Notes on Resilience

68: Advocating for Resilience--Collective Healing through Advocacy, with Whitney Marris

April 17, 2024 Manya Chylinski Season 2 Episode 16
68: Advocating for Resilience--Collective Healing through Advocacy, with Whitney Marris
Notes on Resilience
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Notes on Resilience
68: Advocating for Resilience--Collective Healing through Advocacy, with Whitney Marris
Apr 17, 2024 Season 2 Episode 16
Manya Chylinski

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Have you ever considered the true essence of being an advocate or the resilience required to champion change?

In the third episode in the series, Advocating for Resilience: Empowering Mental Wellness, we talk with social worker and advocate Whitney Marris about the vital role of advocacy in fostering mental wellness and community strength. Together, we take a close look at the challenges advocates face and the triumphs that come with amplifying voices for societal betterment. Whitney shares insights about the power of advocacy beyond policy and the importance of self-care to sustain our commitment to meaningful change.

We also examine the concept of trauma-informed change, the roles various individuals play in advocacy, from storytellers to strategists, and the collective effort it takes to heal and build resilience. We also discuss the importance of setting boundaries and creating support systems among fellow advocates, acknowledging that the full impact of our efforts may not be immediately visible but trusting in the long-term change our work contributes to. Tune in for a profound exploration of resilience, advocacy, and the communal journey towards healing.

Whitney Marris, LCSW is committed to fostering resiliency and holistic well-being for individuals, organizations, communities, and systems to various roles. They are the Director of Trauma-Informed Practice and System Transformation with the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) and a trauma therapist in private practice in the DC Metro Area. They are also an adjunct instructor at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, and a consultant trainer and coach guiding organizations and systems of care seeking to implement trauma-informed, healing-centered change. When not engaged in change work, you will find Whitney throwing pottery, getting lost in a book, or spending time in nature with partner, Alex, and Schnoodle, Jennifer.

You can learn more about CTIPP at their website, on X, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and you can email Whitney at whitney@ctipp.org.

Go to https://betterhelp.com/resilience or click Notes on Resilience during sign up for 10% off your first month of therapy with my sponsor BetterHelp.

_______
Producer / Editor: Neel Panji

Invite Manya to inspire and empower your teams + position your organization as a forward-thinking leader in fostering resilience and trauma sensitivity.

#trauma #resilience #MentalHealth #leadership #survivor

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Have you ever considered the true essence of being an advocate or the resilience required to champion change?

In the third episode in the series, Advocating for Resilience: Empowering Mental Wellness, we talk with social worker and advocate Whitney Marris about the vital role of advocacy in fostering mental wellness and community strength. Together, we take a close look at the challenges advocates face and the triumphs that come with amplifying voices for societal betterment. Whitney shares insights about the power of advocacy beyond policy and the importance of self-care to sustain our commitment to meaningful change.

We also examine the concept of trauma-informed change, the roles various individuals play in advocacy, from storytellers to strategists, and the collective effort it takes to heal and build resilience. We also discuss the importance of setting boundaries and creating support systems among fellow advocates, acknowledging that the full impact of our efforts may not be immediately visible but trusting in the long-term change our work contributes to. Tune in for a profound exploration of resilience, advocacy, and the communal journey towards healing.

Whitney Marris, LCSW is committed to fostering resiliency and holistic well-being for individuals, organizations, communities, and systems to various roles. They are the Director of Trauma-Informed Practice and System Transformation with the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) and a trauma therapist in private practice in the DC Metro Area. They are also an adjunct instructor at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, and a consultant trainer and coach guiding organizations and systems of care seeking to implement trauma-informed, healing-centered change. When not engaged in change work, you will find Whitney throwing pottery, getting lost in a book, or spending time in nature with partner, Alex, and Schnoodle, Jennifer.

You can learn more about CTIPP at their website, on X, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and you can email Whitney at whitney@ctipp.org.

Go to https://betterhelp.com/resilience or click Notes on Resilience during sign up for 10% off your first month of therapy with my sponsor BetterHelp.

_______
Producer / Editor: Neel Panji

Invite Manya to inspire and empower your teams + position your organization as a forward-thinking leader in fostering resilience and trauma sensitivity.

#trauma #resilience #MentalHealth #leadership #survivor

Support the Show.

Whitney Marris:

It's not just about preventing harm in the future and addressing the harm that's already happened. It's also about helping people get what they need to live a fundamentally good life, and the thing is we know what helps with that. We know protective factors. We know factors of resiliency at the community and individual level.

Manya Chylinski:

Hello and welcome to Notes on Resilience. I'm your host, Manya Chylinski, and this is another episode in our series Advocating for Resilience Empowering Mental Wellness, where we look at how to build resilience in our communities and beyond through advocacy. And today I spoke to Whitney Marris. She's a social worker and the director for trauma-informed practice and system transformation with the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice. We talked about what is advocacy, what does it really mean to be an advocate, how to take care of ourselves as advocates, especially in the trauma and mental health advocacy space, and we just had a lovely conversation about what it means to work to make real and lasting change in this world. I think you're really going to enjoy this episode.

Manya Chylinski:

Listen to Notes on Resilience on Apple Podcasts and subscribe, and we'd love for you to leave a review too. And hey, I'm really curious Would you recommend this show to a friend? If not, would you be willing to let me know why? Send me an email right now and tell me what's stopping you from recommending Notes on Resilience to your friends? What can I do to make this the kind of show you would recommend to your friends? I want to make a show that people really enjoy and brings value to their lives. You can email me at manya@manyachylinski. com, or fill out the form in the show notes. Thanks, hello Whitney. I'm so excited that you and I are talking today. Me too. Thanks. So much for the invite. So, before we dive into the topic of advocacy, which is something near and dear to both of our hearts, I want to ask you a question I start out with, which is if you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be and why?

