How It Began
In the summer of 2021 in the throes of transition to a new vision for INJ700 and the founding of INJ20K, Canada was rocked with one CAF scandal after another as the Class Action deadline loomed closer and too many survivors were revisiting some of the worst moments in their life of Canadian Military service.
As many reflected on these traumatic military sexual misconduct (MSM)/military sexual trauma (MST) moments in their service and any unresolved trauma, there were some brave enough to test new CAF assurances for justice. This new awareness of the depth of the issue that MSM & MST was within the CAF generated a hope in many CAF members that they could do better at being part of a positive workplace.
How It Evolved
It was these leaders and members that sought advice on how be more trauma informed on how to create a positive space free from MSM & MST, and develop tools to support any survivor of this type of trauma. After one such conversation, word spread and a second conversation with a larger group was requested of Lori and Sam.
Being mindful of ensuring no further trauma was induced inadvertently, clinicians were sought to attend as "first mental aid" support. Clinicians from the Canadian MST Community of Practice along with some conducting MST research at McMaster volunteered to attend this critical conversation. After this second conversation they expressed amazement at the perceptible shift of energy in the room from negative to positive... and hopeful.
When an unexpected third conversation was requested, these same clinicians were invited to ensure continued safety, but this time a reciprocal request was made to also include observations from a clinician view. With the approval of the third conversation group, OpTIL was created to give the initiative a name as there were numerous requests for Lori and Sam to provide further opportunities for survivor and CAF member engagement.
How Could It Be Sustained
These critical dialogue sessions were never meant to be a long term plan for Lori and Sam to manage and facilitate. Ongoing dialogue with the CAF highlighted the desire for the CAF to develop resources and tools for CAF members to support and manage survivors of MSM/MST. In the meantime, Lori and Sam could not ignore requests to provide input on possible training or policies that are survivor centric. Thanks to Lori's business relationship building skills and their publicly announced intention of collaboration not confrontation, Lori & Sam were seen as reliable and experienced Persons With Lived Experience (PWLE) that were approachable with a genuine desire to altruistically help.
Once the unexpected requests for critical conversations exceeded their volunteer capabilities to manage, a joint request to meet was made by Lori and Sam on behalf of INJ20K and the Canadian MST Community of Practice to all CAF and Veterans Affairs (VAC) stakeholders in MST culture change and training development. Representatives from CPCC, CDA, CFHS, ICCM, and VAC attended to hear PWLE anecdotes, and clinical research data was presented which was well received.
Conducting these critical conversations (OPTiL) could not be done without the incredible support of Dr. Margaret McKinnon, Dr. Alex Heber and the McMaster Trauma and Recovery Lab. To ensure long-term sustainability, a program that was able to be supported by proper evaluation and validation in an academic environment, as well as sound clinical oversight, the Critical Conversation Program, now referred to as B.E.S.T. (Believe, Empower and Support Together: A Framework for Critical, Trauma Informed Conversations) has been fully transitioned to McMaster University under the keen eye and support of Dr. Margaret McKinnon and her clinicians and researchers in the Trauma and Recovery Lab.
During our critical conversations handouts were never used as the sessions were never intended as training; they were solely a dream of creating safe spaces for caring people to have critical chats on how everyone, whether serving or retired, can help positive culture change in the CAF.
Many times aide memoire (memory aide) type material was requested, so a promise was made to create something accessible on the website. Anything to help anyone asking in good faith.
You can also find more resource links on our Resource page.
One of the most important things to remember is to remain as open and non-judgemental as possible; both in tone and body language.
Giving and receiving a traumatic disclosure can be a very emotionally overwhelming event, so it is important to be aware of what the physical and mental impact it may have on each person involved in the conversation.
Active listening without judgement is your best de-escalation tool. When a survivor feels they are being disrespected, dismissed, or patronized, their heightened emotional state is most certainly impacted.
The trauma survivor may need repeated assurances that they are being heard and taken seriously.
7 Key Active Listening Skills:
Be attentive. Ask open-ended questions. Ask probing questions. Request clarification. Paraphrase.
Be attuned to and reflect feelings. Summarize.
One thing trauma brain does is spiral your worst fears into a whirlpool that feels like a tornado lifting you
OFF the ground.
Like gradually attaching sandbags to an air balloon, this method slowly pulls you back to earth to help keep a person grounded.
First, take a moment to become mindful of your breath. Just a few deep breaths can bring your body back into the moment, slowing everything down.
If the distraught person cannot take deep breaths, blowing out all their breath first helps.
Some of the clinical reasons this technique works along with some additional anxiety reducing pointers are explained in the links in the next block.