Some of the most useful explorations of organizations as collective and living organisms derive from the study of organizational culture. Organizational culture is “the sum total of all the shared, taken-for-granted assumptions that a group has learned throughout its history (p.29) or “How we do things around here”. Organizational culture matters because cultural elements determine strategy, goals, and modes of operating .
The Sanctuary Model ® represents a trauma-informed method for creating or changing an organizational culture in order to more effectively provide a cohesive context within which healing from psychological and socially derived forms of traumatic experience can be addressed. The Sanctuary Model was originally developed in a short-term, acute inpatient psychiatric setting for adults who were traumatized as children [8-10]. The Model has since been adapted by residential treatment settings for children, shelters, group homes, outpatient settings, substance abuse programs, parenting support programs and has been used in other settings as a method of organizational change.
The Sanctuary Model is not a trauma-specific intervention but a way of reorganizing whole organizational cultures. We believe that is what a “trauma-informed” culture has to be – it requires a shift in the very foundations of the way we think, what we feel, how we communicate, and how we practice. The challenge for everyone in the mental health field is to consider how we unwittingly – and often in the name of science – erect barriers to recovery that prevent self-organization in the individual life of the children in our care and in our organizational lives as well. Our diagnostic categories shame children from the moment they enter care. Our rigid hierarchies prevent participation and innovation, when we need staff members to exercise almost constant creativity in order not to be drawn into traumatic replays of previous negative life experiences in the lives of the children and adults we serve. From chaos theory we are learning that “an organization – even one as small as a child – will spontaneously know how to reorganize in the face of a challenge, if the obstacles hindering its capacity to self-organize are removed.
These are some of the critical questions we address in the Sanctuary Model: How do we create treatment cultures that promote and support positive change in adults, families and ourselves?; How do we maximize each other’s strengths and minimize each other’s weaknesses?; How do we create workplace cultures that buffer us from the impact of repetitive stress so that we can be effective in helping our clients to recover? These tasks are too large to approach from an individual position. We have to make greater efforts to shape our organizational cultures to achieve more. Organizational culture matters because cultural elements determine strategy, goals, and modes of operating .
Excerpt from Bloom, S. L. and Farragher, B. (2010) Destroying Sanctuary: The Crisis in Human Service Delivery Systems. New York: Oxford University Press.
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