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Special Needs Planning Newsletter: Standing up to Life’s Traumatic Events

Chambliss Law Firm Monthly Editorial – December 2016

Standing up to Life’s Traumatic Events
by Amy Boulware, Elder Care Planning Manager, (LAP MSW)
Sitting around a table full of social workers can often be a daunting thing. It’s not because we aren't all nice people; it’s because we, as professional caregivers, often carry our clients' difficulties on our shoulders. It’s easy for us to take their struggles and constantly wrestle with them in our hearts and minds until their needs are met.
Last week, I attended an advanced training session with ten of my social work colleagues. The purpose of the training was to learn about reflective supervision, but as it turned out, that was somewhat secondary to the topic we all had on our minds… trauma and how to deal with it! 
The citizens of our small city have experienced multiple traumas in the last eighteen months, including a tragic elementary school bus accident, rampant wildfires, the July 2015 terrorist attack on local military posts, and on-going gang violence. This list doesn't include any personal trauma that community members may be facing. The fact that Chattanooga has been featured on "Good Morning America" multiple times while I was getting ready in the morning is not something that went unnoticed. 
Often when we think of trauma, we may picture traumatic experiences such as terrorism, natural disasters, abuse, violence, or loss of a loved one. However, individuals can also be traumatized by personal every-day experiences like having a family member become unexpectedly disabled or battling significant challenges that may come with caring for a child with a disability. Trauma can result from chronic stress or adversity, chronic, severe, or life-threatening injuries, illness, and accidents. It interferes with one's ability to cope, and it happens to everyone. You can't escape the unexpected, but knowing how to cope with what life deals you is very important. So, I’m sharing this first-hand lesson with you. 
In a period of two years, my family experienced so much trauma that my head was spinning the day I sat in a counselor’s office with tears streaming down my face. I was the one who held everything together… or so I thought. My mother, grandmother, and father-in-law had all been in hospice care and were dying at the same time. My sister had been diagnosed with cancer. My six-year-old niece was undergoing her second heart surgery to repair a heart defect, and just to make things more complicated my sixteen-year-old daughter fell down a flight of stairs and endured a significant traumatic brain injury. I was on edge but knew I needed to be strong because everyone else around needed me.  
I remember saying to the counselor that all I really needed for her to say was these things that were happening were terrible and that I had a right to feel like curling up in a ball and crying. I was very fortunate that my counselor was educated in what I now know is "trauma-informed" care.  
Trauma-informed care is recognizing that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives. People who have been traumatized need support and understanding from those around them. Trauma-informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. It also emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both individuals and the professionals that help them. It helps survivors and caregivers rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. 
Our city and its citizens need trauma-informed care. We need to take on the trauma to bring about healing and change. Research shows that unaddressed trauma, especially in childhood, can result in lifelong negative effects including drug use, mental illness, homelessness, health risks, incarceration, and even early death. Chattanooga has some wonderful resources to turn to for help. 
The following list is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but these resource agencies can help point individuals to the right place for support. No one should suffer alone. If you or someone you know is experiencing trauma, I encourage you to reach out to others for help. We are all in this together.
Local Chattanooga Trauma Resource Agencies:  

If you have any questions about special needs planning, please reach out to Amy 
or a member of the Special Needs Planning Team. We are just a call or email away.