Connection Winter 2021: Critical perspectives on trauma

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C NNECTIONS Winter 2022 | Volume 4, Issue 3



C NNECTIONS Voices Joined in Chorus (page 25)


SOCIAL WORK: LEADING TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE IN 2022 NSCSW Conference & Annual General Meeting Online, May 13-14 2022

Come join us as we explore new perspectives and skills, to deliver social work services in a changed landscape. Our annual conferences create opportunities for members of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers and others in our communities to connect, plan, discover, and share knowledge. We hope to see you again this year. Questions? Suggestions? Contact N Siritsky at



Winter 2022 | Volume 4, Issue 3

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the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers,

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Winter 2022 | Connection 3




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TABLE OF CONTENTS Volume 4, Issue 3


Critical Perspectives on Trauma


Become a Candidacy Mentor


October 2021 - January 2022












Student Awards

Inspiring a Learning Community

Trauma Specializations in Private Practice

What We Bring to the Therapy Table









A Caution

Talking Trauma Talk

Voices Joined in Chorus

Embracing Diverse Approaches to Trauma Treatment

Winter 2022 | Connection 5

Critical perspectives on trauma I’m pleased to introduce a new issue of Connection magazine to our members and other readers throughout our community. In this issue, contributors were invited to write about looking at trauma with a social work lens. On page 10 we have an introduction to the recipients of this year’s student bursaries. When they complete their education, the next step in their professional journey will be the Candidacy Mentorship Program. You can flip to page 12 to about the candidate-mentor relationship from the perspective of Winnie Grant, and two of the many candidates she has supported. When private practitioners apply to the Board of Examiners, they are asked to share their experience and education in the specializations they intend to practice independently. The criteria for trauma-related specializations has been formalized (page 16) in order to protect both social workers and the public.

Alec Stratford, MSW, RSW Registrar/Executive Director

Several experienced social workers share their perspectives on how social work requires an understanding of social justice when approaching trauma. Jackie Barkley writes about what social workers bring to the therapy table (page 18), and Robert Wright and James Dubé offer an example of how the dominant frameworks can exclude the needs of marginalized populations such as Black men (page 20). Catrina Brown considers the complexity of trauma work, and the vitality of recognizing “the personal is political” (page 22). March is National Social Work Month, and this year’s theme is In Critical Demand. Our plans include a mini-conference on intimate partner violence, multiple lunch-and-learn sessions each week, and our first ever Advocacy Day (page 25). Check for the jam-packed schedule of upcoming events; I hope you can join us! We closed this issue on page 26 by inviting our contributors to share a handful of the many modalities that social work practitioners are using in trauma therapy. I look forward to seeing you at our conference and AGM in May.

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CULTIVATING MENTORSHIP Candidacy mentors are an important link in the model for professional development within the membership of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. We would like to thank the mentors who have guided our Social Worker Candidates through the successful completion of candidacy since the spring. Cindy Baily Jodi Butler Brett Cameron Jill Ceccolini Thea Clarke Kaylin Comeau Leil Bernadette Confiant James Dubé Dorothy Francis Penny Gill Winnie Grant Susan Harris Neal Henderson

Chris Hessian Denyse Hines Kelly Hunt Neil Kennedy Jack Landerville Tammie Leedham Serena Lewis Greg McConnell Kevin McDougall Patricia Mugridge Candace Norman Christine Riordan Corinne Sauve

Anne Simmons Katherine Simms Heather Smith Terri Lynn Smith Tammy Stone Michelle Stonehouse Alec Stratford Heather Thibodeau Joanna Thompson Jonna Thompson Annemieke Vink Erin Warner Stephen Young

BECOME A MENTOR Mentorship is underscored by a climate of safety and trust, where candidates can develop their sense of professional identity. We offer optional mentor training for members of the College, in the form of a self-directed online course. We also provide resources to help mentors support candidates’ learning throughout their candidacy. To learn more about the rewards of being a mentor, visit

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New Private Practitioners, Registered Social Workers, & Social Worker Candidates Approved by NSCSW Board of Examiners October 2021 – January 2022

PRIVATE PRACTICE Melanie Barber Tamsyn Brennan Mary Cripton James Dubé Brenda Gear Meaghan Grant-Bennett Megan Gray Michelle Dawn LeBrun Nancy Lynk Julie Magee Catherine McIntyre Emily McLean N Siritsky Angela Steele

REGISTERED SOCIAL WORKERS Kaylie-Anne Adamski Amanda Andrews Blake Archibald Brittany Atkinson Sarah Bath Jey Benoit Julie Berkers Lisa Bowman Andrew Childerhose Laura Couturier Mary Cripton Edna Doucette Charmaine Dupuis

Joanne Marie Ebear Andrew Ford Sophie Gallant Alexandra Getson Peter Giby Jessica Goswell Megan Graham Yolande Grant Sarah Held Kaitlyn Hines Allison Hull-Geddes Christine Hussey Swantje Jahn Colleen Keagan Emma Kearney Tanisha Keddy Kevin Knowlton Brenna Koneczny Farah Kurji Nadia Landry Louise Layton Susan Leopold Loro Loski Melissa Lunn Kiana MacDonald Jean MacGregor Micah MacIsaac David MacPhee Julie Magee Trish McCourt Brett McIsaac Krista Mouck Kristina Murphy

Laura Nearing Katie O’Neill Jenna Pettipas Burton Rachael Karen Ramsay Hanaa Rashid Hans Rhindress Carol Ann Sanford Tracey Shay Samantha Silver N Siritsky Rachel Smith Roberta Smith Anja Spears Michelle Sutherland-Allan Mardi Taylor Michael Thompson Chrisula Tsiopoulos Pamela Viddal Kathryn Williston Shanda Woodin

Tamera Campbell Rosalind Curran Alyse Dunn Ibironke Fagunwa Chelsea Feltmate Joseph Ferracuti Laura Ferris Denise Fitzgerald Levonne Gaddy Barbara Anne Gillis Chelsea Googoo Shannon Havill Kinnon Job Amanda Looman Alison Miller Benjamin Mogl-MacLean Robyn Murphy Bethany Porter Joshua Purdy Umair Rashid


Eric Renaud

Oluwadamilola Adewoyin Patricia Arrowsmith Michael Boutilier Lender Bowles Jashanjeet Brar Katie Brousseau Julie Ellen Brown Cassidy Burgoyne

Lauren Ripley Russell Robicheau Stephanie Simard Roderick Snow Lyndsay Thomas Katlynn Marie Van Tassel Makayla Wamboldt Isa Wright

Join the conversation


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CELEBRATING EXCELLENCE AND DEDICATION Congratulations to our 2021 student bursary recipients! These student members are from Nova Scotia and are completing accredited social work programs at Canadian universities. They each received $500 to help them achieve their academic and professional goals, and we wish them well in their studies.

Dalhousie University Recipients

CHELSEA PROVO I reside in the community of Preston and am currently in my first year of a two-year MSW degree. I have always been passionate about pursuing a career to help marginalized populations and those who face racism and discrimination. Growing up in North and East Preston, I have faced a great deal of racism and discrimination within the education system, work, and everyday life. These circumstances have had a profound effect on me and helped shape the person I am becoming. There is a dire need to re-examine and revise curriculums, practices, policies, rules, regulations, and research to enact social change and promote the core values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. People from diverse backgrounds need to be heard to establish the necessary change that creates opportunity within this process. With my social work degree, I hope to pursue my goal of being a clinical social worker, and perhaps become a Veterans Affairs social worker.

