Domestic violence leaders discuss trauma, grief

On Sept. 24, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall’s Family Advocacy Program hosted training for leaders in victim advocacy and social work to discuss domestic violence, trauma and grief to kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

JBM-HH’s Family Advocacy Program promotes healthy relationships through awareness campaigns, life skills education, professional education and more for the prevention of family violence.

The training’s attendees were victim advocates and social workers from JBM-HH and Arlington County.

“It’s important when we are looking from an outreach perspective, we are casting a large net of people to the Arlington community, not just our immediate community,” said Michelle Walker, Family Advocacy Program manager. “With most of our Families living off the installation, we want them to know there is help out in the Arlington community as well.”

The training was conducted by Elizabeth N. Johnson, a grief and trauma psychotherapist with Wendt Center for Loss and Healing in D.C. Her presentation allowed for an open discussion between the leaders on how they interact with their clients when it comes to domestic violence, certain traumas or losses.

When Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville was sworn in, he said his No. 1 priority is people. The attendees expressed how they work with their clients to ensure the clients are a No. 1 priority. This is done by building a rapport, being empathetic and sympathetic toward their clients.

Johnson and the attendees have empathy and sympathy with the clients during their period of grief and afterward. She said grief is not just due to death, but can be sorrow due to a loss one has experienced. Attendees also explained trauma and grief after a domestic violence incident.

A few attendees added that they noticed when their clients go through a domestic violence incident, the client’s identity may be affected by grief. Some clients grieve to the loss of the relationship and they may wonder, “What does my life look like now without that person?” For those who have been abused and they have children they may wonder, “Can I make good decisions for my children?”

While there was a discussion about a sense of loss identity, the leaders voiced they noticed social media affects their clients. Their clients may — as the professionals said — retraumatize themselves through social media.

“When they go through trauma and empty all their thoughts to strangers on social media, they are retraumatized when others are rude (about what they posted),” said Tammy Hutcheson, a victim advocate with the Family Advocacy Program.

Johnson then posed the question of who is more harsh with judgement — individuals on social media or family?

“There’s a level of accountability that you have with family and their judgement,” said Pamela Stanley, a human services clinician with Department of Human Services in Arlington County. “Strangers — all they know is what you give them. Family knows that background information and the judgement comes in a different form.”

Khalilah El-Amin, a social worker with Department of Human Services in Arlington County added, “People who don’t mean a lot to you, and give you a look, you don’t care how they see you. Family does the same look and you melt.”

While family was one of the topics of this training, going through the motions of this may have been a refresher for the attendees.

Diane Waters, a New Parent Support Visitor with Henderson Hall, said while the training was a refresher for her, it still provided new nuggets of information.

“It was helpful to put into perspective the presence of grief process in ending a domestic violence relationship,” Waters said. “The grieving process needs to be honored and respected, and it was different to hear that.”

Waters added that she understands domestic violence is a taboo subject, but said when it comes to preventing domestic violence, people need to be taught at a young age about healthy relationships.

“If you didn’t grow up (in) a family with a healthy relationship, you may wonder what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like,” Waters said. “I think the military is in a good place to have classes on healthy relationships. In order to have that dialogue open, the commands need to think that healthy relationships are important too, and youth need a space to talk about these relationship

Katrina Wilson can be reached at