Download MP3 [59:21]
BioNancy J. Smyth, PhD, LCSW is Professor and Dean at the University at Buffalo (UB) School of Social Work. Dr. Smyth has been on the UB faculty since 1991 and has served as dean since 2004. She has worked in both mental health and addiction treatment settings for over 35 years as a clinician, manager, educator, researcher, and program developer. She also is a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress. Her research, teaching, and practice focuses on trauma, substance abuse, and on working with people recovering from those experiences, including the use of innovative treatment approaches like EMDR and mindfulness meditation.
In the late-1990s, early 2000s I co-facilitated a group for parents who were trying to reunify with their children who had been removed from their care by the state. Nearly all of the parents who were signed up for my group were women who had confirmed cases of neglect against them, primarily for failing to protect their children against abusive partners. As you can imagine, this was an intense group. As facilitators we always listened for moments when parents expressed genuine empathy towards their child's experience, took responsibility for their actions or inactions, and demonstrated steadfast dedication to protecting their children. I felt proud of this group, for the most part. There were times, though, that I had the unsettling thought that I was part of a system that did not practice what it preached. I remember this one mom who had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband for years, in part to protect the kids. In the end, it didn't stop him. Her reuinification plan included attending AA, job training, keeping a part-time job three bus rides away from her home, participating in individual therapy, this group, keeping her house spotless, and a couple other things that I can't recall. What I do recall is her saying that she felt like the system was setting her up to fail. If her house, attendance, or job performance was anything less than perfect, she would be punished in the worst way possible - never seeing her kids again. I'll never forget when she said “My husband was the same way – there was no room for error. Anything less than perfect and I'd get a beating. But there was only one of him. There are like 6 of y'all. I've felt more abused by this system than I ever did with my husband. It feels more like gang rape, which I know about.” I didn't have words for it at the time, but today I'd say that the system was retraumatizing this mom by taking away all of her power and sense of control over both her own life and that of her children. Now, does this mean that the system should ignore the fact that she did not protect her children from horrendous abuse? No. Of course not. But it does beg the question, how effective could the system be at helping her become a better, more protective parent, if she likened her experience in the system to gang rape?
So, what's the alternative? I'm glad you asked. Today's episode of the Social Work Podcast looks at Trauma Informed Care, one of the most promising approaches to working with people without causing additional trauma. And I had the honor of talking about Trauma-informed care with Nancy Smyth, professor and dean of the school of social work at the University at Buffalo. There are three reasons why Nancy was the perfect guest for today's topic. First, she understands what it means to address trauma at the micro, mezzo, and macro level. She has worked in both mental health and addiction treatment settings for over 35 years as a clinician, manager, educator, researcher, and program developer. Second, she's what we like to call a “content” expert. She is a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress. Her research, teaching, and practice focuses on trauma, substance abuse, and on working with people recovering from those experiences, including the use of innovative treatment approaches like EMDR and mindfulness meditation. In today's episode, we talked about Nancy's interest in TIC. She identified the basic assumptions behind Trauma-informed care. She clarified the relationship between a trauma-informed approach to working with clients and specific empirically supported treatments for people with trauma histories, and treatment for people with PTSD. She talked about some of the ways that she has translated trauma-informed principles into micro-level treatment practices. We ended with resources for people who are interested in learning more about Trauma-Informed Care, including a bunch of episodes on the inSocialWork podcast series.
Now, the third reason why Nancy was the perfect guest for today's episode (don't worry – I didn't forget) is that she is one of social work's technology visionaries. She was the driving force behind the University at Buffalo's award podcast series, inSocialWork. When UB's podcast series started in 2008, some of the most vocal fans of the Social Work Podcast expressed disdain that someone would produce a competing social work podcast series. I've always been grateful to Nancy and her colleagues for the excellent work they do. Honestly, even if there were 10 podcast series on social work, we probably wouldn't even begin to scratch the surface of all of the content that needs to be covered. So, I've never thought of the inSocialWork podcast series as competition. And, truth be told, if I had to compete against their every-two-week production schedule I would lose. So in the spirit of non-competition and collegiality, today, April 29, 2013, the two podcast series are having a cross-promotion. I'm publishing my interview with Nancy Smyth, and the inSocialWork podcast series is publishing an interview with… me. inSocialWork's Laura Lewis interviewed me about my work on the nation's first public arts suicide prevention project - the City of Philadelphia's “Finding the Light Within” suicide prevention mural and storytelling website. After listening to my interview with Nancy, head on over to insocialwork.org.
And now, without further ado. On to episode 80 of the Social Work Podcast. Trauma-informed Care: Interview with Nancy Smyth, Ph.D., LCSW.
References and Resources
- inSocialWork podcast: Implementing Sanctuary Model in an organization http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/podcast/episode_multipart.asp?mp=farragher_sanctuary
- 10 Dr. Sandra Bloom Sanctuary Model (describes how she realized the need for it): http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/community/trauma-conference.asp
- National Center on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care: http://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma.asp
- Videos: Sandra Bloom, Trauma 101 and the Sanctuary Model: http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/community/trauma-conference.asp
- Bloom, S. L., & Farragher, B. (2013). Destroying sanctuary: the crisis in human services delivery systems. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Smyth, N.J. blog post; Trauma-informed social work practice: What is it and why should we care? http://njsmyth.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/trauma-informed-social-work-practice/
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network (n.d.). Birth Parents with Trauma Histories and the Child Welfare System: A Guide for Child Welfare Staff. Retrieved from http://nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/birth_parents_trauma_history_fact_sheet_final.pdf
APA (6th ed) citation for this podcast:
Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2013, April 29). An Overview of Trauma-Informed Care: Interview with Nancy J. Smyth, Ph.D. [Episode 80]. Social Work Podcast [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkpodcast.com/2013/04/an-overview-of-trauma-informed-care.html