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CHANA WIELENGA | THEY/THEM I was inspired to pursue a social work career while working as a community host at a clinic – a position where I supported and advocated for clients and visitors. Since starting at Dalhousie, I have joined the School of Social Work’s Diversity and Equity Committee (DEC); the Faculty of Health’s Inclusion and Equity Committee; and during 2020/2021, the School of Social Work’s Student Group. Starting as a student member of DEC, I have also become a research assistant for the committee. Although still exploring the possibilities of where my career might take me, I have focused on issues of equity and social justice in my assignments; I would very much like to be involved in macro-level work, such as policy development.

LAURA BAIN I graduated with her BA (hons.) from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax in 2016. Since then, I have been working as a reporter for Accessible Media Inc., sharing stories from the various disability communities in Atlantic Canada. I have many past and current involvements with disability advocacy organizations. In my theatrical debut this past spring with The Villains Theatre Company, I was proud to be cast as a first-voice member of the community playing a blind character. This is my first year of the two-year MSW program at Dalhousie University, and I will be doing my first-year placement at CNIB NS where I am also a board member. I’m looking forward to using the knowledge I’m gaining in my program to support my community. My many areas of interest include mental health and addictions, housing and homelessness, and holistic approaches to wellness including nature-based therapy.

SHATAYA STEVENSON | SHE/HER Born and raised in Halifax Nova Scotia, I have lived my entire life in the city. My passion to become a social worker started at a young age due to my lived experiences. I am honoured to have been accepted into the School of Social Work at Dalhousie, and hope to continue my professional learning through employment, practicum, and education.

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Winnifred Grant (left) received the Ronald Stratford Memorial Award from NSCSW in 2016

12 Connection | Winter 2022


The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers requires all

Services in senior management. In addition to her role in the

new and returning members to complete the Candidacy

public service, Winne also teaches in both the graduate and

Mentorship Program. This process grounds candidates in the

undergraduate program in the School of Social Work program

principles that guide their profession – the Code of Ethics and

at Dalhousie University

Standards of Practice – with the support of an experienced mentor. One of those mentors is Winnifred (Winnie) Grant.

Yolande Grant and Katrina Jarvis are new social workers, both graduating in 2019. Despite being more recent to the field, like

This year, Winnie will celebrate her thirtieth year working

Winnie, they were both mature program students.

in social work – a vocation that she fell into as a second career in 1989. Winnie had been exploring public relations

Yolande’s first career was as an accountant.

and received an assignment that led her to interview a social worker at the former Grace Maternity Hospital in Halifax. “It wasn’t a positive experience – she was very cruel,” said Winnie, not elaborating, but then added, “I thought, ‘I would be a better, more caring social worker.’” After graduating from Dalhousie’s School of Social Work in 1992, Winnie worked as an employment support worker,

“I’ve always value education and worked to instill that value into my four children,” Yolande explained. “I tutored children and started to realize I wanted to work more directly with the community to make an impact.”

before taking a two-year leave of absence to work for a community organization. She then transitioned into the field of child welfare, beginning in a term position in the post adoption division.

Katrina’s origin story is a bit different; growing up, she encountered the support of social workers.

“Ironically, I had no intention of working in child welfare,”

“My home was difficult. My father suffered with addiction,

Winnie recalled, chuckling. “It was actually a friend who

there was domestic violence. Later, my mom struggled as a

encouraged me to apply, repeatedly, and I finally did in 2000 –

working, single mother,” Katrina shared. “I had my son when I

and I loved it!”

was 15. When I went to school, university wasn’t a thought. I needed to get my diploma and get a job.”

After her term position in post adoptions, she moved to a position in the foster care unit, before becoming a front-

Admittedly, also like Winnie, she didn’t intend to become

line child protection social worker. Winnie then spent more

a social worker – not initially. She completed a diploma

than 10 years in the recruitment and assessment unit, and

program at Nova Scotia Community College and then enrolled

now works with the Nova Scotia Department of Community

in Dalhousie University’s Transition Year Program.

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“I wanted to provide a better life for my son,” Katrina

effort and what they hope to achieve. Speaking specifically of

explained, a modest shrug apparent in her voice.

Katrina and Yolande, Winnie explains that she didn’t provide either with direct answers to their questions, or the challenges

Through exploring mental health and psychology, Katrina kept

they encountered, but would reframe their asks to prompt

bumping into the prospect that a career in social work may

critical thinking.

tick the right boxes. “I consider it my role to teach the skills that are required to There are more similarities than differences when discussing

be successful in the field, to teach them to fish,” she said. “To

the careers of Winnie, Yolande, and Katrina. Greater than

build their confidence and develop their own approach based

beginning their social work careers in their thirties, leaving

on the profession’s shared ethics.”

their previous vocations behind, the three are members of the African Nova Scotian community. And Winnie served as a

As a result of their regular meetings, Yolande and Katrina

candidacy mentor to both.

attribute unique takeaways from Winnie’s mentorship.

According to Valerie Shapiro, the College’s regulatory and

Katrina says it is because of Winnie that she has found her

candidacy manager, the program is intended to protect the

footing in social work, but more importantly, she has found

public by supporting new social workers to be grounded in the

her voice.

values, ethics, and principles of the social work profession. “She told me, ‘You have a voice, and you can choose to use it.’ “Through the Candidacy Mentorship Program mentors provide

She gave me permission to stand up for myself and speak up.”

candidates with opportunities to further enhance their skills, competence, and approach to social work practice,” said Valerie.

Yolande attributes Winnie’s mentorship to challenging her thought process.

Having both had Winnie as an instructor, combined

“Initially, I would ask myself, “Why do I see what other people

with her lived experience as an African Nova

don’t?” She remembered. “Winnie didn’t give me the answer to

Scotian woman and an African Nova Scotian social

‘why’ on my own.”

worker, Yolande and Katrina were eager for Winnie to accept them as her candidates.

that question but pushed me to explore until I determined my

Winnie elaborates that she teaches all African Nova Scotian candidates how to prepare emotionally to work in the community. Her approach to coaching is rooted in critical race and an Afro-centric, anti-Black racism perspective.

“I had to wait for her,” said Yolande. “The number of candidates a mentor can take on is limited.”

“In our working roles, we’re African Nova Scotian social workers, and in our community, we’re their African Nova

Katrina also waited for Winnie, “To start the candidacy

Scotian social workers,” Winnie explained. “There is no

process, you need to have a job in social work. It took me

separation when we leave the office at 5 p.m. – we take it all

a few months to find the best fit.”

on and, as a result, this provides credibility and responsibility with our communities”.

From her perspective, Winnie believes she’s mentored at least 10 candidates but admits she’s lost track of the official number. “I support two or three mentees at a time,” she explained. “Over the years, they’ve mainly been from the African Nova

“I want to help my candidates understand that we are both members of the community and work on behalf of the community. There is a weight

Scotian community, but not limited to it.”

that we carry, and we can see it as a calling or

Each mentor gets an individualized experience based on their

a consequence.”

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To Winnie, it’s a calling. Katrina underscores Winnie’s point by adding, “The number of times a client has said, ‘I know your family…’” This is one of the reasons the Candidacy Mentorship Program is critical, says Valerie. She explains that “the experience gained through the candidacy process supports new social workers to develop the skills necessary to navigate the complexities and dichotomies inherent in social work practice.” For Katrina, without the support and mentorship of Winnie, she’s not sure if she’d be able to successfully work in the field.

