The Traumatic Stress Research Consortium

Towards the end of 2023, I was invited to produce a column based on my fellowship experiences in Colombia for The Traumatic Stress Research Consortium (TSRC) at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.

The TSRC is an international group of clinicians and researchers studying the science of safety and connection. They research ways in which shared social engagement can restore safety and promote recovery from trauma and how being in safe connection with ourselves and fellow human beings is a key premise of many approaches to therapy, but especially so for healing trauma.

My column focuses on the ways in which an Fundación Dunna is drawing on social engagement practices rooted in local cultures and traditions to facilitate healing from traumas that reach beyond the community level, and for some participants, extend back for generations.

Preview an excerpt of ‘Building Collective Capacity for Solidarity and Healing Among Displaced People in Colombia’ below..

Dunna’s programs combine restorative practices like sharing circles and active listening with ‘bottom-up’ mind-body methods like yoga, breath-work, authentic movement and play to affect positive change among the many communities that they engage with. Rooted in the traditions of indigenous populations all over the world, knowledge sharing in community has been a powerful tool for collective healing, decision-making, conflict resolution, and cultural preservation for centuries. Many of the people I met during my time in Colombia had encountered the profound impact of these potent restorative, sharing practices, particularly when coupled with somatic methods for regulating the nervous system.

After using breathwork, movement and play to foster a connection with, and to inhabit their own bodies as safe spaces, participants are invited to form a circle, to receive story, engage in active listening and deepen their capacity for sharing in a group context. This supportive environment of self-regulation and physical safety alongside co-regulation and compassion cultivates transformation for the group. Or, as one of the former participants described, the program focuses on both ‘body and soul’, and teaches that “we need to be okay ourselves in order to help others”.

During one of my interviews with participants of a programme for displaced families, a mother recalled that she was asked to present an object that holds deep significance or represents her experience of life, to spark open story sharing. She brought along the traditionally preserved umbilical cord that she had kept as a lucky charm from the birth of her son, a culturally significant custom for her family. She said this object represented her fear of losing him and compelled her to, once safely settled in her physical body, share the story of his migration, their separation, and the difficulties that she was still working through around her relationship with him. She expressed a sense of liberation in voicing this painful story to the group she had come to trust, and that this was the first time that her experience felt acknowledged outside of a legal or clinical setting. Further still, it marked the first time she felt safe, free from blame or intrusive ‘why?’ questions, and so, it was an opportunity for her to truly begin processing her fear without facing judgment from those around her.

If you’re interested in reading more, please do check out the full column here