Expanding our Understanding of Stress, Trauma and Safety with Katie Kurtz


In this episode, Katie Kurtz and I embark on a profound exploration of trauma as we navigate its intricacies. We begin by defining trauma and examining its impact on our lives. Discover how to recognize your unique relationship with trauma and the physical responses it triggers.

Dive into the world of trauma distinctions, from Big T to Little T traumas, and understand the diversity of traumatic experiences. Explore the pivotal role our nervous system plays in interpreting and coping with trauma. Learn why it’s essential to stay within the “window of tolerance” and the consequences of straying outside it. Explore the four competencies employed by our special guest, Katie, in her transformative work.

Katie Kurtz

Katie Kurtz, MSW LISW-S (she/her), is a renowned expert and trainer in integrative and inclusive trauma-informed care. With 15 years of experience as a licensed social worker and certified coach, she has honed her expertise across various disciplines and industries. Over the last seven years, Katie has redefined trauma-informed care to make it more accessible and inclusive, developing innovative frameworks and methodologies. Her integrative approach has trained thousands of professionals worldwide on six continents, fostering a future where trauma-informed care is accessible and practical for all.


Challenge common misconceptions surrounding trauma-informed care and gain insight into Katie’s trauma-informed checklist. Hear real-life examples of unintentional harm and its lasting effects. Katie shares a profound personal experience that heightened her self-awareness, and discovers her rituals and practices for finding calm amidst life’s challenges. Finally, explore the music that brings Katie a sense of connection to something greater than herself.

Katie is not only an author, known for creating the Contain Card Deck©, but also the host of the enlightening A Trauma-Informed Future Podcast. She actively contributes as a regional co-chair in Ohio’s Trauma-Informed Care Collaborative and serves as a Subject Matter Expert with the Integrate Network. Recognized nationally and internationally, her leadership and contributions have left a significant mark in both the social work and coaching fields. With a diverse educational background and certifications, including a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Gender Studies and a Master of Social Work, she stands as a licensed independent social worker with supervision designation (LISW-S) in Ohio, an Internationally Certified Coach with BYCA, and a trauma-informed 200hr registered yoga teacher.

Join us on this illuminating journey through trauma’s complexities, where understanding, healing, and resilience await.

We talk about:

  • [3:00] Defining trauma

  • [5:50] Identifying our own relationship and physical response to trauma

  • [7:15] Big T and Little T trauma

  • [10:20] Our nervous system’s role in how we interpret trauma

  • [14:55] Why it’s unhealthy to stay outside of the window of tolerance

  • [22:40] The 4 competencies that Katie uses in her work

  • [35:15] Misconception of trauma-informed care

  • [38:50] Katie’s trauma informed checklist

  • [41:55] Examples of unintentional harm

  • [50:30] An experience she had that gave her heightened awareness about herself

  • [52:50] A ritual or practice she relies on to help her return to a state of calm

  • [54:50] A song or genre of music that makes her feel connected to something bigger than herself

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Carolyn: Katie Kurtz is a subject matter expert and trainer who specializes in trauma informed trainings that are inclusive and adaptable for all professions. She’s a licensed social worker and certified coach and has spent the last 15 years specializing in trauma informed care work across multiple disciplines and industries.

She is the creator of the Trauma Competency Framework and Trauma Informed Spaceholding, which are the foundation of her training and consultation. Katie is the author of the Reflective Spaceholding Tool, The Contain Card Deck, and host of a Trauma Informed Future podcast.

I’m so excited to have this conversation with Katie today. You know, Katie is obviously very well educated in the space as a licensed social worker. And I’m really excited today to talk about this work, about trauma informed leadership and trauma informed care in a way that helps us understand why we need it in the corporate world.

So you’re going to hear us talk about what the word trauma means, what it does. It doesn’t mean, we’ll hear about her competency framework. It really, I hope will help you to smell some myths, but also start feeling more comfortable with how important this work is to creating spaces in our workplaces that can truly allow people to innovate and collaborate and really be able to show up as who they are.

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Well, hello, evolve listeners. Welcome to another episode of evolve a new era of leadership. And I have to tell you today’s guest. I Met her back in April, and I have been waiting anxiously to have her on the program. She’s been a real inspiration, for my work.

And as I continue to evolve in this space, and I’m so excited to bring Katie Kurtz onto the show. Katie, welcome. 

Katie: Well, thanks so much. I’m so excited to be here too. I as well have been looking forward 

Carolyn: to this conversation. Yeah, I think when we first met, and it was through another wonderful, podcast, guest, Shelby, Shelby Lee, I think it was, she said, you have to reach out to Katie.

And so I immediately did. And the moment I saw your work and then we had our conversation in April. I was, I was just really inspired by what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, is, is really, just a testament to your work. And I’m really excited to have you come on today and share it 

Katie: with everybody.

Thanks. Thank you so much. I’m honored to be here. Yeah. So, 

Carolyn: so we are good. We are going to talk about trauma informed care trauma informed leadership. And so we’re using that big T word. 

So why don’t we just start off right out of the gate. Katie, can you define that word for us trauma. In a way that helps us welcome it in versus what I did for so many years, which was like, no, I don’t need to know anything about that.

Thank you very 

Katie: much. Yeah, absolutely. So when we hear the word trauma and I’ll actually encourage everyone who’s listening, when I say trauma, what do you feel? What sensations, what images come to your, to your mind? Trauma is not a bad word. Trauma is a very human response. It’s actually our brilliant bodies doing exactly what they’re designed to do to keep keep us safe and to help us survive.

When we experience certain events or environments or relationships or situations that are beyond our capacity to cope with that disconnect us from a felt sense of safety and security and stability. Our bodies respond in a way that allows us to stay safe. Stay safe and survive. And that is what trauma is, is a human response.

