By: Sahana Sriram, Associate Consultant and Client Services Manager.
In the pursuit of creating truly inclusive and equitable spaces, it is essential to recognize that the journey to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) encompasses more than just policy changes and workforce demographics. A holistic approach that embraces the well-being of individuals is at the core of fostering a truly inclusive environment. Enter trauma-informed support – a powerful framework that synergizes with DEI principles, empowering organizations to address past traumas while paving the way for a brighter, inclusive future.
I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Cammy Froude, a psychotherapist specializing in supporting individuals and high-performing executives in managing stress and finding balance between work and home. Dr. Cammy brings a trauma-informed approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consulting at Hyphens and Spaces, with a focus on the behavioral health of the leaders they work with.
Hi Cammy! I’m so excited to be chatting with you today. Could you start with introducing yourself?
Dr. Cammy: Hello! I’m Cammy, a licensed therapist with expertise in trauma-informed psychotherapy for individuals, families, and organizations. I am also a Clinical Supervisor and Executive Coach, with 10 years of experience. My passion lies in helping people not only cope with trauma but emerge as survivors and create healing spaces for others.
Can you start with sharing your definition of Trauma?
Dr. Cammy: The stigma around mental health and trauma is diminishing, and it’s crucial to understand trauma from a broader perspective. The DSM-5, a diagnostic tool developed by the American Psychological Association, defines trauma as exposure to death, injury, or sexual violence. However, I believe trauma encompasses any experience where an individual’s coping mechanisms are overwhelmed by the stress they face. Acknowledging a wide range of trauma responses is essential, as employees may exhibit various stress symptoms, such as a racing heart or shortness of breath, even in work-related situations.
As we talk about support that employers can offer, my guess is that support looks different for trauma that emerged within the work environment vs traumatic experiences that occurred in the employees’ personal life or past. What do you think?
Dr.Cammy: I do feel that the principles that dictate such support including mental health services, peer support or other accommodations are similar in both cases but the degree of shared responsibility between the employer and employee varies.
For individuals who have had a personal experience with trauma outside the workplace, what is a great starting point of support that employers can offer?
Dr. Cammy: Assessing employees’ mental health is a vital starting point. Creating psychological safety and showing curiosity about their well-being can open doors for support and care. Inquiring about their stress-coping mechanisms and identifying situations that offer or hinder psychological safety can help organizations better understand and assist their employees.
In an ideal scenario, I would encourage human resources to inquire about their employees’ mental health when they join the organization. This doesn’t have to be a clinical assessment but an inquiry on how the employee tackles stress, or identifying the situations and environments that offer psychological safety to the employee and situations that don’t.
Once employers have assessed their employees’ mental health, what comes next towards building a trauma informed organization?
Dr. Cammy: I think once you’re aware of your employees’ mental health risks, you can match people with the right opportunities and skills to create a thriving environment. Regularly assessing and evolving the support you offer will help people thrive. Projects that are going to support individuals build confidence, self-efficacy and their proficiency will lead to stronger business outcomes and both the employees and employers have a shared responsibility towards achieving these outcomes.
If employees built self awareness about their mental health and employers create psychological safety where employees can share their challenges, a combination of organizational support and self care practices can help. The field of psychology has medicalized the human conditions of grief, sadness and stress. But we can all recognize that everyone grieves and that when people are scared their heart races. Creating an environment where people are able to name their emotions and take necessary steps toward self-care can go a long way. Additionally, it’s helpful to proactively have policies and resources in place that can support individuals before a crisis occurs at work.
Lastly, I would say – Be a bull in a china shop! The expression is often used as a criticism while talking about a disruptive individual but I think it’s important to disrupt systems that are ineffective – ask questions, express what feels uncomfortable, ask for support and accommodations and advocate for inclusion and equity.
I love that! However, it’s hard to be the bull if you’re unprepared for the consequences. How can organizations overcome their hesitation with broaching the topic of mental health?
Dr. Cammy: Hesitation often stems from concerns about legal consequences, confidentiality, and resource limitations. Understanding relevant discrimination, compensation, and safety laws is crucial. Employers can approach employees with curiosity and care, focusing on observed behaviors rather than diagnosing them. Instead of asking “Are you depressed?”, I may say “I noticed you’ve been quiet in meetings this week. I wanted to check in on how you’re doing.”
Clear decisions about available resources empower managers and team members to have honest conversations and offer appropriate support. As a manager, I can check in with my team member, share a list of mental health resources that the organization has curated to support their employees, or offer to make accommodations with work depending on what the company can and cannot afford.
How does support look different when the experienced trauma emerges due to unhealthy organizational culture, lack of safety, conflict, discrimination or toxic stress at work?
Dr. Cammy: When trauma emerges due to a hazardous work environment, reducing harm becomes the priority. Assessing the impact as well as the desired support is crucial. Individuals respond differently to trauma. Someone may want to take a break and deal with the situation personally. Some may be seeking support with resources or compensation. Another individual may want to engage actively to improve the organization’s culture while another may require peer support. Take cues from the individual who has been affected to avoid re traumatizing the person or offering emotionally harmful support.
In trauma-informed organizations, it is crucial to assess the impact and articulated needs, while avoiding re-traumatization and offering a variety of support structures. Organizations must acknowledge the impact of trauma honestly because dismissal of traumatic event can sometimes have adverse effects on victims. However, I think that the question organizations and HR professionals should ask themselves is “How do we prevent workplace trauma?”
It’s imperative to invest in prevention. Once you’re dealing with a trauma that emerged within the workplace environment, you have missed a hundred thousand opportunities to curb the crisis. I’m saying it again – Be a bull in the china shop and flag signs of toxic stress, barriers to career growth or micro aggressions consistently. This helps avoid adversities and enables you to invest in prevention.
While a lot of ideas you have shared sound simple, the skills required to implement them are rigorous. What are a few competencies that organizations can train themselves on to create a trauma informed organization?
Dr. Cammy: Training on distress tolerance helps build resilience and regulate emotions, enabling individuals to recognize stress signs and promote safety. Emotional and social intelligence is also vital, fostering self-awareness and understanding different communication styles. I know that I have a more direct style of communication that can be illicit a trauma response from some folks and I have learned to check in more often with people as well as focus on building connection before I talk ‘work’.
I believe both of these skills need to be balanced so that people learn to cater to each other’s needs and offer peer support. Simultaneously, i think people can learn how to provide themselves mental health support through distress tolerance and increase their overall well being.
Thank you so much Dr. Cammy for sharing so many insights on building a trauma informed system!
Dr. Cammy Froude is dedicated to building trauma-informed organizations as part of the Hyphens and Spaces team. She is also the founder of Bliss in Being coaching and therapy practice. Trauma informed workplaces and leaders focus on practicing new leadership styles and prioritizing behavioral health to create a supportive community. Organizations don’t have to navigate this journey alone. For more information, contact Hyphens and Spaces via our intake form here or send an email to [email protected].