Tag Archives: care

Theorizing Care: How My New Bestie Helped Me Find a Way Forward

“To sum up, research can be triggered by a problem, by something interesting, and by something surprising. Regardless of what sets off the research, however, it is important to emphasize three things. First, the initial phase of observation should be carried out in a very free-ranging manner. Second, theorizing should be held off for a while. And third, the topic to study is not necessarily what you initially set out to analyze, but what after a while strikes you as being the most promising to pursue.”

– from The Art of Social Theory by Richard Swedberg

“Why are you obsessed with trauma informed care?” I asked myself, trying to get at the heart of this term. 

“Why are you so obsessed with trauma informed care?” I quietly mused, suddenly realizing the weight of THAT word and the way it related to me.

“Why… you are obsessed with trauma informed care!” I discovered, realizing that THIS word – so vague and all encompassing – was at the heart of the matter.

What I discovered was a) Swedberg’s model for understanding the process of “theorizing” and b) that this whole time I have *actually* been chasing that tiny little word “care”:

What IS care supposed to look like?

Why do I even need a model like trauma informed care?

My ‘hypothesis’ is that there is a failure to care that needs to be patched up, but is trauma informed care really the ticket?

Breaking down something like “care” is a tall order, and if I’m not careful I’ll run into the same issue I’m having now of a topic that is way too big. Thankfully, I feel like I already have step one done which is the creation of some terms that get at the heart of the issue of a failure to care (i.e. illusions of care – fantastical, self(ish), and callous) and utilizing the existing term Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Care as my “ideal type” to stack things up against. A digression is warranted to explain the word “ideal type”.

As my new bestie Rich says: 

 “An ideal type has a number of practical functions, and one of these is to provide terminological clarity and precision. Since reality is endlessly rich and contradictory, it is of importance that the ideal type is clear and coherent…[it also functions as] a “heuristic tool,” and this means that it should primarily be used to discover new aspects of a phenomenon… when you begin to study a complex phenomenon, it is very useful to have an ideal type at your disposal. Once you have reached the point where you know in which direction to look… focus on the significant differences (if any) between the ideal type and empirical reality, and to try to account for these. At this stage the initial ideal type has fulfilled its function and can be discarded.”

– from The Art of Social Theory by Richard Swedberg

Trauma Informed Care, and the special restructuring of the term that Alex Shevrin Venet created with her Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Care, is the “ideal type” I’m using to speculate about “care.” The aim of this speculation is to begin pointing towards a theory of understanding care that can meet the needs of our modern, ‘post’-pandemic society. I will be doing this speculating and theorizing through my memoir of care by detailing my experience of working in an institution of care as well as my experience as a human who claims to “care”. This detailing will be done in the ways I have already described, by using fictional case study, personal experience, and probably some form of academic explanation.

Concerns/Questions/Problems I’m left with:

  1. I’m drawing inspiration from a social science approach to theorizing. It takes a more quantitative approach in some ways, but I feel that this fits my background and, actually, Swedberg is a pretty flexible guy in terms of the process of research. He is literally advocating for what he calls “creative theorizing” so… what better term is there then that for what I’m attempting here.
  2. The whole second half of Swedberg’s book has to do with needing to understand social theory to create theory. I am drawing strongly from CRT – would that count I wonder? Do I need to concern myself with that if I’m not really planning on making my thesis theory, but more a process of theorizing?
  3. This idea of “care” probably still seems too big. I don’t know how to address that critique at the moment, but I am hoping through the process of writing my memoir pieces that I will be able to show what I am envisioning in a more concrete way. I have some pieces now that I have written, but nothing that is a definitive way to begin this whole thing. Still looking for my way in.
  4. I am still planning on incorporating The Night of the Iguana and some religious themes. This could turn out to be too tangential; but Swedberg says that books, movies, and literature of all sorts can be used in the observation and learning phase of theorizing. The Night of the Iguana encompasses for me the spirit of care I am trying to get at – I just have to make it make sense. Maybe I should do a blog about that next week or something… possibly a bonus blog if I can make the effort and time?

Works Cited

Swedberg, R. (2015). The art of social theory (3rd ed.). Princeton University Press.

Thesis Progress Blog 3: Chasing “the spook”

John Huston’s 1964 film adaption of Tennessee Williams’ play The Night of the Iguana

In The Language of Race and Ethnicity class, the first reading we did was “We Aren’t Here to Learn What We Already Know”. I was impacted by this article for many reasons; it is a great resource for figuring out how to think deeply about content you have to engage with, and an excellent model for how to come up with critical questions. But what spoke the most to me was when Wazana Tompkins talks about feelings and how they relate to critical thinking and discourse:

“…your intuitions and feelings are what will lead you to original insight but they are not a substitute for thinking and working hard…movement, from individual intuition or feeling, or even memory to analytic or critical intervention in larger structural issues is the movement that I try to model again and again…Less me; more us. Less me-search, more research.”

