Compassion & Empathy



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Research: Trauma-Informed Organizations

Change Package: Compasion& Empathy


Understanding and interacting with people based on respect and humanity

Respect for people” often casually refers to being polite and not criticizing others; however, respecting a person means accepting who they are and who they want to be, demonstrating regard for their experiences, feelings, and opinions while working with them to achieve their potential.

Understanding and interacting with people based on validation and non-judgment

Validation does not mean agreement or approval, but rather recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable. Validating and affirming communicates understanding and acceptance, without judgment, to strengthen the relationship, even while maintaining a different opinion.

Staff Experience

  • Offer support for staff to explore interpersonal dynamics that exist within teams and between staff, including the impact these have on consumers.
  • Ensure a standing agenda item for supervision, team, and all-staff meetings, “How can we support you more?”, and implement changes based on staff responses.
  • Regularly review other programs’ benefits packages; compare and attempt to improve and make changes based on findings.
  • Ensure that leadership regularly shadows and conducts walk-throughs for non-evaluative purposes. Staff are made aware of these types of observations and their purpose.

  • Work to identify methods or resources to improve staff’s benefits package.

  • Supervisors regularly present/ report to executive leadership about the logistical/technical and emotional nature of all staff’s work. Represented staff are present and are asked if they would like to correct or add to what was shared.

  • Leaders model care and consideration for other staff by regularly asking about people’s lives and well-being (while respecting those who would prefer not to be asked personal questions).

Consumer Experience

  • Ensure the consumer advisory board or focus groups are asked about how to make the program more welcoming, supportive, or healing.
  • Spend time in the lobby and office spaces with consumers who have various levels of functioning, mental health needs, and body sizes to gain feedback about their level of comfort with personal space or other physical needs.

  • Create a written policy about actions to take if/when a consumer’s experiences psychiatric decompensation.
  • Review policies from other homeless service agencies for banning/not banning consumers that outlines rationales and processes, including length of time.
  • Review and assess all policies to determine and address any barriers consumers may have in accessing services.
  • Develop a written policy that states that services are not contingent on participation in other services.

  • Review internal and external communication to ensure the program uses “people-first” and descriptive language rather than characterizing terms to describe consumers (e.g., describing a person as “having a hard time getting their needs met” rather than “attention seeking”).

  • Ensure signage is posted that explicitly welcomes people of all backgrounds and identities.
  • Ensure signage for the building is bright and clearly visible to someone on the street/nearest sidewalk.
  • Create a smoking area outside at least 15 feet from the building.
  • Replace furniture that is not in good repair (e.g., holes, tears, stains, broken) and prioritize A/C for maximum comfort; repair any other building structures, including carpet/flooring and windows; and paint walls.
  • Identify a local expert/accessibility advocate for mobile, hearing, and visual disabilities to assess the organization and provide feedback on possible improvements.

  • Train staff on “people-first” and descriptive language.
  • Train staff to ask consumers how they are doing or feeling outside of treatment/sessions.

  • Coach staff to share thoughts and feelings about the issue(s) in a calm/ respectful manner when staff disagree with a consumer.
  • Train security guards to acknowledge consumers, verbally or behaviorally (smiling or waving).
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