Now, many of us are still functioning from a very narrow definition that is, that is fairly old, that trauma is just certain events, war, abuse, violence, injury. It’s just those people, those people in that neighborhood or those people. That’s not me. That’s not my family. That’s not my neighbors. Right. But we’ve known over the years and what we had now have as population studies and research has shown us that virtually everybody on this planet has a lived experience of trauma or toxic stress.

Therefore, we cannot continue to live by this very narrow definition or this very fear or stigma based feeling around trauma because it’s a natural human response. Yeah. I’m not saying it’s, it’s good, bad, right, or wrong, or that it’s an, you know, inevitable, but as long as we have humans, we’re going to have trauma.

Right. So how can we expand our understanding of trauma and get real with how we may have intentionally or unintentionally othered or disconnected or distanced ourselves from other people and find ways to individually and collectively expand our empathy so that we can really start to understand the reality of our everyday lives, which includes trauma.

It might not be a part of your personal experience or your everyday work or, or whatever, but it is a reality of our everyday lives. Therefore we have a, both an individual and collective responsibility to To talk about this and to dispel these myths and to expand our understanding and empathy around it.


Carolyn: can everybody now see why, you know, the first like three minutes we’re hearing Katie, it’s like, Oh my gosh, there’s so much in there. 

And so Katie, to come back to one of the first things that you said, which was, what do we feel in our body when we hear that word? And I can tell you for me. I never identified with that word until a few years ago.

And then, as I started trying to deal with my own life, and my own, I guess, reactivity, when I realized that that word had such a different meaning. a meaning and that there’s so much more research around it. That’s when I, like, I now don’t hear that word and my body doesn’t like, go into like a total like denial state.

So this time when you said it, I felt, I felt like a warm sensation go through my legs, because this type of work, I believe. Is what will help our workplaces and I know you do your work in a lot of different areas, but, you know, when I look at where I would like to bring this conversation into is into our, you know, knowledge based workers, in in our offices and those corporations where we really are asking these people to collaborate and innovate and do it all under tight timelines and tight resources.

And so. This notion of safety and understanding what it means, I think is just, it’s this untapped pot of gold that’s sitting there and waiting to be opened. 


Katie: I, like you, it took me several years into my career as a trauma specialist to finally realize and come to terms with my own lived experiences of trauma because I, I minimized it.

I thought what I experienced, especially in childhood was just Typical. It was, you know, it was normalized in my family. It was normalized in our culture. So I never, again, I was functioning from a very narrow definition. I didn’t experience the worst of the worst. And I don’t believe or adhere to the, the big T or little T trauma.

I honor that. And I used to, but what my own evolution of this work is that trauma. is trauma. And when we get into comparison, then we’re just utilizing the same tools that cause trauma to perpetuate these, this hierarchy. And so what may be traumatic for me may not be for you. And there is a spectrum, but I don’t believe there’s a hierarchy and we, it’s the same, we have these responses.

And I think that’s where we get so stuck is we, we continue to think trauma is an event or an environment, but I hope people begin to understand that it’s not the events and environments that we experience. It’s our response to them. Therefore it expands our understanding like, wow, that means. anything could be trauma.

And of course, I’m always here to remind us of nuance because then people start to swing to the extreme of, well, everything’s trauma. And then we kind of take it out of proportion and, and yes, and no to that again, nuance. Yes. That means that some of the things we’ve experienced through our lifetime, when we start to really become aware and attuned to it, likely were our bodies having a trauma response.

And also, we experience unease and discomfort and disagreement, and an array of feelings, and not all of those things are trauma. So it’s really, again, expanding, embracing the nuance of our humanity. And watching where we get stuck in that either or binary thinking. 

Carolyn: Yeah. Yeah. And I, I think after we talked in April, you, Mentioned an author anyway, I know I read, I read later, about how that big T, little T trauma, that concept was created by somebody with the intention just to help people realize the continuum and how it really has evolved into, like you were saying, it becomes sort of a way to judge it.

and so I appreciate you bringing that into the conversation that, you know. Maybe we don’t even talk about big T and little T anymore. I mean, I know I put it in my book, as a way to welcome people into differentiating. but maybe that’s not the best way to do it just to recognize like, we’re all going to have these responses, and, and so.

Our our body, and how we interpret this event is very dependent on our nervous system. So, Katie, could you just share with us a little bit around our nervous system and. It’s 

Katie: rule.

 Sure. So full transparency. My background is a licensed social worker, trauma therapist, coach trainer. I’m not a neuroscientist.

And so I also lead and teach from invitations and not prescriptions. And those are really binary kind of ways. So if you, if big T little T trauma works for you, awesome. That’s just not how I lead or train people. Yeah. I also I also function from the belief that we don’t need to know every single thing about trauma or the nervous system or their neurobiology in order to be trauma informed.

I actually think too much of that overwhelms and floods us and then leaves us inactive. So with that being said, I’m going to give a really super simple, doable approach to our nervous systems. We all have bodies, we all have brains, therefore we all have nervous systems. Now I’m honoring the nuance that many people may have neurological.

Illnesses or diseases that may impact that, but our nervous systems are made up of a network of cells and tissues, et cetera, that lay over our entire system organs. everything. It impacts our temperature, our heart rate, our digestive system, our hormones, anything. So if you think about a time, perhaps you were driving down a road and somebody swerves into your lane, your immediate reaction is to swerve too, again, to keep yourself safe and to not get into an accident.

But then what happens after? You may have your heart rate may have sped up, you may feel really angry or road ragey, you may have been, you know, you get flustered, your, your face turns flushed, maybe you’re, you get hot, you feel your temperature rising. That is your nervous system responding to a potential threat.