She relates this dynamic to the role of the teacher, but she is also trying to get at the balance that has to come with engaging with issues that hit a personal note but need a critical (i.e. distanced and objective) eye. The idea is that better critical thinking and engagement with an issue will occur as a result of our efforts to look beyond ourselves to the bigger picture.

I’m going to be real with you and say I’ve most definitely been more in “me-search” the last few weeks than research when it comes to my thesis. Which is strange because I started out with what I felt like was a personal yet distanced (if not objective) approach to the topic of trauma informed care. Yes, I chose the topic from personal experience and my work with college students, but my interest in the topic was very theory focused and in the realm of the academic or clinical.  

But the more I leaned towards turning my thesis into something personal along with the academic, the more I have begun to lose myself in it. Which is ironic because I am finding myself in a way I haven’t been able to in years. Though I am finding this to be personally enriching, I am finding myself getting further away from the part of my thesis that I have labeled “lofty policy” and this scares me. I don’t want to navel gaze with this project and just have it be important to me. I want it to mean something outside of myself because of the importance it has to me, not in spite of it.

My thesis progress report:

  1. I am having ideas for the personal part of my thesis that make me excited to a degree that I rarely feel about school assignments.
    1. I am considering structuring this project around a religious theme I’m not ready to reveal yet because it feels too vulnerable and I’m not 100% about it. The religious elements keep coming to me so strongly and it is so intimately connected to my experience of care that I almost can’t get away from it if I pursue a personal side to the topic of trauma informed care.
    2. Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana is finding its way back into my life, and it sets the ‘stage’ (ha) for my discussion of the reality of care verses the “fantastic”. This play has been in my life since I was 18 and has meant so much to me; I feel elated at having it find its way back into my life in a meaningful way, and I am fascinated by the fact that because I am older and have gone through more, it has taken on new meaning. It may be a “darling” I have to kill, but I’m going to roll with it for now and see what comes of it.
    3. One idea that came to me for organizing everything within a “versions of care” theme is to do something like:
      • The first section would be Fantastical(?) Care
      • The second section would be “Self” Care
      • The third section would be Calloused Care
      • The fourth (?) section would be Trauma Informed Care
      • The final (?) section would be Learning to Care (?)
  2. Last week was a rough week for me personally; and though I probably spent 6 hours “doing my thesis,” I probably only got about 2 ½ hours of productive work done. It is a new week and things have evened out so that I’ve got some footing back, and that means getting to work. I’ve decided that Mondays and Fridays are my intensive thesis days. The minimum goal is to work six hours total those two days, but I want to get in double that ideally.
  3. For the academic side of things I have had some theoretical stuff come up that I need to consider:
    1. “Ecology” keeps coming up in Alex Shevrin Venet’s work which inevitably leads back to Bronfenbrenner’s theory of human development. I know I don’t want to get deep into him, but I think I will need to draw on his views because I really want to explore the individual, institutional, and structural elements of FA and Trauma Informed Care.
    2. I was able to sort through my Laughlin source and determine what she did in her research and how I am differing from her approach.
    3. An Ecological Perspective on Health Promotion Programs – (McLeroy, Steckler, & Bibeau, 1988) is an article that I got from Alex Shevrin Venet’s work and that brings up some fascinating thoughts around individual and social interventions to address issues that are often caused by society.
  4. How do I move forward?
    1. My ideas are flowing so fast, but my writing can’t keep up and I’m finding myself getting frozen when I try to pour it all out. I feel the pressure to get it right and organized. I have to just keep pushing through to get stuff down on the page and then review it to start thinking how I can organize it.
    2. The research side of things has to stay at the forefront of my mind. The personal has been exciting, but I think it is a kind of sneaky way for me to procrastinate on the academic piece of this project. Productive procrastination at its finest. That said, I need to work Monday on the personal and Friday on the academic. That way I can dedicate time to both each week and they can inform each other.
    3. Prep my presentation for next week and use that process to maybe nail down more of the organizational elements of my project.
      1. I am considering a kind of visual element to the whole thing that would be an actual mental health chart page with my “callous care” note, have my “lofty policy” written out in the style of the policy that you can look up on the Federal Register , and then the personal side of things I have two separate ideas – one is to start each page with the elaborate drawings like you see in old books and/or set it up like a journal to give it a more intimate feel.

I’ve got so much more I want to write about all this, but I am the only one who benefits from that; I’ll spare you and go write some more elsewhere.   

Not So Divine Revelations

Over the weekend I had a kind of personal and academic break through, though I’m a little worried for what it means for my thesis timeline-wise.

This weekend was an unveiling of the driving force behind why trauma informed care is such a soapbox issue for me – something I have hidden from myself for a while now. Like most of us when we discover our “why” beneath the surface of our passions, it often hinges on things that hurt.

The rough working title of my thesis is “Failure to Care” with a back up title/subtitle “The Power of Proper Tools”. My big revelation this weekend was how not having the proper tools to care for others has been one of the biggest failures of my life. And it may seem like that would be a depressing thought, but it was a massive relief when it came to me.

