WHO’S IN CHARGE?: leadership in a trauma-informed organization

I don’t remember where I heard it, but someone once told me that leadership is a sacred role. I believe that to be true. A great leader not only fosters growth in the individuals that he or she leads but consciously works to leave this world in a better way. I was saddened, as many people were, to hear of Maya Angelou’s recent passing. For me, she was the embodiment of resilience, creativity, possibility – all that CANY stands for – as well as leadership. Her following words have always stuck a chord with me.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

To me, this is a perfect definition of leadership for the trauma therapist. How we are in the room with the clients we work with is often much more meaningful than what exercise or directive we bring into the session.

A CANY group leader explores role through play

A CANY group leader explores role through play

At CANY, we practice trauma-informed care. This means that everything we do embodies an awareness of the impact of traumatic stress on those that we have contact with – our clients, our site partners and our ourselves. It means we sustain trauma awareness, knowledge and skills, which in turn inform our practices and policies, all in service of supporting the resilience and recovery of our group members.

So, what does it mean to be a trauma-informed leader? At CANY, all groups are co-facilitated. We practice what we preach! CANY’s model of trauma-informed drama therapy is relational in nature and so it stands to reason that the leaders demonstrate that mutual trust and solidarity are possible from the moment that they walk into the group. We model healthy relationships for those who may never or rarely have experienced respectful and safe interactions, let alone non-violent confrontation, allowing our clients to experience something new.

Exploring the role of leader through CANY training

Exploring the role of leader through CANY training

Clear intention and work goes into our co-leadership model. As group leaders, we meet weekly for group supervision. We also have time built into our schedules for planning and processing together before and after each group. I feel privileged to work for an organization that provides staff with the necessary time required to support these ongoing collaborations. However, leadership in a trauma-informed organization such as CANY goes beyond direct service.

For the past ten years, CANY has been lucky to have Jonathan Hilton at the helm as Executive Director, supporting staff in their professional development and bringing CANY to the next level of trauma-informed care. Much of Jonathan’s job at CANY focuses on fundraising and development, hardly a small task within a NYC-based non-profit. Even with those responsibilities in mind, Jonathan continuously commits to ongoing trauma training for staff, himself included. In recent years, Jonathan has also made time to co-lead a group with a CANY therapist in order to stay connected to the organizational mission.

Jonathan at a recent CANY gala

Jonathan at a recent CANY gala

It is with mixed emotions that we bid Jonathan farewell at the end of this month. While saddened by the loss of our leader, we are excited for Jonathan as he begins a new chapter of his personal and professional journey. During his tenure, as coworkers and supporters noted at CANY’s recent spring gala, Jonathan is leaving CANY in far better shape than when he arrived. His mission-focused leadership has trickled down to others in the CANY community, from group leaders to board members and the clients in our groups.

At CANY we strive to facilitate the internalization of roles that clients embody and enact in groups. As Jonathan leaves CANY we hope the same for a us – an internalization of the gifts that he has given us in his role of leader. I leave you with the words of some of the current leaders on CANY staff, responding to what is means to be a leader in a trauma- informed organization. Thank you Jonathan for helping us find these leadership roles.

Leading the way - CANY staff  in action

Leading the way – CANY staff in action

Being a leader in a trauma informed organization gives me a sense of putting something sane and deeply effective into a world fraught with violence and carelessness on all sides. It gives me a sense of hope.

Ellen Kealy, CANY Board Chair Emeritus

For me, leadership in a trauma informed organization involves setting a clear vision, building a steady trust, providing a safe and validating environment, and empowering the team to reach their individual and collective goals.

Kristen Brooks, CANY Drama Therapist

Being a leader in a trauma informed organization includes, I think, continued mindfulness in balancing understanding and humility in our work with the clients we serve, fostering a work environment in support of staff well-being and ongoing training, discussion, and reflection around what it means to be trauma informed-not just in theory, but practice.

Britton Williams, Program & Training Assistant

To me to lead you must be able to listen because ultimately a leader simply guides those they are leading to achieve their own personal goals. This can’t occur unless he or she has a very clear understanding of what those goals are and how they fit into the broader landscape of trauma informed work in addition to office administration.

Maria Eleni Karantzalis, CANY Office Manager

It’s is a living, breathing organism that is always open to feedback, plays to client and staff strengths, offers resources and support, is inclusive and non-shaming and builds toward each person’s and the organization’s full potential.

Meredith Dean, CANY Program Director

Heidi leading a child in play

Heidi leading a child in play

Heidi Landis, LCAT, RDT-BCT, TEP, CGP CANY Associate Executive Director

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