So we have amazing, brilliant bodies that are literally keeping us alive and surviving every day. So there’s a part of our brain that’s almost like a light switch. It’s constantly scanning our environment, the relationships, the spaces, our work lives, our, our life lives, whatever to say, are we safe here?

Are we not safe here? And it’s also interpreting our past lived experiences, our intersection of identities. Everything. And when it, it interprets, we’re not safe here. It sends that it like, it’s like a light switch. It flicks on and it sends a message through our nervous system, which again, covers every part of our body.

This is, Hey, we are not safe. Therefore we need to survive and protect. What happens is then in whatever way your body responds. you then have an internal and an external reaction. And that is how our nervous system responds. And most typically they respond in fight or flight, which is that hyper aroused sensation that hot, that rage that, Oh, I got to get out of here to survive.

Or we fall into this hypo aroused. state, which is freeze. I’m, I’m shocked. I’m stunned. I can’t move. And then we also have a relational response called the fun response, which is I’m going to please appease and befriend, do whatever I can relationally to stay safe. Right. So our, their nervous system responses, those are not good, bad, right, or wrong, right.

Our body’s doing exactly what they’re meant to do. And we fluctuate through regulation, which is neutral and dysregulation, which is. Not neutral, or sometimes it can be a spectrum to that leads to being triggered or reactivated. We’re fluctuating every day, all day between those two states. If we have lived experience of trauma, it can be harder to get back to neutral.

And what happens is when we’re able to adapt and build flexibility between the two, that’s what resilience is. And I always find it so fascinating the ways that we interpret what resilience is, but that capacity to move back and forth, that adaptation. That’s what resilience is. And so being able to care for our nervous systems in a way that allows us that capacity to co regulate, which means finding relational ways to be with others or in nature with pets so that we can access neutrality is how we build our capacity.

Carolyn: Yeah. And so, you know, this, this notion of the window of tolerance, I was using that with a client, recently. To give them some perspective, I didn’t use the words as eloquently as you did, but that we have this, this space that, you know, where we feel safe and that when we go out of it, it’s not a bad thing.

It’s just like some, like a warning. and so I’m curious, Katie, if you could, help us help us understand, 

Why is it unhealthy to stay out of the window of tolerance and like what happens when we live outside of this window of tolerance for too long, or we try and force ourself outside of it?

Katie: Yeah. So we become dysregulated that inability to kind of manage, be aware, get back to a sense of neutrality through a lot of different things, having a bad day, maybe someone cuts us off, we move into that state of dysregulation. We. become dysregulated through internal or external stimuli, which is known as triggers.

Now I know that term has taken kind of quite a meaning of its own, become quite buzzy, but when it comes to our nervous system, that’s how we, through our senses are able to determine what is what’s safe and unsafe. And so we get triggered all the time in various different ways. Now being triggered is different than having a full blown Reactivation or PTSD reactivation.

The whole nother topic. But I think what’s so important to understand is when we feel unsafe, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re experiencing trauma. There’s so much nuance in this work. And that’s why conversations like this, why having spaces, why having peer support and training is so essential is because we can’t.

fit trauma into a box because trauma blows the box right up. We need to be able to wade in the gray waters of nuance. So what feels, uncomfortable is different from what feels unsafe and what feels unsafe may be different from feeling harm and feeling trauma. There’s all these different experiences that we have felt senses of in our bodies and being.

Yeah. When we feel moments of not feeling safe or harmed, if that is a, an acute or shock or an instance that may be kind of a one and done event, it still might have that impact on our nervous systems. We may become dysregulated. When it becomes trauma is when we kind of get stuck or frozen in that, in that state of dysregulation where we’re unable to find ways to get us back to neutral to get us to be able to cope with that.

Now, if we’re constantly exposed to different adversities, toxic stress, relational dynamics. systemic trauma of racism, poverty, whatever, then we become kind of static and stuck in that dysregulated state where we’re just moving about dysregulation. And for some that might feel to the point of normality, but that’s just the way it is.

So we need to access people in our lives that can offer us a felt sense of safety in their presence that are healthy and that are nurturing. To show us and mirror through their nervous systems how to get back to neutral. And that’s what we call co regulation. Right. 

Carolyn: So if we come back to, an example and, and so I just want to try and keep it practical and real as it, as it pertains to a workplace.

and again, more for, for knowledge workers, office based workers, although I say office based, I guess office can mean anywhere, really not necessarily all in the same building together. So, Let’s say I get a notice that I have a presentation to make to the senior executive team in 2 days and I feel my heart brace.

I feel like my stomach do flippies. And for the next 3 days, I don’t sleep as well because I’m, I want to make sure I’m doing a good job. So what we’re saying here is that is a healthy. stress response. Now that’s, we don’t necessarily want to stop that because it’s our body telling us, Hey, there’s something new here.

There’s something, you know, exciting, but stress can, good stress can put us into higher performance. Katie, what will it look like when that Could be an indicator. that maybe there might be something that’s not healthy. Like, how, how would I know if that response I’m feeling is not healthy and not just a healthy reaction to being put in that 

Katie: situation?

Well, the answer is, I don’t know, because I don’t know that the context of that person, the reason why they, you know, why that. two day presentation notice triggered such a stress response. Yep. There is a lot of positive stress. It’s literally how we get through our lives every day. but stress becomes more toxic or chronic when we’re unable to get a break from it.

So. in the grand scheme of things, I, I don’t know how to answer that because I would need more context. But generally speaking, what we would want to notice is that yes, when we’re given some sort of task or we have to do something, we may have that, that stress response within our bodies. And they’re doing exactly what they need to do.