“My first year was tough,” she shared. “I did lots of questioning of what I was taught and what I represented. I remember telling Winnie, ‘I’m not sure if I can do this.’” “The job needs passion and connection, and you need to save your energy to do the work.” Katrina continued. “You need that mentor support and having [Winnie’s] support helped me support others.” Yolande has taken what she’s learned from Winnie’s mentorship and applies it by supporting her colleagues and other social work students. “Being older, colleagues and students often look to me for advice. I would love to formally support an upcoming candidate. What Winnie did for me was excellent.”

Above: Winnifred Grant. Photo contributed by Winnifred Grant.

courageous, they need to be willing to grow and learn to reach their full potential.” As for whether her approach was successful with Katrina and Yolande, Winnie says, “they’ve accepted the challenge, and both continue to be successful.” Ultimately, the program is about communicating, collaborating, and engaging in lifelong learning. Through this process, social workers like Winnie and her candidates are able to support each other, stay grounded in the guiding documents and principles of the profession, and sustain long, healthy careers.

Winnie quickly identifies how she’s fostered the growth of Katrina and Yolande.

“With Yolande, we worked together to find the confidence to trust her instincts,” she said. “Katrina and I worked together to allow her to truly step into the role of a social worker.” Winnie continues, “I have expectations with the candidates: we need to have honest conversations, they need to be

NICOLE BROOKS DE GIER is a communications consultant, business owner, and freelance writer living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She’s also the very proud mother of Audrey and Cameron. Nicole has provided strategic communications and public relations advice to several governments, government agencies, and businesses for the past 12 years. Nicole is a feminist and a member of the African Nova Scotian community. Her website is

Winter 2022 | Connection 15


Recently the NSCSW Board of Examiners implemented new policy regarding the approval of trauma specializations for private practitioners of social work. As articles in this issue of Connection address, the effect of trauma is becoming a more regular part of the public discourse regarding mental health, and there has been an increasing demand for trauma-related specializations within provision of mental health services. This is coupled with increasing and long-overdue public discourse on Canada’s legacy of enslavement and colonization and entrenchment of anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism. In addition, there is a continued entrenchment of patriarchy and neo-liberalism, which both aim to place the provision of care into the private sphere: where the labour of caring often falls to women and gender-diverse people, and men are diminished in their role of providing care and their need of care.

DESCRIBING TRAUMA Trauma can be defined as anything that results from experiences that overwhelm an individual’s capacity to cope, such as abuse and neglect, sexualized violence, family conflict, poverty, having a life-threatening illness, undergoing single/repeated and/ or painful medical interventions, accidents, natural disasters, grief/loss, witnessing acts of violence, experiencing war, intergenerational and historical violence. Trauma and traumatic experiences are inherently complex.

IDENTIFYING A NEED The Board of Examiners holds that social work practitioners need to be aware of the need to contend with issues involving colonialism and racism, justice, legal redress, and protection against further harm. In addition, working with trauma-exposed clients can evoke distress in providers that makes it more difficult for them to provide good care. Given the complexity of trauma, practitioners need to take due care to ensure that they are immersed in professional development in various models of trauma therapy and advance their knowledge of vicarious trauma and their own selfawareness, while having a clear understanding of the current and historical political context and the ongoing harm created by neoliberalism. Given the risk to the public and the practitioners the Board of Examiners has created policy regarding the provision of trauma-related specializations in a private setting.

RIGHT-TOUCH REGULATION The NSCSW utilizes right-touch regulation as a to guide its regulation of the profession. Regulators need to understand a problem before jumping to a solution, to make sure that the level of regulation is proportionate to the level of risk to the public. Right-touch regulation is also grounded in the understanding that there is no such thing as zero risk.

Trauma occurs in a broad context that includes individuals’ personal characteristics, life experiences, and current political and historical circumstances. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence individuals’ experience and appraisal of traumatic events; expectations regarding danger, protection, and safety; and the course of post trauma growth.

There are eight elements that sit at the heart of right-touch regulation: • Identify the problem before the solution • Quantify and qualify the risks

Trauma recovery is possible but presents specific challenges.

• Get as close to the problem as possible

In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience

• Focus on the outcome

is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and

• Use regulation only when necessary • Keep it simple

collectively to advocate for resources to be provided in culturally

• Check for unintended consequences

meaningful ways.

• Review and respond to change.

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Trauma-related specialization policy was developed because

behavioural, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

the Board recognized that complexity of trauma therapy, the

This type of therapy is rooted in understanding the connection

increasing demand, and the current political context, all which

between the trauma experience and the individual’s emotional

created an increasing risk to the public regarding the provision of

and behavioural responses.

trauma specific therapy. The purpose of trauma specific therapy is to offer skills To mitigate this risk the Board developed criteria regarding

and strategies to assist in better understanding, coping

competencies that social workers must demonstrate if

with, processing emotions and memories tied to traumatic

they include trauma specializations in their application for private practice.

experiences, with the end goal of empowering clients to create a healthier and more adaptive meaning of the experience that took place in their life.

These criteria are specific to private practitioners, who are authorized to practice independently in their approved areas of specialization, and are solely liable for their practice. They do not pertain to social workers who practice with the supervision and support of an employer. However, members aspiring to eventual self-employment who may wish to use this information to guide their selection of professional development opportunities.

THE RESULT The policy distinguishes between trauma informed and responsive care, and trauma specific therapy.

The policy was designed with two pathways to demonstrating competence in this area. The intent of the pathways is for applicants to reflect upon and demonstrate their competence to deliver trauma specific therapy in a private setting. 1. The first path involves certification in a traumaspecific therapy modality, which members of the Board determined was a clear measurement of competence to deliver trauma specific therapy. 2. The second is to demonstrate multiple professional development activities on a trauma specific therapy; a minimum of two years of practice experience that

Trauma Informed & Responsive Care

demonstrates an integration of trauma specific therapy

Trauma informed and responsive care understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize.

trauma specific therapy.

into social work practice; and clinical supervision on a

Applicants for this specialization must meet minimum standards for professional development, at least two years of related practice experience, and supervised practice in this area of specialization. Core concepts include: • Understanding of trauma • Understanding of trauma informed responses and care • The science of trauma • Application of trauma-informed care • Parallel process These practitioners must demonstrate that they have been able to sufficiently integrate knowledge into their practice.

Trauma Specific Therapy Trauma specific therapy involves therapeutic approaches that recognize and emphasize an understanding of how the traumatic experience impacts an individual’s mental,

To review the full policy regarding trauma-related specializations in private practice, please visit Questions can be directed to Alec Stratford, NSCSW Executive Director/Registrar.

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SOME THOUGHTS ON TRAUMA SPECIFIC TRAINING What social workers bring to the therapy table BY JACKIE BARKLEY, RSW

Our college has recently determined the need for improved

exceptionalism compared to the UK and the US with regard to

and accountable skill levels regarding trauma to be assessed

white supremacy and the impact of enslavement.

for private therapists. Why now, what does this reflect, how do we assess the issue overall, and what are the challenges

Surprisingly, but positively, these movements have truly begun

social work therapists need to consider?

to pressure and have an impact on the day-to-day direct delivery of mental health counselling. Institutions such as child

First, trauma has become the new buzzword in the field of

welfare, the Canadian military, the so called “justice” systems,

mental health, with expectations that service delivery should

the public and private mental health agencies, employee

reflect the need for specialized education in this area. I

assistance programs – to name but a few – are actually

suggest this can be traced, at least in part, to the increasingly

being forced to assess their capacity to provide service to the

intense political struggles of the past two years. The Truth

increasing numbers of persons self-describing their trauma.

