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Trauma as a Spatial Thing

It is perhaps useful to unpack the post’s title first, I am suggesting that trauma (Acute, Chronic or Complex), and the subsequent support and recovery of people, communities and nations are spatially entangled.

If a traumatic event occurs it stands to reason it has happened in a place. Everything we do (or have had done to us) happens within some sort of a place, all of us live our lives within and through a sequence of places every day from birth to death.

I am suggesting that place can be seen as an instigator, bystander and participant. In other words, the surroundings formed the conditions where the trauma took “place”. The place bore witness to the event and during the event (shared or otherwise). It had a smell, light, shade, acoustics, location, colour, material, parameters, time, scale, age, a combination of connected places, familiarity…etc. The event’s place may have had little significance, (ordinary even) – now though, it is an Infra Ordinary place and highly significant. Arguably it is a physical manifestation of the traumatic event which has significant long-term psychological (conscious and unconscious) effects, during recollection and dreams, the trauma will play out in iterations of this place.

Places, where trauma has happened, are often overlooked or conveniently silenced, there isn’t enough research and practice exploring the extent to which one's surroundings might hold a more valuable place in trauma recovery and prevention.

Another way to see the synergy between place and trauma would be:

To reflect on the fact that, if a person were to seek justice and support after trauma they will be found in places the conditions and implications of which should be fully understood.

To reflect on the fact that, if there was to be a punishment it would be dealt with and served within a place the conditions and implications of which should be fully understood.

There is no doubt that any recovery from trauma will be found in a place or series of places the conditions and implications of which should be fully understood.

Therefore the significance of ‘place’ before, during and after traumatic events should be a primary consideration for people suffering trauma, support agents and policy writers.

At an event recently, I listened to trauma support experts review 25 years of their practice. They spoke of PTSD, complex trauma and other trauma-related disorders. They identified milestones in the care and the access to that care. Many spoke of teamwork and stakeholders, trauma-informed practice, policy and processes. real-world collaborators with lived experiences and the way people felt valued. Decision makers spoke of useful metaphors (Box, ‘up river thinking’ and ‘the rescue from a hole in the ground by someone who knows first-hand how to get out of it) and recognised the growing challenges involved. As they acknowledged academics and practitioners, shared interesting initiatives such as lightbulb courses, the national trauma training programme, Lifelines Scotland and Sea Change. I couldn’t help but feel that a primary stakeholder and team member wasn’t recognised despite contributing to everything from metaphor to index trauma. It was an information-packed and enlightening event that left me impressed but wondering how ‘place’ could be recognised more succinctly.

Within the humanitarian sector ‘Place’ seems secondary with no real say, only service. Its influence within decision-making trauma response teams, governments and donors at home and abroad appears oddly absent to me.

An absence that requires careful adjustment, so that ‘place’ and its impact is understood and used more in matters concerning trauma in Scotland and beyond.

Title Image: Piet Mondrian

Quick Sketches during event: me:


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