There’s a deadline. We want to appear a certain way. We want to make sure we get it right. There’s a specific goal in mind. Now, that is very typical. However, again, if we think of kind of a spectrum, if it starts to cross over of Continuously in that stress response where you’re continuously unable to sleep, you’re not, you’re having these physiological responses, then that would invite me into getting curious as to why is that?

What, what’s happening here? What is that linked to? I’d also be curious about, what kind of thoughts are occurring in your, in your head? Are you immediately going to fear based thoughts that are perhaps belittling to yourself or What’s there’s a lot of doubt or self worth involved. Again, often those things that arise, we might not, our brains might not realize that they’re linked to past events or experiences.

Right. And so when we, again, are asked to do something, a very typical thing in our everyday workplace, And we have that response. What I first like to do is practice the pause and get curious as to why am I responding this way? Yes. Two days is not a lot of time and I have to do work. But if I am having such a response where my body and my emotions and my, and my thoughts are, are heightened.

Then it likely if I were to attune to myself or be aware, it could potentially be linked to a past experience where maybe I was in a similar situation and it didn’t go well or I felt like I was shamed or I flopped or maybe something worse. And so, It can be linked to the past and, and those things, those everyday things may again, quote unquote, trigger a memory or a sensation that maybe we forgot about, but our bodies didn’t.

And that’s why, you know, take it or leave it, the body keeps the score. So it’s, it’s, it’s. Our bodies are again, doing what they’re meant to do. And that’s where we may see that heightened stress response in those everyday kind of occurrences. 

Carolyn: Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and the reason I, I wanted to ask that Katie is I think we can tend to try and want to unpack like, why is this happening and why should it, like, I should be doing this and should, should, should.

And, you know, we know it’s best not to should ourselves, because we can, we can have choices. And sometimes it’s honoring. Like, I really appreciated what you say there. Just honoring and stopping and pausing and getting curious versus trying to fix it and making it go away. and I think that that probably leads into my next question, which is, explaining and talking about the different competencies that you have shared in your work.

and can you just share what those, those 4 competencies are and, and why you created them? 

Katie: Absolutely. So to give some context of what the why these competencies exist is that trauma informed care is is a long standing evidence informed approach that has various origin points, but it was formalized in in what we know today only about 15 years ago, and it was formalized by and for mental health clinicians because in the mental health field.

They were most commonly seeing people come in and share their experiences of maybe their experiences at work or at home or wherever where they were starting to see a person’s the connection between persons lived experiences of trauma and stress to their everyday lives. And so a group of multidisciplinary clinicians created what we now know is.

This formalized trauma informed approach. What has happened and evolved over the years though, is that we know we don’t just exist in our therapist’s office. We exist in all sorts of social contexts. And therefore this approach does not just, it can not just live in those spaces. It’s meant to be in every space that we exist in.

However, that approach originally created by those mental health clinicians was not intended to be shared into other industries because it’s a highly clinical approach. So where we saw interpretations of that, that model, we started to see language arise such as trauma awareness and trauma sensitive and trauma responsive.

So in the mental health and human service fields, it is very common to have a goal of being trauma responsive because when we’re trauma responsive, we have the capacity and capability to respond to people’s trauma. which they should be in a mental health or health care, health care industry, right?

However, when you go into coaching wellness or corporate and you say trauma responsive, you’re going to get a few different approaches. You’re going to get hands up like, Whoa, that’s not me. I’m not a therapist. Or you’re going to see people like, great, I’ll help you with your trauma. And then they’re crossing their professional boundary or scope of practice.

Right. So when I, I sit at the intersection of so many different industries. So I really started to see trauma informed care enter. industries in corporate and coaching and wellness, et cetera. I knew that we had to adapt this approach and reinterpret it to usher it into a future that was inclusive and doable for all professions.

So I created the trauma competency framework that is inspired by and gives reverence to these origins, but shifts it so that it is doable and adaptable in any industry. So we start at trauma awareness. Like anything, we’re aware of a lot of things and that usually is just general knowledge. We get there from reading a book.

Maybe you Google yourself to that, that awareness. perhaps you have your own lived experience, but that’s it. It’s just knowledge. Yep. The next level of trauma, trauma competency is trauma mindfulness. I have this knowledge and now I’m just becoming more mindful of it in my everyday life. Like any mindfulness practice.

It’s not always top of mind, but we’re practicing it. Maybe we’re using some tools so that we can expand our understanding and our empathy to be more considerate and sensitive of the realities of trauma around us. So that’s maybe 

Carolyn: like reading a book, maybe you’re listening to this podcast type thing.

Katie: Yeah. 

The biggest thing is shifting your language. Language matters. We started this podcast by talking about dispelling the heaviness of trauma. If we can get into a place of expanding our understanding of trauma and then utilizing that word to, we know from Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart, language is so important because it helps us create meaning and meaning helps us create shared Language and experience.

So even just shifting our language, pausing more to reduce that too much, too fast, too soon at a necessary urgency, caring for our own nervous system. So we can offer co regulation simple shifts can help us get back into that space of mindfulness. 

Carolyn: Another word by the way, that I think can help people when they’re in the state of being trauma mindful is the invitation.

I, I notice you use it a lot and I learned this, a few years ago from someone and I didn’t have the word trauma, mindful or trauma informed around it, but I really recognized every time he used it. It was like, oh, you’re inviting me instead of telling me. So, you know, that, that would be another element of, of a language and how important that is.

Katie: Absolutely. Shifting our language to be more consensual, to say, you know, if we think of trauma, trauma thrives in isolation and disconnects us from our sense of autonomy and agency and sovereignty. So one of the most powerful things we can do is shift our communications to, instead of telling people what to do, inviting them in to co create the plan.

Instead of giving unsolicited advice. Rather sitting and listening to understand and then asking questions so that you can collaborate and be powering with people in those kinds of dynamics. Language is one of our most accessible tools to be trauma mindful. 