and Reconciliation report exposed Canadian colonialism and

All this added to the ongoing struggle of women experiencing

the genocidal history settler Canadians have been unwilling

sexual assault and domestic violence, and persons identifying

to begin addressing until now. And the death of George Floyd,

as gender non-conforming to obtain appropriate psychological

followed by the powerful resistance to anti Black racism

supports for their suffering means the word “trauma” (mostly

has also exposed another brutal underbelly of our (white

appropriately – though its overuse is potentially dangerous

settler persons) assumptions of Canadian “goodness” and

and the subject of more discussion) is on the radar of mental

18 Connection | Winter 2022

health practitioners. And then we must add to this, the chronic

requiring a treatment intervention that includes ideas of

relentless anxiety and pain experienced by persons in poverty,

liberation, techniques for seeking justice, and validation. If

homeless persons and those refugees coming to Nova Scotia

we only “train” people in treating the psychological state of

from war-torn countries. This is a truly enormous surge of need for... what exactly? A crucial question, requiring critical examination in depth. We need to assess how to provide competent therapy, but simultaneously, not medicalize or individualize the causes of trauma I’ve listed above. In a time of “evidence based” treatment, commodification of mental health counselling, and an increased idolatry of “scientific” methods of service delivery (see the endless alphabetized names of packaged treatment

trauma, with little or no education in the injustices our clients are experiencing, then we are merely engaging in self-serving well-paid exercises in molding persons to adapt to and accommodate injustice. Does that mean we should all become community organizers instead of therapists? No. Individual people ask for and need treatment for the self-defeating thoughts and behaviours that have been the only tools we’ve all been groomed to use under

programs purchased by the public mental health systems and

capitalism. But the individual treatment needs location in the

the military) it is ever crucial for our profession to not simply

larger social forces that have created and replicate the suffering.

follow a trend that will ignore the politics of trauma. The training we need is how to link the world of mental

I want to put forward that unless we locate trauma in a philosophical and political discussion, we will not be able to train ourselves to be competent trauma therapists.

health, to the world of politics. Too often, in social work in particular, especially in social work education, the choice is either/or. We either mobilize, or work in non-profit advocacy organizations where we can be “allies” or work in the mental health professional institutions where we are forced to accept simplistic medical models and learn to condescend to our “patients” by never either challenging them or defending them. In the former, we sometimes think of ourselves as

Both the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Ontario’s

paid-to-be-radical. In the latter, we become the professionals-

vast public mental health service provider) and the American

with-status, who are dramatically better paid. In both these

Psychological Association provide descriptions of trauma

locations, we need to have skills, not sentiment, and solidarity,

as largely particular, individual experiences of shock and

not condescension. This will mean politicizing the content

suffering following events. This way of conceptualizing trauma locates the individual in the event – most often an accident or natural disaster – dislocated from context, disconnected from any social forces or relationships of power and oppression. Of course, there are people who every day go through random, awful experiences that cause deep and profound reactions. There are persons with severe psychiatric illnesses requiring specialized treatment. There are persons with

of trauma-informed health counselling, and increasing the understanding of severe mental illness and related skills among agency and community workers who provide direct services. All of us need to be allies in the content of our trauma understanding, but also after work in our role as citizens. If we actually do begin to ground trauma training in issues of power and justice, then we are also required to do so in our lives and actions outside of work; else we must suffer the lack

unique psychological states who need the science and need

of credibility our clients will perceive in us, and the contempt

the medication when appropriate. And it is very important

they will heap upon us for saying one thing and acting another.

that those of us who provide public and private mental health service be as knowledgeable as possible in the best techniques and research that inform how to treat all mentally ill and struggling persons. But the majority of traumatic experiences can be located in injustice: racial trauma, war trauma, sexual assault trauma, trauma from genocidal acts, and hate crimes. So many persons experiencing trauma are locked in mental spaces

JACKIE BARKLEY, RSW, is a social worker and community organizer who lives in Halifax. Her decades of experience encompass direct delivery of mental health services and counselling in multiple settings, child welfare, geriatric assessment and corrections. She has a particular interest in cultural competence and intersectional anti-racism work.

Winter 2022 | Connection 19


As social workers take up more and more space in clinical

how African men were sexually victimized by both their male

settings and have our clinical expertise recognized and

and female captors. This sexual victimization, exploitation,

expanded in institutional and community settings, it is

fetishization and demonization continued after emancipation

important that we not stray from our roots as advocates

and shaped the ideas that continue to oppress and

for the most oppressed and marginalized members of our

problematize Black male sexuality to this day. This creates a

society. We must be clinicians who bring our social justice

barrier to Black men seeking help for their victimization and

orientation and prerogative to all aspects of practice. It

other forms of trauma.

is important that we critique clinical practice models to ensure that they are not perpetuating or expanding the marginalization of certain populations from accessing and benefiting from mental health services. It is important that poor, fragilely housed, racialized and Indigenous persons’ needs and considerations are centred in all our practices. We cannot abandon our primary clients as our profession becomes more privileged among health practitioners. As conceptualizations of trauma become more central to our understanding of mental health, it is important that we consider the social justice imperative in our exploration of trauma. Most would agree that trauma is complex. When we add to our understanding of trauma other lenses such as critical race

That Black men continue to suffer as victims of sexual violence and other forms of trauma should be understood, but it is widely under-reported and poorly addressed.

We can connect the dots, however. We know, for example, that the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently amended their estimate of male, lifetime sexual assault victimization from 1 in 6 to 1 in 4 (CDC,

theory, anti-oppressive practice, and socio-cultural intersection,

2021). We also know that the incidence of such traumas

the complexity explodes into a kaleidoscope of considerations

is dramatically higher among marginalized, criminalized,

that social workers must address as we work with clients.

and clinical populations. With Black men disproportionately experiencing poverty, academic underachievement, and

An example of where concerns exist about trauma as a sociocultural phenomenon needing a critical race/anti-oppressive practice approach is in relation to Black male sexual victimization. Images in popular media and even reputable news media perpetuate ideas about Black men that are rooted

incarceration, and given the history of Black male sexual victimization, it is not a hard sell to believe they experience sexual victimization at a rate greater than 1 in 4. Yet, the clinical needs, and specifically the trauma treatment needs, of Black men are underserved.

in the history of enslavement. Though most are aware that African women were often sold into sexual slavery or regularly

Consequently, it is our view that the “needs” of Black men go

sexually abused by their captors, few realize that the same

unaddressed, and society reacts to the symptoms of Black

was true for African men. Foster (2011) described it well: “The

male trauma, or the “idioms of distress” (Brown & Courtois,

sexual exploitation of enslaved black men took place within

2019) through a criminal justice response. That Black men

a cultural context that fixated on black male bodies with both

are dramatically and disproportionately targeted by police and

desire and horror.” Foster goes on to describe graphically

overrepresented in Canadian federal correctional institutions

20 Connection | Winter 2022

is well documented in Scot Wortley’s (2019) report on

It is necessary to have a critical race/socio-cultural model for

street checks in Halifax, and the Office of the Correctional

understanding trauma and for understanding how trauma should

Investigator’s (2013) special report on diversity in corrections.

be treated. We have found that this is best accomplished by moving away from specific modalities and towards a clinical

Meanwhile mainstream service providers and clinical

model based on culturally competent psychosocial assessment

researchers provide no alternative. These largely white,

and intervention. This kind of advanced social work practice

middle class, university-educated women with very little

allows for far more complex work than more narrow, westernized

exposure, let alone intimate knowledge, of Black communities

modalities of trauma processing so commonly favoured by

(Williams et al., 2021), have shaped our understanding of what trauma is and what constitutes effective trauma treatment. Brown & Courtois (2019), as editors of companion issues of two journals, Psychotherapy and Practice Innovations, write a powerful introductory article critiquing the narrow construction of our current understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and its treatment. They warned that “It is essential that the field of trauma treatment not prematurely foreclose around [the] limited range of treatments [described in the American Psychological Assessment Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of PTSD]”. They go on to say that “We must take culture, context, and our clients’ intersectional identities into account in understanding the meaning of their trauma and their idioms of distress rather than attempt to squeeze people, particularly those from marginalized groups, into a one-size-fits-all paradigm.”

mainstream practitioners.

