Several months ago, my 8 year old daughter and I were involved in a motorcycle accident in Phnom Penh leading us to lay down the bike and sacrifice some patches of skin to the pavement. The injuries were non-life threatening, but the incident was traumatic nonetheless—feelings of horrible guilt and worry, my daughter’s bleeding, cries of pain, as well as my wife and son witnessing the event as they trailed behind us. While we were able to quickly address the physical wounds, it did take some time for us to fully process our feelings and memories of the event and for the traumatic symptoms to subside.
Now, take our story and multiply the impact exponentially with the trauma that many of our young clients encounter through gender-based violence, trafficking and a wide array of exploitative scenarios. As a result of those injustices, clients often experience symptoms: disturbed sleep, hyper vigilance, nightmares, somatic complaints, irritability and trouble stopping the thoughts in their mind. Despite the frequency of such symptoms, research shows that children who suffer traumatic events are remarkably resilient, but require access to effective trauma informed services like those Hagar specializes in for them to recover from severe abuses.
Since joining Hagar, one of the things that has impacted me the most has been to observe children making progress in treatment over time. Their smiles light up; their hearts are less heavy; they play more freely; and they begin to dream again. Trauma Informed Care allows for this process of healing to begin. We are committed to ensuring the highest standards of clinical care and we believe that adopting such a trauma-informed approach allows us to better empathise with the client. Similarly, by approaching survivors with compassion and care, they ultimately feel safe to express difficult memories, feelings, and emotions free of judgement.
At Hagar, every team member, regardless of their role, is expected to attend 4 days of training on trauma, providing ongoing supervision to our case managers and counsellors who work directly with our clients. Over the years we have also taught numerous organisations the skills necessary to ensure an effective treatment environment. Hagar lends from its 22 years of learning to help guide others to make similar commitments to their clients: to look at their situation, feelings and emotions, good and bad choices, and their outlook for the future through a trauma- informed lens. We see such informed practice leading to better enable each child in becoming more resilient and recover from severe trauma. This is why we at Hagar, along with the international community of trauma practitioners, consider trauma informed care to be best practice.
Mike Nowlin is Hagar’s Cambodia’s Executive Director. His extensive social work experience has focused primarily on child protection and mental health services to children and families. He received Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Sociology, a Master’s in Social Work and he also completed post-graduate training in Biblical Studies & Leadership, as well as Human Services Management. Mike currently resides in Cambodia with his wife and two children (ages 6 and 9).