“There’s been a lot of documentation that interventions from the outside can do more harm than good,” says Lisa Schirch, the director of 3P Human Security and a research professor at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP). “Good intentions aren’t enough.”
With that awareness in mind, many humanitarian and development organizations do trainings to develop “sensitivities” – conflict sensitivity, gender sensitivity, environmental sensitivity – to influence the way their staff design and implement projects. Joining the list recently is “trauma sensitivity,” as articulated by former STAR director Carolyn Yoder in an article first published in Monthly Developments magazine.
“[International] agencies were often very, very eager to rush into communities that had been deeply affected by violence without having any real understanding of how [their work] could re-traumatize people,” says Lauren Van Metre, dean of students with the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
STAR is being tapped to provide trauma-sensitivity training and develop other projects in Washington D.C. In addition to helping participants avoid unintentionally doing harm, STAR helps people rotating through field work to manage their own traumatic responses to extremely difficult work situations.
“The NGOs and the military are looking for trauma programs, and we’ve got one that’s 12 years old, and it’s proven,” says Elaine Zook Barge, current STAR director.
As an example, USIP found that its rule-of-law assessment teams working overseas began to report back that their investigations into traumatic events were causing fresh pain for the people they interviewed. STAR and USIP collaborated for a first training in September 2012, with another scheduled nine months later at USIP headquarters in D.C.
Van Metre says the STAR training at USIP has been particularly valuable for people who have been affected by their extended stints in conflict zones. Through its peacebuilding academy, USIP has also developed its own two-day training based on the STAR methodology.
In a 2009 interview with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, former CJP trauma studies professor Nancy Good said all relief and development workers can benefit from trauma training.
“I don’t think we’re doing our jobs if we’re sending people out to do this really important work and are only training them on things like how to work with building houses and acquiring clean water and sanitation,” said Good, now a wellness consultant with the Washington D.C.-based KonTerra group. “We need to [provide] workers [with] basic knowledge and skills for stress management, trauma healing and resilience.”