REFERENCES: Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator 2012-2013. (2013). Office of the Correctional Investigator. Brown, L. & Courtois, C. (2019). Trauma treatment: The Need for Ongoing Innovation. Practice Innovations, 4(3), 133-138. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 19). Sexual violence is preventable. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 3, 2022, from https://www. Foster, T. (2011). The Sexual Abuse of Black Men under American Slavery. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 20(3), 445-464.

We argue that social workers are in danger of accepting a set of definitions of trauma and its effective treatments which have been marketed rather than developed as a specialist

Williams, M. T., Osman, M., Gran-Ruaz, S., & Lopez, J. (2021). Intersection of racism and PTSD: Assessment and treatment

form of clinical knowledge. What are considered effective

of Racial Stress and Trauma. Current Treatment Options in

treatments have been identified by methods that conform to


university models of research that are steeped in colonization and the hegemony of western scientific practice. This has also resulted in most of our modalities of trauma treatment

Wortley, S., & Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. (2019). Halifax, Nova Scotia: Street checks report. Toronto, Ont.: S. Wortley

being entirely focused on individualist, neoliberal ideas about healing, growth, and change. To suggest that this perpetuates ideas of white supremacy may seem extreme, but it is not unwarranted. This is compounded by a lack of appreciation for and intimate knowledge of the lives of Black clients. Knowledge is discounted if it is held by community elders or practitioners who have developed effective treatments for their clients but have little connection to the academy since their pre-service education. Issues like Black male sexual victimization are clinical phenomena that can only be understood through a deep understanding of the tragic history of enslavement, the

ROBERT WRIGHT, MSW RSW, is an African Nova Scotian social worker who has worked extensively in trauma and antiracism. Robert is also well known for creating Impact of Race and Culture Assessments, a specialized, clinical, presentence report for African Canadians. JAMES DUBÉ, MSW, RSW, is a white social worker who has been mentored by Robert and other Black social workers for the past six years. He has been a substantial contributor to developing culturally accessible services at The Peoples’ Counselling Clinic.

generational experience of racial trauma, and the structural antiBlack racism that causes Blacks to be overrepresented by control agencies rather than helping agencies. We argue that culturally relevant trauma treatment must incorporate eco-structural and anti-oppressive practice techniques. It must respond to the complexity of sociocultural aspects of traumatic experiences.

The authors are co-founders of The Peoples’ Counselling Clinic, which provides direct services and public education focused on issues of trauma, race, sex and gender. They work with under-served populations, including those who have experienced trauma.

Winter 2022 | Connection 21

TALKING TRAUMA TALK Reinvigorating the personal as political BY DR. CATRINA BROWN, RSW

While those experiencing trauma often feel hopeless,

response to the medicalization of trauma and the growing

vulnerable and out of control, those who work with trauma

neuroscience focus, it has been argued that we need a “critical

feel increasingly desperate as they struggle to find the time

dialogue about this reliance on biological knowledge to

and resources they need to do this work within the context

promote a social justice framework in mental health services

of fiscal cutbacks and the emphasis on short term efficiency

is needed, since it potentially reinforces the privileged status

based practice in social work service provision. Taken in

of biology and medical knowledge over social science and

tandem, the reduced welfare state, limited community

women’s own narratives” (Tseris, 2013, p.157).

resources, the intensified focus on bio-medical discourse and the lack of focus on the sociopolitical context of people’s

The dominant bio-medical approach often delegitimizes other

lives produces a decontextualized and depoliticized focus

forms of knowing or interpretations of people’s struggles,

on the individual in trauma work. The “personal is political”

such as those that situate the problems in the context of

foundation of feminist trauma work has been replaced by the

people’s lives (Lafrance & McKenzie-Mohr, 2013). Despite a

mainstreaming of trauma-informed discourse.

growing emphasis on being trauma-informed, there is little, to no, parallel growth of supports, resources or programming

While it is encouraging that we are talking about

for trauma work and mental health services (Author 1, 2, 3, 2020). Not only is there a lack of adequate social services,

trauma today, the mainstreaming of this talk is also

those funded are often “the wrong kinds of services” (Baines

conservatizing. What happened to words like rape,

are now emphasized when complex trauma work is often

battery, incest, sexual abuse, or violence? Where is

& Waugh, 2019, p. 250). Brief trauma-informed approaches required. Evidence of commitment to dealing with trauma and its effects requires shifts in public policy that support

the violence, pain, suffering, impact, injustice,

the development and funding of appropriate programming

exploitation and oppression?

and space for trauma therapy which is often long-term and

and resources that allow mental healthcare settings time intensive work (Author, 2020). Trauma-informed discourse encourages practitioners to be aware of trauma without an

Trauma talk today is too often minimized, sanitized and

investment in trauma-based programming or actual trauma-

stripped of particular meaning as seen by the normative use

based work.

of acronyms – DV (domestic violence), IPV (interpersonal violence), VAW (violence against women), GBV (gender-based

Social work needs to reassert principles of practice, which

violence), TI (trauma-informed), and ACE (adverse childhood

includes recognizing that the personal is political, making

experiences). This shorthand talk is arguably a disservice

space for double-listening to trauma stories, and emphasizing

to the importance of these issues. In addition, violence

that trauma work is often difficult and relational. Themes

is increasingly framed in the language of being “trauma-

of power, betrayal, self-blame, and stigma are critical

informed “and “evidence-based” alongside the privileging

components of complex trauma work. Coping strategies are

of the DSM-5 and the biomedical neuroscience framework

often treated as primary rather than secondary responses to

over the experiences of people (Marecek, & Gavey, 2013). In

trauma and interpreted as unhelpful or dysfunctional which

22 Connection | Winter 2022

prevents us from seeing how they are also creative and make sense. “Symptoms” often need to be reframed as “coping skills” and trauma needs to be seen as “a reaction to a kind of wound” rather than a disorder (Burstow, 2003, p.1302). The effects of trauma and violence are then both hidden and potentially revealed in the coping strategies themselves. As practitioners, we have too often pathologized the very behaviors that have helped people to survive (Burstow, 2003).

“Trauma-informed” work is presented today as an innovation, invisibilizing the historical work of the women’s movement. Feminist ground breakers understood violence against women as political and developed feminist practice consistent with feminist politics.