A Digression into the Personal

I am about to digress into some religious and personal talk, much of which is revealing the past me. If you would like to skip over it, please scroll to the end of the white boxed text. I will include the more technical side of my thesis plan after this section.

Just for some extra context to what I am about to share – I am what Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 1:19 as one who has a “shipwrecked faith.” What Paul fails to mention though is that even when one is desperately clinging to a piece of broken ship, drifting aimlessly in the vast ocean, there is God – just not in the same way I was taught to believe growing up.

In the Christian world there is a lot of talk about what “gifts” a person has and how this gift should be used to serve the “body of Christ” (i.e. the church):

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4-8 (NIV)

My whole life, my “gift” was that of service, or at least that is the one I most identified with. I didn’t want to be a “prophet” or a leader or a teacher, I just wanted to be a conduit for the love of Jesus and for that love to be what helped heal others. My worth became inseparable from my ability to “help” and “love” others. Only when I was “helping” did I feel worthy.

As I sailed out into the seas of doubt around faith in my 20’s, and more specifically left the institution of Evangelicalism, I still maintained the old habits of giving endlessly to only be left empty, the result being I would hurt both others and myself. I did discover some tools along the way (yay boundaries), but I didn’t fully understand the connection between my unhealthy “helping” and my lack of tools until I started to work at the mental health organization I was at before I came to Jersey.

It was here that I saw that proper tools of care are your life source, and when you don’t have them, THAT is when burnout will grab you and drag you deep into the pit of hell. It doesn’t matter how much you “care,” if you aren’t caring skillfully, you will hurt more than you will help. I was lacking the proper tools I needed to care in sustainable and proper ways and it resulted in more harm than help.

This brings me to equity centered trauma informed care.

So many of the service professions – whether is it is counseling, medicine, teaching, or, yes, financial aid – draw people who want to make a difference in other people’s lives; these are usually people with the gift of service. But what is often missing in these professions is the proper tools and training for how to properly care and serve others; “proper” meaning that which maintains your sanity and actually helps the person you are serving. Setting proper boundaries, understanding the forces at play in society, being able to connect with the human that is behind the person before you – these are all desperately needed tools of care, but they are too often missing and can lead to harm.

SO – my long windedness for this thesis blog will end with a first draft outline of my thesis. The tentative plan is to create a series of short essays that use my idea of combining different styles of writing to draw out the tension of calloused care, lofty policy, and practical human experience.

The first section will always start with a reconstruction of the mental health notes I had to write in my old job for each of my appointments. These were always emotionless and relayed the bare facts of complex, human situations (i.e. callous care). This will be followed with a discussion of the academic and policy related issues, so this would be more like an informative article to give context (i.e. lofty policy). Lastly, I will end the section with an essay that draws on a related piece of my journey of “failing to care” (i.e. human situations). All of this should culminate in a project that shows how my journey brought me to my academic claim that equity centered trauma informed care is a model that needs to be integrated into all higher education institutions, with a special focus on financial aid to offer a specific example of how this would function/why it is important.

[One more note that is specifically directed to Dr. Zamora; I know that part of this “revelation” was no doubt inspired directly by reading some of the work you and Dr. Bali are doing on care, and so I expect I will need to discuss this further to make sure I am giving proper credit where it is due when it comes to these ideas. My ideas are built on the work of many, and I want to pay my dues to as many as I can.]

Thesis Outline:

  1. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. Why FA?
      1. All of higher education needs equity centered trauma informed care, but FA offers a unique lens to explore the way that a department that is often see as more “policy” based and technical is one of the most in need of something like equity centered trauma informed care.
        1. Movie Star Ranch
          1. If anything from my childhood captures this idea of toxic care, it is the idea I had for a ranch for movie stars to come to in order to recoup from their stress. My “care” was the treatment.
  2. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. Policies and their Shadows
      1. What are some examples of FA policies that state one thing but have dark implications or applications?
        1. Driving Decisions
          1. I made a decision one day when I was driving home after talking to my grandmother that I would go into psychology and counseling because I wanted to help people like her and I.
  3. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. But There are Tools for This…Right?
      1. What is the training and education that is given to FA professionals around dealing with the human behind the student?
        1. Everybody’s Everything
          1. Most of the time, I rode on my ability to pour myself into peoples’ issues and to break off pieces of myself to try to plug up their holes.
  4. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. A Model Model
      1. What might work – Equity Centered Trauma Informed Care/Practice
        1. My proposal is to adapt Alex Shevrin Venet’s model to HE, and FA specifically.
          1. Caring Badly Professionally
            1. Moving into a career where I lacked the skills I needed to care adequately, I learned how to care poorly and how this impacted others in a high stakes environment.
  5. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. The Times, ARE they a-Changin’?
      1. How does change come about and what policies do we need in place to bring it about?
      1. Heavy, heavy influence of CRT, Lorde, Kendi, Dr. Zamora
        1. Learning to Care
          1. At this point in my life I am having to contend with the level of hurt that has come from caring badly and how to care well without falling back into bad habits or becoming numb.