Carolyn: Yeah, thank you. So the next, step in the competencies is.

Katie: Is trauma informed and I think this is best practice and this might be a hot take, but I think trauma informed care is non negotiable and if you’re working with humans in any capacity, and if you have company values, missions, or visions that include things like trust, integrity, safety, respect.

any of those big buzzwords, then you should also be trauma informed. This means you’ve taken ample time to really apply and create a lens of leadership to understand trauma, to use it, to inform how you show up, how you act, how you interact. We usually get to this space through support, either through qualified trainings.

Here, support mentorship and practice. We can’t just say it. We have to be it. It’s a practice like any other skill set.

 And that last competency level is trauma responsive. These are our social workers, our therapists, our somatic practitioners, the people who have a lot of education, the student loans to prove it.

Climb apprenticeship that are the only level of competency that is able and. there to work to and through people’s trauma. You’ll notice I never said anything in the previous competencies of even knowing anything about people’s trauma, right? And we don’t want you to, it’s really knowing just a general understanding of trauma and stress and healing to then inform how you show up so you can resist harm.

And promote trust safety and autonomy in your spaces. 

Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s, that is so important for us to, to really embody and live as leaders and organizations, because we are in charge of. These spaces were in charge of results, but we’re not going to get those results unless we create those safe spaces.

you know, it, it, it brings me back to several years ago. I was once told Carolyn, we have no idea what it is that you do with teams that you work with. It’s pretty amazing. We don’t quite know what it is. but can you just. Get some results, like, can you just go sell more? Like, we know you’re good with the people stuff.

Don’t worry about that anymore. And when I look back, I realized that my ability to create. safer spaces, because I know no space is going to be 100% safe for everybody. And I certainly wasn’t perfect at it, but there was certainly a strong desire and recognition that. It was incumbent upon me as a leader to create space and not force and drive it out of people.

So I like to say, like, I was sort of embodying these things. They didn’t have the words around it. And I think there are many leaders out there who do embody it, want to do it and then feel, I’d say, the pressure, the angst, the stress, their own sort of You know, I guess, life and how it’s affecting them and then it sort of becomes like, Oh, I wanted to do that, but I didn’t 

Katie: absolutely, I cannot tell you how common it is for me to go into larger corporations, nonprofit systems into C suite, with C suite leadership and people are very resistant because they’re like, Oh, this is another thing.

It’s so complicated. It’s going to change everything and I always, you know, smile not just or, or to make fun, but I always smile because I’m like, oh, this is so not complicated. I mean, unless you think empathy and compassion is really hard, which, you know, for some people it is. However, Most of the time, once people get into, into the training space with me, they realize, Oh, I’m already doing this.

I’m affirming a lot of what I’m doing, but the key here is now, you know, why you’re doing it, you know, why you are doing these certain things. And then it expands your understanding, which expands your capacity to sustainably do this and mirror and model it for others. Yeah. You know, I. I was reading your book and something that really came up for me that I like highlighted and wrote down because I say it all the time and it was so incredibly reassuring and affirming to, to see you also share this is that you said something along the lines of like evolving our leadership allows people to be humans at work.

We cannot compartmentalize our humanity. We, I don’t know, 70% of our lives is at work, whether it’s in an office or at home or wherever. We cannot compartmentalize who we are every day in that amount of time. However, because of the systems we exist in, many people have to do that in order to feel safe and survive every day at work.

Yeah. So we need to really pause and really see that and call out that elephant in the room that, yeah, you may not want to talk about trauma or it may feel heavy or negative. And that doesn’t, that doesn’t matter to you and your company. But the reality is, is that trauma is, it might not be relative to your everyday work or product line, but it’s relative to our everyday reality.

So we need to really look at the fact that not, not everyone’s coming to your workspaces feeling safe. So how can you expand your understanding of trauma and stress? Thank you. Be a person, a leader and a company that shifts their culture so that people can access a felt sense of safety because when we do, can you imagine what’s possible?

I mean, it’s the possibilities are boundless when we are able to create cultures in which we feel safe and trust and autonomy there. There are boundless possibilities. Well, and 

Carolyn: I mean, yes, yes, yes, yes. you know, when I think back to the pandemic and when it started, I’ll just say the year 2020 because yes, there was a pandemic.

There was a lot of things that happened that year, you know, when everything shut down, I was like, oh, this isn’t my first pandemic. Those were the only words I had access to and it was like, this is going to be, I’m, I’m going to be totally fine. Now. I, I recognize there was privilege with that. My job was able to transfer pretty easily to being virtual.

My husband, the same, you know, we had a roof over our head. Like, so I, I recognize that it was so fascinating to me in hindsight to look at that and realize that. I wasn’t even able to come up with the word trauma. Oh, this isn’t my first trauma. And all I could, I could, and I couldn’t let it go. I’m like, this isn’t my first pandemic.

This isn’t my first pandemic. Why can’t I find the right word? Why can’t I find the right word? And that’s what led me into, you know, reading about Gabor Matei’s work and Peter Levine and Steven Porges. And then I started piecing it all together. And I thought, why aren’t more people talking about this in our And I’ll talk about the corporate world, because that’s where I spent, you know, a good portion of my life growing up.

Like, why are more people talking about that? So I’m with you, like, I think that when, when more people can gain access to this in a safe way, in a safe, informed way, that it will. Allow our society, our organizations, and it allowed people to open up in newer ways and be able to collaborate and innovate and do all those things we say we want to do, but we just can’t seem to find the will, the desire, the energy to 

Katie: do it.

