As CWEE bolsters internal mental health support for career seekers, our experts are being called on to inform local and national partners seeking to strengthen their own trauma-informed practices.
Part of what makes CWEE’s approach to workforce development and anti-poverty work successful is our commitment to provide access to an array of personal and family support services, including mental health counseling. One aspect of our approach that makes CWEE unique in the field is the fact that we have a full-time mental health clinician, Anna Tekippe, on our staff.
Anna provides individual psychotherapy to some CWEE career seekers, and she supports many others to access community mental health resources, helping them to be more informed self-advocates when accessing mental health support.
Layering stress upon stress
Before the pandemic, CWEE participants consistently reported high rates of interpersonal trauma, depression and anxiety, as well as high a prevalence of domestic violence. Some of our participants are adult survivors of child abuse and neglect, and the anxiety that they experience is often connected to financial stress, economic disparity, and other forms of systemic injustice, including racism and sexism.
“CWEE participants have layer upon layer of stress, and their experience of financial hardship and surviving poverty may increase their vulnerability to other types of stress. There’s the toxic stress of the environment – racism, sexism, economic injustice; and then there are the small, day-to-day stressors of trying to meet your families’ needs, trying to find employment, being a single parent,” Anna says.
“This last year has amplified the typical stressors and layered on feelings about their vulnerability to Covid-19, as well as the tremendous isolation and increase in financial and parenting stress.”
Bolstering internal capacity to support participants
Anna also oversees support for CWEE’s trauma-informed organizational practices, which includes intensive staff onboarding and training and consultation with career advisors on their approach with individual participants.
CWEE provides all new hires with training on trauma-informed organizational practices and what that looks like in practice at the organization. Anna also trains colleagues on mandated reporting; intimate partner violence; privacy, confidentiality and safety considerations when providing telesupport; among other topics. She also provides ongoing consultation to CWEE staff, responding to requests for support and training as needs arise.
Expanding external training and consultation in response to demand
Another important aspect of Anna’s role is external facing: interfacing with partners around key programmatic and community leadership initiatives. This includes her role as the liaison for the researchers at the J-PAL research center at MIT, which is supporting CWEE to conduct a randomized evaluation of the benefits of access to online mental health therapy. (More to come about this exciting partnership this spring.)
Over the past year, CWEE is responding to a growing demand for training and consultation to inform partners at the local and national levels to develop their own trauma-informed organizational practices.
Anna has provided training for CWEE’s partner Arapahoe-Douglas Works on trauma-informed practices. And this month and next, Anna will work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance, as a presenter on a national panel titled “Adapting Client-Centered Approaches to a Virtual Environment”, focused on bringing trauma-informed practices to a new way of providing case management and client support. As part of this panel, Anna will present to three different regional groups of state TANF agencies across the U.S.
“The pandemic created a forced need to adapt, a crisis response across the workforce development sector and far beyond,” Anna says. “But now, service providers and leaders are thinking about how to convert the adaptations of the past year into a sustainable model that will meet the increased demand that has resulted from the economic and health impacts of this crisis.”
“If we are doing impactful work, we are going to be impacted”
In May, Anna will provide a webinar on compassion fatigue for the nationwide network of partners and affiliates of the Community Action Partnership. While compassion fatigue is thought of traditionally as a negative outcome connected to burnout with direct service work, Anna is passionate about shifting this understanding.
“Compassion fatigue should be understood as a natural and expected outcome of exposure to disparity, hardship, injustice and trauma,” Anna says. “When we are aware of people’s suffering – whether through hearing their stories or reviewing the data and accumulated impacts – it will affect us. If we are doing impactful work, we are going to be impacted by it and we have to expect that.”
So the question becomes, how can we prepare, as professionals, for compassion fatigue so that it doesn’t feel shameful or negative, but an expected outcome of our work?
When it comes to answering this question and many more related to incorporating effective, trauma-informed practices into program and operational practices, the community is increasingly looking to CWEE to share our expertise.