Do No Harm…

“It was so traumatic!”

The woman was describing to her mentor a situation in which she had ended up in a heated debate with several of her work colleagues.  Although the mentor could see that it had indeed been an upsetting, frustrating, and intense encounter for the client, she did find herself wondering about the use of the word ‘traumatic.’ Was this the mentoree’s actual experience, or just a bit of hyperbole?

The man sat trembling in front of his mentor.  That morning he had visited a member of his congregation in hospital, and had experienced an unexpected and overwhelming sense of  impending disaster. He found himself desperately wanting to get out of there as soon as he possibly could.  He couldn’t quite understand why his physical reaction had been so overwhelming – and why he still felt on high alert. After all, the congregation member was expected to make a full recovery. “I’m just over-reacting… it’s nothing really…”  The mentor wasn’t sure what to think – it certainly did seem like an over-reaction, but looking at the trembling man in front of him, he knew that something serious was going on.

As mentors, it’s important for us to be able to understand what trauma actually is. In Greek, trauma means wound, damage or injury. Trauma can be described as a “psychophysical experience.”[1] Frightening or distressing events sometimes leave not only physical but psychological wounds that can have a range of ongoing effects.

Recently I attended a 2 day webinar on Trauma and Supervision, which was a fascinating exploration of the neurobiology of trauma, the types of and the processing of trauma.  There was so much information, it was a bit mind-boggling! However, the facilitator posed this important question: “As a supervisor, what is your role when trauma is brought into the supervisory context?” 

I believe the same question can be asked about mentoring.  What is your role as a mentor when you are confronted with trauma in the context of your mentoring relationship?

Being ‘trauma-informed’ as mentors allows us to first ensure we ‘do no harm’ – to our mentorees who may be suffering, to the people our mentorees work with or care for, or to ourselves as practitioners.

In our upcoming annual training event “Heart and Soul: Mentoring through Tough Times” we’ll be exploring together in more detail what it means for us as mentors, coaches, supervisors and ministry workers to be ‘trauma-informed’ as we accompany the people we work and journey with.  We hope you’ll join us – click here to find out more:

Sally Jones

[1] Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment (New York: W.W. Norton), 2000, 5.

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