Absolutely. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that trauma informed care, just the name of it sounds really clinical and unattainable. And I, I know a lot of people want to shy away or even remove that terminology completely, and I totally get it. I, disagree though. I think we need to reclaim what trauma informed care is to honor the origins who are, who are most importantly, Survivors and people who were at the helm of the civil rights movement, the LGBTQIA movements, the women’s right movement, the rape crisis movements, who often go unacknowledged and unnamed, we need to honor them, but then ushered into the future where it is inclusive and doable.

Trauma informed care, at least the way I teach it. It really is about communications. It’s about how to shift our language. It’s about attuning to ourselves so that we can show up in a way where we can mirror and model this for others. It’s about leadership and not the leadership that we, you know, we used to think of, but how do we lead our lives with integrity and resisting harm by doing all of these things in, in kind of in collaboration.

So these things are not new or. Outside of our scope of practice, these are applicable to every industry. It’s just how you apply it to your specific profession will, will vary pending on what you do. And I think that’s where we often get hung up on, Oh, this is so complicated or this is overwhelming. It’s actually quite simple, but it does take commitment like any other skill and 

Carolyn: practice.


And so the term trauma informed care, is it fair to say that trauma informed care, trauma informed leadership, like which one do you prefer or do you prefer one over the other? What’s the difference? 

Katie: You know, We still don’t have any shared language or universal definitions of anything, even in the fields in which this, this approach started.

and I always like to give the disclaimer that even though trauma informed care began in mental health and healthcare, please do not assume your mental health or healthcare providers are trauma informed. We have a long way to go, to really ensure those systems are adapting this approach as a standard of care.

But I think I tend to use the term trauma informed care. Again, I’m going to say trauma, even if it makes people uncomfortable or they think it’s too negative. We need to be using language to create shared language and understanding because that’s how we reduce the discomfort. We reduce the stigma and then we help expand that understanding so we can have shared meaning making.

I use trauma informed care. I talk about trauma informed leadership. trauma informed space holding, which just means to be with any spaces where you’re being with other people, whether that’s consulting or coaching or services. I use them all sort of interchangeably. I personally though, am looking at that competency level.

So is a trauma informed leader, somebody who’s really done the work to have that information to and then is actively using it to inform how they’re showing up and leading. and I do a lot of work with trauma mindful leaders because maybe they’re not there yet, but it’s a nice bridge to at least begin that mindfulness practice in their spaces.

Carolyn: Right I know that there is, some great work that you’re doing and I just recently saw, your trauma. Your trauma informed checklist, which talked about these 5 hours. can you share that a little bit about that and how people can 1, find out about it and 2, like, what does it mean?

Katie: Sure. So again, I always am honoring the original approach, which is what we call the SAMHSA approach, the Substance Use Mental Health Services Administration. It’s a federal government entity here in the United States, which really kind of became this formalized approach. They have four R’s and six principles and everyone then after created their own interpretation.

Right. As did I. knew that if I was going to apply this into these non traditional industries, like corporate, like entrepreneurial spaces, small businesses, that I needed to shift it to make it doable for and, and for people to adopt it. So the five R’s are my interpretation of that traditional trauma informed care model, which I utilize in literally everything I do, as well as the trauma competency framework.

The five R’s are first to recognize that trauma exists, to really have that foundational awareness. So then utilize which is made up of shared language and understanding to utilize how you inform or be mindful of what you do and how you show up. That next R is how do I then, I don’t start to then apply it to everyone I first come within.

How do I regulate my nervous system and really getting attuned to how I’m showing up and my lived experiences because this approach is bi directional. It includes us. The third R is to reconnect. How do I look at my scope of practice or my professional boundary? To then start to look at how do I. apply this to where I’m at, and then be a bridge of reconnection to a felt sense of safety to start to put schools and practices into place so people can build trust over time.

And I can look at the power dynamics in relationships because they’re always existing to be that bridge of. Reconnection to a felt sense of safety. That fourth R is realign. How do I align my intentions and my impact to minimize and reduce and resist harm? Which is that last R we’re human. We’re going to cause harm.

And there’s a lot of fear around causing harm. And to the point where people swing to the extreme of inaction. And so I like to humanize harm and bring, bring people back to a space of neutrality of acceptance. Yes. We’re going to cause harm. We have, we will. Me too. What do we do then when it does happen?

And so how do we learn to repair harm? How do we learn to reduce and minimize it so it doesn’t happen? But we’re prepared and equipped when it does to make sure we’re repairing it and learning from it to stay accountable and with an integrity. Right. So that’s kind of the overarching approach of trauma informed care that I lead and teach.

Again, to make it inclusive and adaptable for literally every industry. And I say that. Not lately I’ve been everywhere. I’ve trained thousands of people just within the last few years, even, on this approach. 

Carolyn: Yeah. So recognize, regulate, reconnect, realign and resist. I want to, I want to come back to one of the words you said there, which was harm.

And can you give some examples of what unintentional harm? might mean. 

Katie: Yeah. So first, when I say harm again, notice what happens in your body and what images come to mind. Harm is a very nuanced thing. What may feel harmful to me may not feel harmful for you. And then any relational dynamic, disagreement, conflict, rupture are very natural and typical human relationship.

Experiences. What happens is when it crosses over a threshold of trust or safety being broken or autonomy being taken away. We then cause harm again, often unintentionally. Yeah. But even if we have the best of intentions, the impact of that could be harmful. A lot of times we see this with projection. I’m going to assume I know what’s best for you.

I’m going to assume from your body language or who you are that I know what’s better or I’m assuming someone. whatever it may be, we’re human projectors. We’re constantly projecting our thoughts and feelings onto others. And when we assume rather than ask or pause and get curious, we can then potentially open a pathway for harm to occur.

When we use language, where we’re speaking in binaries or those euphemisms, like everything happens for a reason or, oh, it could be worse. Yes. It could be worse. Those are really well intentioned sayings when we don’t know what to say. But they could land feeling really minimizing, and bypassing our, our feelings.

