Elements of Our Approach
Understanding basic human/psychological needs
All people share a number of fundamental psychological needs. They need to feel secure. They need to feel good about themselves. They need to feel effective (to be able to protect themselves from danger and influence important events in their lives). They need connection to other people, including the ability to trust. They need to have some form of understanding of the world and of their own place in it. Trauma frustrates these needs. Traumatized individuals and groups often try to fulfill these needs in ways that are destructive, which harm other people and even themselves. Finding constructive ways to fulfill basic needs is important for healing.
Understanding the origins of group violence
How can groups of people engage in genocide or mass killing? Understanding how such horrible actions come about, understanding their roots, can contribute to healing. Understanding does not mean acceptance of such violence. But it may make it more possible to move on from one's experience of victimization. It may make it possible to accept responsibility as a member of a group that has perpetrated such violence, to begin to forgive oneself and to open to reconciliation with victims.
Preventing group violence
Healing from the traumatic effects of mass violence requires that people know as much as possible about what happened. Information helps people understand how terrible events could have happened. That includes information about how genocide comes about in general and the events and feelings leading up to the genocide in Rwanda. Through this understanding, people gain a sense of hope that if the origins of mass violence can be understood, action can be taken to prevent the recurrence of violence. Understanding provides direction and focus to prevention efforts, pointing toward concrete steps that can be taken by policymakers, community workers, and others to create positive relations between groups.
Understanding psychological trauma and creating paths to healing
Survivors of traumatic life experiences often find it helpful to know that their responses are not unusual. It can help to know that others may have similar thoughts and feelings and behave in similar ways after a traumatic loss. There are also differences in how people respond, and in how one person responds over time. People can benefit from guidance toward healing. What one person or group needs may differ from another's needs, and what is useful today may be different from what is useful tomorrow. However, many people find acknowledgment from and connection with others, information about trauma, and hope to be essential elements of healing.
Sudden, Traumatic Loss
The sudden or unexpected loss of loved ones can be shocking or traumatic. This is especially true if their death is was violent and was caused intentionally, as was the case in the genocide in Rwanda. Survivors of such losses may experience both problems and symptoms related to trauma and problems related to bereavement, or the death of a loved one. When a loved one dies suddenly and in a shocking way, the survivors often find the mourning process complicated or unnatural. In such cases, survivors will need to recover from both trauma and loss. While the symptoms overlap, they are not entirely the same.
When events awaken traumatic memories, old psychological wounds can be re-opened and cause retraumatization. Unlike normal memories, people do not usually have control over traumatic memories. They may appear during wakefulness as a flashback or during sleep as a nightmare. The return of traumatic memories can result in renewed trauma symptoms. These symptoms are a normal response. In working with traumatic memories, it can greatly help survivors to have choice and control over their exposure to reminders of traumatic events and the ways in which they discuss their memories. The same things that help people manage and process primary trauma can be helpful in managing and processing retraumatization.
Helpers who have been traumatized have special sensitivities as trauma workers. They may be more attuned to the needs and vulnerabilities of those they serve. Their own traumatic experiences can also be reawakened through their work. Wounded healers need additional support in order to work effectively and to protect them from retraumatization. Our training includes attention to vicarious traumatization among wounded healers.
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