Therefore, issues of power and social context were central to both theory and practice. Beginning in the mid 1970’s, the women’s movement worked to shift violence from the private to the public sphere, creating an impact on policy and law, while broadly communicating how common violence is toward women and children in patriarchal society, and how significantly violence impacts upon their lives (Brownmiller, 1975; Pizzey, 1974). The “personal is political” approach adopted situated women’s experiences in the context of society, seeking to make sense of rather than pathologize their responses to trauma and violence. The critical clinical strategies developed by the women’s movement in the 1980’s and 1990’s (i.e., Bass & Davis, 1988; Brown, L., 1992; Burstow, 1992; Courtoise, 1988; Herman 1981, 1992, Russell, 1986) are not incorporated, and trauma-based therapy has not generally been advanced beyond earlier feminist approaches. People still find themselves struggling to tell their stories as talking about trauma is often dangerous, especially as the frameworks available often fail to represent their experiences. (Author 1, 2013, 2018). Herman (1992) has been an influential and incisive voice on feminist trauma work stating: “[t]raumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather

these experiences on women’s mental health. Traumatic experiences of powerlessness, helplessness, lack of control, domination, exploitation, and violation alongside relational injury associated with traumatic violence requires a strong therapeutic alliance. A strong alliance helps to facilitate the development of “reconnection” and collaboration in a context of emotional and physical safety and control (Herman, 2015). A history of trauma and violence is often reflected in people’s negative stories about themselves. The dangers of speaking in a culture in which violence against women and children often continues to be normalized and minimized needs to be recognized in trauma work. It is no surprise then that telling trauma stories often involves significant uncertainty,

because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptions to

minimization and self-blame alongside apparent contradiction

life,” reminding us that trauma often involve “threats to life

and gaps (Author 1, 2013). As such we need to pay close

or bodily integrity,” and can be “close personal encounters

attention to how people tell their trauma stories by “listening

with violence or death.” Through her work she highlights

beyond the words” (DeVault,1990). Double-listening opens

experiences of powerlessness and lack of control as central

possibilities for telling the trauma story, and allows us

features of psychological trauma. While trauma experiences

to see that coping strategies are often entry points to

are broad based, it is important not to minimize that the high

trauma stories. It creates opportunities to uncover the skills

levels of trauma experienced by women, such as child abuse

and knowledges embedded within responses that helped

and sexual violence, and the impact of

strengthen coping and resistance to traumatic experiences.

Winter 2022 | Connection 23

REFERENCES: Baines, D., & Waugh, F. (2019). Afterword: Resistance, white

Herman, Lewis J. (1981). Father-daughter incest. Harvard

fragility and late neo-liberalism. In Baines, D., Bennett, B.,

University Press

Goodwin, S. & Margot Rawsthorne, M. (Eds.). Working across difference. Social work, social policy, and social justice (pp. 247-260). Australia: Red Globe Press. Bass, E., & Davis, L. (1988). The courage to heal. A guide for

Herman, J. (1992 1st edition). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence—From domestic abuse to political terror. Basic Books.

women survivors of child sexual abuse. Harper and Row.

Herman, J. (2015 2nd edition). Trauma and recovery: The

Brown, C. (2013). Women’s narratives of trauma: (Re)storying

Basic Books.

uncertainty, minimization and self-blame. Narrative Works: Issues, Investigations & Interventions. 3(1). 1-30. Brown, C. (2018). The dangers of trauma talk: Counterstorying co-occurring strategies for coping with trauma. Journal of Systemic Therapies. 37(3),42-60. Brown, C. (2020). Feminist narrative therapy and complex

aftermath of violence—From domestic abuse to political terror.

Lafrance, M., & McKenzie-Mohr, S. (2013). The DSM and its lure of legitimacy. Feminism and Psychology, 23(1), 119–140. Marecek, J., & Gavey, N. (2013). DSM-5 and beyond: A critical feminist engagement with psychodiagnosis. Feminism and Psychology, 23(1), 3–9.

trauma: Critical clinical work with women diagnosed as

McKenzie-Mohr, S., & Lafrance, M. (2011). Telling stories

“borderline.” In C. Brown & J. MacDonald (Eds.). Critical clinical

without the words: Tightrope talk in women’s accounts of

social work: Counterstorying for social justice. Canadian

coming to live well after rape or depression. Feminism and

Scholars’ Press.

Psychology, 21(1), 49–73.

Brown, C., Johnstone, M. & Ross, N. (2021). Repositioning

Pizzey, E. (1974). Scream quietly or the neighbours will

Social Work Practice in Mental Health in Nova Scotia. Report.

hear. Penguin.

Brown, L. (1992). A feminist critique of personality

Russell, D. (1986). The secret trauma: Incest in the lives of girls

disorders. In L. S. Brown & M. Ballou (Eds.), Personality

and women. Basic Books.

and psychopathology: Feminist reappraisals (pp. 206–228). Guilford Press. Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, women, and rape. Simon and Schuster.

Tseris, E. (2013). Trauma theory without feminism? Evaluating contemporary understandings of traumatized women. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 28(2), 153–164.

Burstow, B. (2003). Toward a radical understanding of trauma and trauma work. Violence Against Women, 9(11), 1293–1317. Burstow, B. (1992). Radical feminist therapy: Working in the context of violence. T: Sage. Butler, S. (1978). The conspiracy of silence: The trauma of incest. Volcano Press. Courtoise, C. (1988). Healing the incest wound. Norton. DeVault, M. (1990). Talking and listening from women’s standpoint: Feminist strategies for interviewing and analysis. Social Problems, 37(1), 96–116.

24 Connection | Winter 2022

DR. CATRINA BROWN, RSW, is a private practitioner psychotherapist, and a professor at Dalhousie University. She is graduate coordinator at the Dalhousie School of Social Work, cross-appointed at to the School of Nursing, and to the Gender and Women’s Studies program. Her teaching, writing and research focus on women’s health and mental health issues. Dr. Brown’s extensive contributions to the social work profession include co-authorship of a research report published by the NSCSW in 2021: Repositioning Social Work Practice in Mental Health in Nova Scotia.

VOICES JOINED IN CHORUS Introducing Advocacy Day to Nova Scotia BY MAGGIE STEWART, RSW

As social workers, we are called upon to recognize social injustice and advocate for change. It is what differentiates us from psychologists and other disciplines. It is at the very core of our profession, yet fighting for social justice often falls by the wayside as we give our energy to our many other daily responsibilities. The NSCSW Social Justice Committee recognizes this challenge and is committed to making advocacy opportunities and resources more accessible for social workers. I’m very excited to share that we have been undertaking efforts to initiate our own Advocacy Day in March, during National Social Work Month, and we hope to grow it to an annual event. My excitement for this new initiative springs from personal experience. Early in my mental health career – even before I became a social worker – I worked for a few years as a counsellor in a residential care program for adults with “severe and persistent mental illness” outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The company’s name was Advocates, and we were indeed encouraged and trained on how to be advocates for our clients and improvements to the mental health system. We regularly wrote letters to legislators, but my favourite activity was participating in an event sponsored by the Massachusetts branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Mass Advocacy Day. Mass Advocacy Day brought together hundreds of stakeholders in mental health for rallies at the state legislatures. That year I attended, a good-sized group of staff and mostly clients from our organization joined together to be part of the crowd at the Boston State House. But the day was about more than

just showing up. The gathering was accompanied by inspiring speeches from those working in the field and people with lived experience, and was incredibly empowering for the individuals I attended with. I can still remember them shouting to join in chants demanding better funding and for an end to stigma. We were definitely heard that day and, most importantly, our clients were inspired. Across the United States, the National Association of Social Workers in the United States holds a similar annual event called Legislative Education and Advocacy Day (LEAD). Social workers are invited to learn about the legislative process in their country and state, and the importance of advocacy, and to collectively reach out to legislators to advocate for policies informed by our profession’s unique perspective. Our first NSCSW Advocacy Day on March 16 was an opportunity for social work professionals, teachers, students, clients and families, and other stakeholders from around the province to come together to unite our voices in the fight for a more compassionate, responsive and culturally safe mental health system. Our members will be heard by legislators and policy makers, and will strive to plant the seeds of change. There is critical demand for the skills, care, and advocacy of social workers in communities across Nova Scotia.

MAGGIE STEWART, RSW, is the chair of the NSCSW Social Justice Committee.