When we just wanted to be seen and heard. Right. And so, shifting our language to instead say, Gosh, that sucks, or I’m so sorry that happened to you. Small shifts can really change the trajectory of the experience you’re having with somebody else. Slowing the pace down. Trauma can see, be seen as too much, too fast, too soon and overwhelmed to our bodily system or the systems or culture of our company or the systems we exist in.

So the biggest thing we can do to resist that kind of harm is to slow it down. I’m not saying stop everything or slow it way down, but can you practice the pause? Can you take a moment? Are you falling into utilizing those tools that perpetuate that too much, too fast, too soon? And can you just shift a little to slow it down a bit so that you aren’t creating that unnecessary urgency that could generate a stress response?

Yeah. So little shifts like that, which again, it has to be named our are embedded in our cultural corporate you know, culture, this, the productivity, the, the rising above the persevering, all of those things are systemic induced environments. And it has to be named that those are harmful and, and can create trauma responses.

And so we have a You might not have an individual experience, but we have a collective responsibility to really look at and acknowledge what’s occurring in our, in our systems and our cultures, and then apply these approaches to minimize and reduce and resolve some of the harm that’s occurred. 

Carolyn: As you were saying that Katie, I just, I thought I’ve thought, you know, 40, 45 years of my life and 51 now, has spent been running hard and fast and not.

Even thinking I was running hard and fast and, and being like, well, why isn’t everyone catching up with me? And it was almost revered and rewarded. And some people like, Oh, you’re so amazing. And now I look back, I’m like, Oh, no, no, no, no. That’s just my way of, of dealing with stress and trauma. And it happens to be rewarded, but it’s just as devastating as others who maybe are, are, are, are, I’ll say the word shutting down.

I don’t know if that’s the right word, but are, are slowing down. and that has been very eyeopening for me and, yeah. It’s hard to undo. I just I want to acknowledge for anyone out there listening. It’s very hard to step out of it. And I think what I’m learning is I’m never going to fully be able to step out of it because I’m not, you know, I do, I do like to get things done.

I like to have a sense of accomplishment. I’m doing it now with more awareness. growing awareness and that to me feels very positive and I know my awareness can continue to grow and I will have the agency, the choice to step in or out and my body’s now telling me I’m I’m able to hear my body more. I think I was telling you before.

The podcast before we pressed, record my body this week in the middle of the night, I had this very interesting experience with it, where I tried to get up and go to the bathroom. And I, I sort of like all of a sudden thought I was going to fall over. I was like, what’s my body telling me probably the past two weeks have been pretty hard and fast.

And you don’t do that anymore, sister. I think that’s what it was trying to tell me. Yeah. 

Katie: I, I really want to acknowledge that and also share like me too. Like I, I thrive in that fast paced environment to the point where I wore it like a badge of honor. And I want to just recognize that for anyone that’s still like, Oh, that’s, I get this, but it doesn’t apply to me.

I will share personally, the majority of the trauma I’ve experienced in my lifetime happened at work. And we It was, it’s very common in the social work mental health field to have that kind of experience. But I’ve also worked with a lot of small businesses and corporations where they share stories and I, and I’m gently here, not to tell anyone that’s trauma because that’s not my business or job, but I can see where Certain environments and events can lead to those trauma responses like workplace injuries, the lack of paid time off, poor leadership and management, you know, unfair treatment, unrealistic expectations, unnecessary urgency, lack of benefits, lack of equal pay.

All of these things are especially, at least I know in American culture, are very rampant and normal and applauded in, in corporate culture. But these things can, especially as they accumulate into stressful or toxic stress, and we know toxic stress has the same imprint on our bodies as trauma does, right?

So again, whether we’re experiencing this directly or indirectly, it still impacts the culture and the sustainability of our workforces. So why wouldn’t we adopt this approach that’s quite. available and doable into our existing cultures to help resist this and then see the benefits. I see the benefits every day, increase client satisfaction, increase consumers of products because there people are feeling, you know, more ability to trust the brand.

If we think of the brands we trust and the leaders we trust, what are they demonstrating? That makes us trust them. Yep. The same thing goes for a trauma-informed care culture. Yep. 

Carolyn: Absolutely. Oh, Katie, I would love to talk to you for hours. and I know I say that probably at the end of several podcasts, I mean, I just love doing this podcast, because I get to meet people like you who are, are really bringing this great work to.

Help make, help make our world, you know, more inclusive, more equitable, more diverse and, and just hearing different perspectives. Katie, where could our listeners find out more about you, and 

Katie: your work?

 Yeah, I would love to connect with anyone. You can find me on Instagram or LinkedIn. my website is katie kurtz.

com where I have tons of free resources, trainings and consultation support. And I’m also launching a podcast called a trauma informed future. this is where we’ll have more of these deeper conversations, and hopefully have you on as well as we, we continue these conversations because that’s how we, again, come together in this work.

We can’t do it alone. No, absolutely 

Carolyn: not. and I can tell you, I saved so many of Katie’s, Posts on Instagram, I should have just a Katie file. now with all of the podcasts, we end off with 3 questions. Katie. Are you ready? You ready to go? I’m ready to go. All right. So these 3 questions are based around the 3 elements of what I call an evolved leader, which, by the way, is a trauma informed leader.

and so the 1st, 1’s around self awareness. So is there, a story you could share with us or an insight where you learn something about yourself really deep into your, your own insight. but was perhaps kind of uncomfortable at the same time. Yes. 

Katie: So I am a hyper aware individual and always shocked when people lack self awareness because I’m so self aware.

