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, or parts that split off in the aftermath of trauma, Treleaven widens the arc and factors in systems that are alive outside of the body (pg. 178). He includes the relationship between an individual and the larger social system that surrounds them. Integration—which, he says, is at the crux of recovery—asks us to connect the internal and external systems that are involved in traumatic stress (pg. 179). As therapists, he asserts we must look at our client’s social context—one’s social identity, locale, peers, community, and country of residence.

“Absent an understanding of how individual and social systems interact, we can potentially cause harm, break people’s trust, and perpetuate systems of domination. This isn’t a matter of political correctness or saying the right thing but offering a truly liberatory framework for those we work with” (pg. 179).

If we put blinders on, if we ignore the entirety of a person’s experience, including the impact of our own background, our own sense of have and have not, we are setting up yet another dysfunctional experience. Per Treleaven (pg. 190), who quotes from Nieto et. al., 2010, pg. 42: “It’s a sign of privilege for Whites to say they are going to view people of color only as people. If I don’t see their race, I’m not going to see their lives as they really are. I’m seeing them as an abstract ‘human beings’, not as people who’ve had certain experiences. I’m going to miss or misunderstand how their experiences have shaped them.”

To read the complete review as published in our Summer 2018 issue, please CLICK HERE for the PDF

Curious? Want to read a bit of the book?

Excerpted from Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing © 2018 by David A. Treleaven. Used with the permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company. The following is from the Introduction.

CLICK HERE to read the excerpt


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