Winter 2022 | Connection 25

EMBRACING DIVERSE APPROACHES TO TRAUMA TREATMENT Social workers provide high-quality counselling and therapy in communities across Nova Scotia, working to support individuals, families, and groups within the context of their environment. Here are just a few of the strategies and modalities they use.

Using etuaptmunk in counselling BY CRAIG BESAW, RSW

Trauma within Indigenous people can have various origins

Ongoing research and assessment of Western practices

and can include intergenerational aspects. Assisting

by therapists have shown that when purely Western

individuals through their journey exploring, managing, and

approaches are applied to Indigenous peoples, it does not

working through trauma, especially within the populations I have and still work with, the approach I use most often is termed etuaptmumk, or two-eyed seeing.

Etuaptmumk, as termed by Mi’kmaw Elder

necessarily provide the best outcomes or experiences. However, there can be much more success overall when Western methods are modified to complement the use of Indigenous holistic approaches.

Albert Marshall, originates from a pathway other

Certain Western approaches such as dialectical or cognitive

than social work, and involves the practice of

adapted through culturally appropriate use of Indigenous

behavioural therapies have been and can continue to be

finding the balance through use of multiple

knowledge, ways of seeing, and healing.


At the initial stage of any work, one should by assessing where the client is at this time, general supports, and ensuring a safety net as trauma work is started. Building the

In application to social work and/or counseling, it involves finding strengths from traditional Indigenous processes and aspects of more Western or Eurocentric processes that fit well together, and that will allow for the best solutions that fit and benefit the individual one works with. Such practices must be respectfully entered into and done in

safety net can include exploring the ability or willingness for the individual(s) to engage with traditional spiritual practices such as sweats or smudging, and allowing them to connect with a trusted Elder; this can be done over time depending on their engagement level.

cooperation with an Indigenous colleague or an Indigenous

In a world that is constantly shifting and prone to

community member that is able to provide guidance,

changes, assisting the individuals toward support and

especially to anyone who is not Indigenous.

balance is a given.

26 Connection | Winter 2022

Culturally responsive CBT & psychoeducation BY LANA MACLEAN, MSW, RSW

Over the past 12 years of private practice I have had the

Using a race and trauma informed CBT approach layers

privilege of supporting individuals, families and various

within it three of the principles of Kwanzaa: Kujichagulia

African Nova Scotian communities on the effects of trauma

(self -determination), Imani (faith) and Ujmia (collective work

on our individual and collective lives.

and responsibility).

The question posed required me to be intentional and


reflective of my practice. In doing so here are my initial thoughts on how I work from a race and trauma informed lens in my practice. I hope this sharing provides us with an opportunity to continue our clinical dialogue as a discipline.

CBT-FROM A RACE, TRAUMA AND CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE APPROACH What I have learned and continue to learn doing this work is the art of humility and the joy of laughter and growth as a shared journey with clients and community. I lean towards using multi-modalities using race and trauma informed CBT skills such as the externalizing of voices or double standard techniques to support clients in accessing self-compassion and empathy in a world where anti-Black racism resides. This

I also find it important to provide mental health literacy with my clients. Using psychoeducational sessions with individuals and in community-based sessions provides the opportunity for capacity building and self-advocacy. The ANS community historically does not access the conventional mental health and addictions programs, due in part of not having the language to express what harms and emotional challenges they are presenting with (how ‘we’ as Black folks show up and culturally present, name and describe our psychological distress is often outside of the conventional learning of many mental health practitioners-who may lack understanding of cultural formulation) and working through

process takes at least three sessions to build towards but

stigma. Providing psycho-education on trauma and the

has been successful; clients have reported back on how they

brain 101, mapping the effects of intergenerational trauma

were able to challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs.

using eco-grams and genograms, and re-framing and giving cultural and racial context to trauma provides clients and

Using role play with ANS is a shared and active and engaging

communities a greater situational awareness and pathways

process for the client and myself to actively participate in.

to creating safety in their own understanding of the world.

Winter 2022 | Connection 27

Community social work & art-based perspectives BY DR. IFEYINWA MBAKOGU

Social work interactions with populations dealing with

present participants with templates to gauge if their artistic

trauma is not limited to clinical practice. When working in

creations are right or wrong. It is a non-judgemental process,

community settings with populations dealing with trauma,

where individuals follow the best artistic paths to tell their

as survivors of forced displacement/migration and human

story, analyse their art, the themes that are generated

trafficking, I have favoured creative expressions that offered new perceptions of the problem and the development of new coping skills and alternative platforms to healing and wellbeing. Art-based interventions enliven the social work encounter by allowing individuals to create art that explores and acknowledges their inner world and emotions, and develop critical skills of self-awareness for understanding the nature of their trauma, while building the confidence required to overcome challenges.

and the way the creations make them feel, manage their circumstances, and identify the best support(s) needed. My research reinforces that children dealing with trauma are likely to speak and interact when they explore art forms that include drawing, music, poetry, dance, writing, and drama in individual and group settings. Further, art-based interventions when used with children could reduce anxiety, improve their self-esteem, socialisation, and memories of

The benefit of art-based intervention lies in its flexibility and ease of application.

difficult encounters. Art-based interventions are effective when coordinated by professionals with skills, training, and personal qualities that allow them to be sensitive to client’s needs, understand

It can be applied to individual, family and group settings

clients’ interpretations of the art-based media, and avoid

existing in community encounters. Participants in these

causing further harm by reawakening the trauma they set out

encounters do not require prior artistic skills. I do not

to address.

28 Connection | Winter 2022

EMDR BY ADAM MATTHEWS, MSW, RSW When I first began clinical social work in the Nova Scotia health authority, I was met with the idea that CBT-based models were the gold standard for mental health treatment. I was taught to look at behaviours and cognitions, and by targeting behaviours and cognitions people’s lives would change after enough repetition.

I always felt there was something missing. Many of the people I supported could not get their nervous system on board with the changes they were fightingso hard to make. Due to my familiarity with auricular acupuncture, I had a sense that that the body has a role in carrying our emotional scar tissue. I had witnessed myself and others heal emotionally from physically-based modalities. When I first experienced eye movement desensitizing and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy on day 2 of my 5-day EMDR training, I was floored by the insights regarding my own emotional innerworkings. When it was my training partner’s turn to practice, I was asked to focus on some of my emotional wounds from childhood. During the sets of bilateral stimulations (tapping, in this case), I was able to see the emotional threads that ran through seemingly unrelated

mental content. My first thought was a lighthearted and self-deprecatory, “I’m nowhere near insightful enough to make this quality of insight into the lives of my clients without this modality.” I realized through EMDR I could facilitate the minds/bodies of my clients to transform themselves. Now, I get to witness my clients express the same amazement I experienced repeatedly with EMDR. It is such an honour to be present with people when they learn to utilize their body’s own capacity to heal from trauma, and to witness them begin to see their nervous system as an ally in creating the changes the world needs.mental content. My first thought was a lighthearted and self-deprecatory, “I’m nowhere near insightful enough to make this quality of insight into the lives of my clients without this modality.” I realized through EMDR I could facilitate the minds/bodies of my clients to transform themselves. Now, I get to witness my clients express the same amazement I experienced repeatedly with EMDR. It is such an honour to be present with people when they learn to utilize their body’s own capacity to heal from trauma, and to witness them begin to see their nervous system as an ally in creating the changes the world needs.