But I had a, professional experience where I was a part of a startup and There was a misalignment of values and a rupture and I, as someone with experiences of relational trauma, any type of conflict always makes me really nervous and anxious. And I always have that like gut feeling that like tension in my jaw, I can, my body knows before my head does.

And so. Even though conflict’s a very typical experience, growing up I did not have modeling of that, and so that’s why I. to this day still struggle with conflict, but I was able to really attune and witness myself have this reaction. And then what it prompted me with two choices, I could betray myself and what I was feeling, or I could resource myself and trust what I was feeling.

And so, Because I was able to access resources in the form of support and all of the tools that I’ve gathered over the years, I was really able to get back to, a regulated state to make a sound judgment that was really uncomfortable, but was best for me and utilize my voice. and, and it was a really great decision for me, but it was a moment of choosing, and, and I’m glad, and I’m glad I chose me.

I, I love the 

Carolyn: word that you used, which was, I chose to resource myself on my hope is that that starts to, become an activity that people, use and choose because it’s, you know, and I’m getting a little bit off on a side tangent here, but when I hear the word self care, there’s a piece in me that thinks that’s not the word that is really describing what we need to do.

And it is, it’s resourcing ourselves. Anyway, yeah, sorry, moment outside of your story. Thank you for allowing me to go there, Katie. Absolutely. 

Katie: And 

Carolyn: that leads nicely into the second question, which is around, you know, having a calm state regulating herself. And so I’m curious if there’s a practice or a ritual that you have that that you find helps bring you into a calmer state, closer to regulation.

Katie: Yeah. So I’m really grateful and I honor that. Where I’m at is I’ve been doing a lot of practice for a lot of years. So I have quite a toolbox of things that I can dip into to again, resource myself as needed. So I selfishly last year published and created a card deck called the contained deck that was generated from years of working with people, wanting a tool to do just this, to find ways to be with whatever we’re to get to a place of neutral, not just like calm and Zen.

But also to release. Sometimes we need to release things and sometimes we need to ground. And that’s that flexibility in our nervous systems. So I also selfishly used it for me because I was looking for actual tangible tools to be with all of the different highs and lows I was experiencing every day and not to wash it with toxic positivity or forced gratitude.

And like, you can’t find this level of care at Target or, you know, on Amazon. It needs to come in many forms. And so I utilize this deck as a way to just sit, take a moment to pause, be with whatever I’m feeling that day. And again, opt for curiosity over judgment so that I can get into the head space and the heart space to really show up for myself and others.

I’ll also say I have two puppies that are extremely cute and they’re fantastic co regulators. So I, it helps to have them 

Carolyn: around. Yeah. I think pets are wonderful. Yeah. I hear you. Thank you for that. And then the last question, which has to do around this collective spirit, this notion of co regulation, linking to music, cause that’s a way that I find really, helps me be with others is.

What is a song or genre of music that just helps you feel connected to others and really part of something bigger than yourself? 


Katie: I love music too of so many genres and the song that keeps coming to mind to me is a song that I grew up listening to, called, I think it’s called reach out or I’ll be there by the four tops.

It’s an older song. I’m an old soul. but it, I was raised with, you know, music from the sixties and it’s, it has a soft place in my heart, but when the lyrics to that song are, you know, I’ll be there no matter what. And I think we. forget because it’s so ingrained that of this individualism, this stoicism, this pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

If you can’t do it alone, then you can’t do it. But we’re relational beings and we need connection as much as the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. And I think this song reminds us that like, Even when we feel so alone and isolated that there are people and there are spaces where we can find belonging to be just who we are.

And we need more of that. We need more spaces in all areas of our lives where we can show up just as and have our full humanity honored. 

Carolyn: Yeah. I’m going to go play that song. I know exactly. It’s a good one. Yeah, it is. It’s a great one. I usually do seventies on Sunday. you know, good old, like easy, like Sunday morning, like a lot on Richie and the Commodore.

So maybe, you know, Friday afternoons will be like more of the sixties. I’ll be there. I’ll be there and present and resource for the weekend, you know, 

Katie: love it. Maybe I’ll join you. Yeah. 

Carolyn: Well, Katie, thank you so much again for coming on the show. I’m sure the listeners, have just. Taken a wealth of insight away from our conversation and wishing you all the best with your new podcast and all of your programs.

And I, and I hope the folks out there, do reach out and, and put you on their liked, on their like pages and, And just learn all that you 

Katie: have to put it. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me and thank you for doing this work and really bringing these conversations into spaces where it’s needed and it’s 

Carolyn: possible.

Yeah. Yeah. Here we go. We’ll, we’ll do it together. Just you and I and a whole bunch of other, other great people out there. Yeah. 

Katie: Thanks again. Thanks.

Carolyn: You know, at one point during the podcast, I decided I just needed to put my pen down because I was learning so much from Katie and I went into student mode instead of being present in the conversation. There’s so many gems that, I took out of that conversation. I hope you did too. and one of the most powerful reminders for me was importance and the benefit.

of a pause and being able to do that not only for ourselves, but also to be able to do that at work. And knowing that a pause doesn’t mean we slow down to a halt and we stop getting stuff done, but a pause can be as simple as being in a meeting and giving people a moment or two to formulate an answer or saying.

I just need a moment here to gather some thoughts and being okay with that. We don’t need to rush and have an answer the instant a question is asked. And that little pause, sometimes it’s 10 seconds, sometimes it’s 20, it can really do a lot to help create. A safer environment for us to grow and thrive in.

If you’ve enjoyed hearing about this topic of trauma informed leadership, if you’re curious to learn more, I invite you to look for my book. It can be found in some bookstores. It’s also found where you can buy most books online. And if you’d like to reach out to me directly, you can find me at carolynswara.

org. Thanks for joining us today and please like and subscribe and we hope to see you soon in another one of our episodes.

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