Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience at Eastern Mennonite University

Finding ways to heal and move forward after trauma is a very complicated process.  For many around the world, the training provided by Eastern Mennonite University’s program, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR), has offered hope and the prospect of a new beginning. 

Katie Mansfield, STAR’s Lead Trainer, and Hannah Kelley, the STAR Program Director, recently filled us in on the details of the program.

What is STAR?  What is the vision/mission?

“Begun after the devastation of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, STAR is an educational program that invites people to deepen their understanding of the potential impacts of trauma and capacities for resilience in body, brains, beliefs and behavior. Through this understanding and an experiential learning journey, STAR aims to equip individuals and community and organizational leaders to address needs emerging from traumagenic circumstances, whether natural or human-made disasters (including but not limited to racism, historical events, gender violence, and religious violence).”

For more stories on the history and impact of the STAR program, click here.

For a more in-depth article on STAR from Kathryn Mansfield, click here.

What does the training entail?

“STAR I and STAR II are four to five-day training programs offered through EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding that enable individuals, organization leaders, and communities to address and recognize their traumas, heal their relationships, and build resilience.

“A typical Level I training includes experiential learning through embodied activities and artistic exploration, facilitated presentations and pair/group work, films, and circle processes. Participants explore sources and types of trauma and the impact of traumagenic events on bodies, brains, beliefs and behavior as a starting point (part 1: why we don’t just ‘get over it’). They are then invited to consider the cycles of violence that often emerge in the midst and aftermath of trauma (part 2: unhealed trauma and cycles of violence). In the third part of the training, participants focus on strategies for building resilience and breaking cycles of violence, with a particular emphasis on meeting justice needs.”

The theme of our January newsletter is “new beginnings”.  How does the STAR training help trauma victims thrive or “start over”?

“STAR is designed to empower community and organizational leaders working in the midst of the aftermath of trauma to address the needs created by trauma. STAR training can be helpful in de-stigmatizing normal responses to abnormal events, creating space and modeling ways to acknowledge what has happened, and sparking creativity and understanding for processes that can help individuals, organizations and communities build resilience and address harms. Throughout the learning journey, participants are invited to engage in body-mind practices that help each nervous system and that participants can take back to their everyday spaces, both for themselves and groups with whom they live and work.”

What do you see as the role of Christians, especially Mennonites, in trauma intervention?

“As a number of my teachers and mentors in this work have been Mennonite, I [Katie] have appreciated their faith-anchored leadership, and how they view living their faith as intertwined with addressing needs for justice and safety.

“It also feels to me that the role of Christians and Mennonites is not so different from the role of people who have different identities. The teaching and learning that happens in every STAR space comes from the participants, who are thankfully from many different walks of life and spiritual foundations. Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faith perspectives, as well as secular humanist contributions, have informed the always-developing curriculum. Each person can play a role in responding to trauma, and STAR trainings include space for us to name the spiritual resources that help us build resilience.”

How does STAR define resilience or healing?

“Our current working definition of resilience is “healthy power amidst vulnerability and uncertainty,” which builds on ideas of the ability to bend and not break and ability to adapt to challenges and changes. It feels important to name the ongoing process of (re)building healthy power and the reality that in many situations – particularly with climate change and chronic violence – vulnerability and uncertainty are part of the picture. Resilience isn’t a once-and-done project.

“In terms of healing, we have begun to incorporate the work of Shawn Ginwright, PhD, who talks about “healing-centered engagement” as opposed to “trauma-informed practice.” While Ginwright’s work unpacks this very well, this healing orientation has always been part of the conversation at STAR.  I particularly appreciate describing the origin of trauma as being a “wound,” which puts the need for healing practices at the center of the learning facilitated at STAR. Healing work includes both individual practices and work to (re)build community. It includes addressing justice and safety needs. It includes developing organizational policies to address harms and prevent further harm. There are a number of authors and activists emphasizing that we don’t need to see the world as either broken or healed, but rather that healing is an ongoing process that involves working with generational wounds as well as our own experiences.”

How many certified trainers are there and who has received the training?

“There are 19 certified trainers and more than ten others on the path.  Certified STAR trainers currently include people from multiple cultural, geographic (based in East Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America), religious (Muslim, Christian, Hindu) and linguistic (Spanish, English, Arabic, Hindi, et al) origins. Hundreds of STAR practitioners (people who have taken multiple levels of STAR training) are integrating STAR material in their work in education, healthcare, justice, peacebuilding and community building. Thousands of people from over 60 countries have gone through STAR Level I training with training having been offered in more than 20 countries.”

Dr. Beth Good, a GAHN task force member based in Kenya, became a STAR trainer as part of her work with Mennonite Central Committee.  While conducting research in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on conflict-related gender-based violence, she discovered just how “trauma affects so many aspects of life and devastates the lives of the victims as well as their families, their communities, and even nations,” she says.  “Unhealed trauma can lead to what is called ‘cycles of violence’, which perpetuates more trauma. MCC felt that we needed to offer STAR training (as well as HROC and other curriculums) to our MCC workers as well as equip our global partners with the tools that they need to make their organizations, projects, and personnel become more trauma aware.”  Beth has worked with both MCC co-workers and EMU STAR trainers to facilitate workshops in Lebanon (including a Syrian partner) and Egypt.  

Our current membership includes healthcare providers, health organizations, and healthcare administrators.  How could a healthcare provider benefit from this training, both personally and in their profession?

“Many health workers have participated in STAR. Typically we have heard feedback that the training is helpful in terms of personal self-care (reducing “burnout”), frameworks for addressing secondary trauma within their organizations, and ways of addressing justice needs within mental and physical health structures, as well as connections between the physical or mental health frame and social/cultural/structural change work. STAR provides a language for talking about what many of the “helping professions” experience. Healthcare workers and others have found that having a way to talk about what they know and experience is important to learning, growing, and healing.” 

Can healthcare providers receive continuing education credit for the STAR training?

STAR training is offered on EMU’s campus throughout the year, as part of their Summer Peacebuilding Institute, or at various locations around the world where a STAR trainer is available.  Courses can be taken for personal benefit or academic credit (CEU), with limited partial scholarships available.  Note that the CEUs are not pre-approved by any board or agency, and so, participants are responsible for working with their licensing or certifying body to assure they will count towards whatever CE requirements they may have (which differ by state, profession, etc.). 

** Picture credit: Macson McGuigan/EMU