Bowen family systems theory BY JIM MORTON, RSW Bowen family systems theory shapes my thinking about trauma. Finding Bowen theory was predicable but circuitous. I grew up in a closely connected extended family and joined a relationship-focused profession. I stumbled on family systems ideas during my MSW education. For a decade, my understanding of the troubles bringing clients to the clinic, the hospital and my practice was influenced by structural, strategic, solution-focused, and narrative approaches. I routinely saw family members together and used reflecting teams, video and one-way mirrors to study process. Then, when I began teaching, I read the work of Murray Bowen, a family systems pioneer, to gather historical material and discovered a theory of human behaviour. It transformed my practice.

“Bowen theory holds that if anxiety-driven symptoms exist in the present, an important relationship disturbance exists in the present,” (Kerr, 2019). Cause is not the issue. Bonanno found that many people exposed to trauma experience “only minor or transient disruptions in their ability to function.” “It is our complex interactions with multiple systems,” adds Michael Ungar, “that account for our success or failure later in life.” Trauma may be experienced in combat, as child abuse, in an accident or sexual assault, but its aftermath is influenced, shaped and lived in the contexts of our families. Bowen family systems theory brings decades of research and close contact with the biological sciences to clinical treatment, replacing cause-and-effect, linear constructions with systems ideas that guide interventions “at the points where people interact with their environment.” It offers a set of concepts that describe individual, family and societal relationships and shows how human health and symptoms unfold. Bowen theory provides a helpful framework for clients and the social workers who serve them.

Winter 2022 | Connection 29


Trauma research demonstrates that adverse childhood

communicate with others and find solutions that are

experiences (ACES) are pervasive and associated with

not exclusively talking or deliberating (Lang, 2016).

negative physical and mental health outcomes (Felitti et al. 1998; Ross et al. 2020). ACES include childhood experience

4. S trengths-based practice. Steinberg says that “People

of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, witnessing violence,

bring all manner of wisdom and experience to the

suicide, or living in a home with mental health or substance

group, and one way of harnessing their strengths is by

abuse challenges. The impact on negative health and

calling on that fund.” (2014). Breton (2006) says that

behavioural outcomes throughout the lifespan is cumulative.

every time social workers evoke what she calls “the strength in us” mutual aid dynamic they help the group

Social groupwork, once essential to social work practice, has been lost to much of the profession. However, we advocate that it is a powerful method of working with people who are dealing with ACES.

members experience power. This builds community in every group and is quintessential strengths-based practice. As a bonus, social work groups can become resources for the wider community! An example of a highly effective 10-year social work group with an ACES population is a women’s recovery group facilitated by Ross that met weekly for 10 years in a town in

Since the time of the settlement houses, social groupwork has been social work’s own method of working with groups. It is a democratic, non-hierarchical, strengths-based practice that incorporates social justice in every group (IASWG, 2015). Today’s social workers may work in the field of groups but are usually not practising social work with groups. In contrast, we suggest that the following essential, ethicsbased skills can transform any group in the helping field into a social work group: 1. Generating a non-hierarchical, democratic and social justice framework in all groups. 2. Mobilizing mutual aid to foster peer support, therapeutic helping relationships, skill development and the accomplishment of individual and group goals (Steinberg, 2014).

rural Nova Scotia under the auspices of Addiction Services. The group format was designed to be low barrier and open-ended group so that members could feel welcome to attend, either regularly or often as they chose. A core group of members anchored this 10 year collectivity that became a community resource for its duration. Group members determined the content of the group discussion, hosted picnics and other gatherings off-site, participated in creating a short film about their experiences (Women of Substance) and created a column called “Coming Home: Stories of Women in Recovery” that was included periodically in a local newspaper. Why do we promote social groupwork for ACES? Health data demonstrate that ACES are prevalent throughout society – prominently among service users accessing social work care. This combined intervention vastly expands the possibilities for effective trauma work. In our experience, awareness of adverse childhood experiences and social

3. N ondeliberative practice that uses active engagement

groupwork practice skills can enhance the effectiveness of

such as play, art, drama, film-making and music

social work practice with many populations and can instantly

to unlock the range of ways that people can

expand resources for them.

30 Connection | Winter 2022

REFERENCES: Breton, M. (2006). Path Dependence and the Place of Social

of Resilience. Child Abuse and Neglect Journal,

Action in Social Work Practice. Social Work with Groups,

103(2020) 104440.

29(4), 25-44.

Smithsonian. (2021, December 22). The seven principles of

Bonanno, G.A. (2004) Loss, trauma, and human resilience:

Kwanzaa. National Museum of African American History

Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after

and Culture. Retrieved from

extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59: 20-28


Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM,

Steinberg, D.M. (2014) A Mutual-Aid Model for Social Work

Edwards V, et al. (1998) Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4):245– 58.

with Groups, 3rd ed. New York: Routledge. (See pp. 25-39 for Nine Dynamics of Mutual Aid). Ungar, Michael. (2018) Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success. Toronto: Sutherland House, p. 85

Fuller-Thomson, E., West, K.J., Sulman, J., Baird, S.L. (2015). Childhood maltreatment is associated with ulcerative colitis but not Crohn’s Disease: Findings from a populationbased study. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. DOI 10.1097/ MIB.0000000000000551 Published online: IASWG. (2015). Standards for Social Work Practice with Groups STANDARDS_FOR_SOCIAL_WORK_PRACTICE_WITH_ GROUPS.pdf IFSW. Global definition of social work. International Federation

CRAIG BESAW, RSW, lives and practices in Cape Breton. LANA MACLEAN, MSW, RSW, is a Halifax-based social work clinician who works with individuals, youths and families, and within/for African Nova Scotian communities.

ADAM MATTHEWS, MSW, RSW, practices clinical social work in Cape Breton.

DR. IFEYINWA MBAKOGU is an assistant professor

of Social Workers.. Retrieved from

at the Dalhousie School of Social Work, and chairs their


Diversity and Equity Committee.

Kerr, Michael E. (2019) Bowen Theory’s Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families. New York: Norton, p.174 Lang, N. C. (2016). Nondeliberative forms of practice in social work: Artful, actional, analogic [Taught by Lang for decades at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work but published posthumously]. Special Double Issue on Nondeliberative Forms of Practice: Activities and Creative Arts in Social Work with Groups, Eds., Sullivan, N.E., Sulman, J, & Nosko, A.. (2016), 39 (2–3), 97-117.

JIM MORTON, RSW, lives in Kentville, Nova Scotia. He has interests in mental health, family systems theory, politics and social change.

DR. NANCY ROSS, RSW, is an assistant professor at the Dalhousie School of Social Work. Among her many other publication credits, Dr. Ross is one of the co-authors of Repositioning Social Work Practice in Mental Health in Nova Scotia, a research report published by NSCSW in 2021.

Ross, N., Gilbert, R., Torres, S., Dugas, K., Jefferies, P.,

JOANNE SULMAN, MSW, RSW, is an adjunct lecturer

McDonald, S., Savage, S. & Ungar, M. (2020) Adverse

with the University of Toronto and the research and group

Childhood Experiences: Assessing the Impact on Physical and

work consultant for Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of

Psychosocial Health in Adulthood and the Mitigating Role

Social Work in Toronto.

Winter 2022 | Connection 31

Social work has always been essential. workers are...been essential. Social work hasNow, alwayssocial been Socialessential. work has always Now, social workers are... Now, social workers are...

InInCritical In Critical Demand Demand Critical Demand

March is National Social Work Month. March is National Social Work Month. Social work was essential before the Social work was essential before the pandemic, crucial during the pandemic, pandemic, crucial during the pandemic, and now more than ever, social workers and now more than ever, social workers are #InCriticalDemand. are #InCriticalDemand.

#NationalSocialWorkMonth #NationalSocialWorkMonth

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