Whitney Marris:

I love this challenging question. It's so fun and I'm trying to figure out if I'm the only person who's going to cheat a little bit and have a little bit of a full-on dinner party with a few fascinating folks. I'm really interested in the works of radical educators, sort of fostering critical consciousness, like people like Paolo Freire and Franz Fanon. I'm really curious about activist leaders pursuing justice and liberation, like Angela Davis. I'm really curious about storytellers raising their voices about complex intersections of individual and collective identity in a globalized world, like Adrienne Marie Brown and I just couldn't narrow it and I think we could have a really meaningful and special conversation noodling together about what really needs to happen to affect the types of full-scale global transformation that I think we'd all like to see in the world and really come up with some strategies to cultivate deeper compassion and empathy at a time when it feels so important to do so.

Manya Chylinski:

Wow, I think that sounds like a fabulous dinner party and I don't think that's cheating. You've just decided that you need to hear from all these people and I, you know, I so wish I could make these happen for people and then, of course, invite myself to join because I or at least to be a fly on the wall and I will tell you, and I will tell my listeners, that every time I ask somebody this question, I answer it for myself, in my head, and it's different every time. So I would need to also have multiple dinners with multiple people, because there's so many amazing activists and and others in the world that it would be amazing to learn from. So thank you for sharing. So you and I are talking about advocacy today.

Whitney Marris:

And so you and I are talking about advocacy today, and that is something that that's the kind of them, because a lot of systems and entities really do kind of gatekeep who's invited to the table and create these needless complexities and barriers that ultimately thwart collective action and power building to shift the status quo. And yet, in reality, advocacy is for everyone, right, and it's about more than just quote unquote, getting policies passed and signed into law, right. It's also about amplifying your voice as well as the voices of others, working toward a shared vision of a preferred future. It's about mobilizing each of our unique gifts and strengths and skills to shift dialogues and processes, and it's really about leveraging connections and resources in order to create and sustain positive change in our individual lives, in our communities, in our systems and also in our institutions.

Manya Chylinski:

Okay, I love that definition and I love that you are reminding us it isn't just creating and getting a new policy put into place that has a role, but there's so many other ways to be an advocate and ways to really make a difference, absolutely. So what brings you to the world of advocacy? What makes you an advocate?

Whitney Marris:

I'm thinking that if my mother were here today, she would likely chuckle and tell you that I've always been, we'll say a passionately persistent person, right?

Whitney Marris:

Which is of course a very polite way of saying that, even as a child, you know, I wouldn't take no for an answer and I could certainly hold firm in a fierce debate about anything from bedtime to broccoli. She wouldn't be wrong. Right, she's correct, although I do think that she might have believed that it was just a phase right, which really isn't true. In college, I was able to channel this proclivity into things like becoming the president of the college Democrats, and after college that evolved into taking jobs, canvassing for social and environmental justice causes, as well as political candidates that I believed could bring the world into alignment with how I believe it ought to be sort of one door at a time.

Whitney Marris:

And yet you know, I don't think that I would have referred to myself as an advocate back then, and it really wasn't until my mom had a very sudden death when I was 27, that I was steered toward the deep self-learning that has really helped me sustain myself in this advocacy work in a more meaningful way over time and for a kid from a family where emotional literacy was definitely not our forte engaging with therapy and embarking on my own healing journey where I unraveled misdiagnoses and I learned about complex trauma, which is what ultimately called me to the social work profession.

Whitney Marris:

That's where I really began to understand the interconnectedness between this personal and the collective and the political and how I think I learned to more strategically utilize that passionate persistence as a tool for transformation at all different levels.

Whitney Marris:

And this is where I also feel as if I made some of these really important and supportive connections in my life that has helped me let go of some of the negative narratives that I had believed about myself and really recognizing the adaptivity and capacity in my journey that I so naturally and clearly see in others yet missed in myself.

Whitney Marris:

And I think you know in a lot of ways I didn't necessarily consciously choose a lot of what I encountered on that path that's led me here. Yet in some ways, as I think I'm capturing here, it feels like it's always been sort of woven into the fabric of who I am, and I know that story is not different from a lot of folks in this work right, and I think it's a really important reminder that each of us is probably advocating in some area of our lives that we can be intentional about expanding on as we create a more coherent narrative of our own stories and the contributions we each are already making that we can build on as we figure out how we want to leave our mark on the world.

Manya Chylinski:

Right. I like the term that you used, passionate persistence and I'm imagining that we've got some listeners for whom that sounds very, very familiar about their own life and work, who may have not made that connection that what they could be doing is advocacy. And I think also that term passionate persistence it reminds me that advocacy work can be difficult and it can be lonely, and there can be so many times when you question that persistence. Do I need to keep doing this? There are times when I think you've probably experiences I have where absolutely I'm going to keep going, I'm not stopping. This is important, we're close, or I've got the right person that I'm talking to or something, and it feels like it's just flowing naturally. And then there are times where you think, oh, this is the X number of time I've called this person. Is it really going to make a difference that I call one more time and ask them this question? So how do advocates take care of themselves through this sort of feast or famine, often quite emotional journey?

Whitney Marris:

It's such an important question and a discussion to be having because change, especially the kind that reshapes societies and systems and institutions, is notoriously slow and systems and institutions is notoriously slow, and the setbacks that you lifted up are part and parcel of the process. Right, and that's true of all advocacy work, but especially policy change work, because fewer than 10% of bills that are considered are typically actually signed into law during a legislative session, and there are many times that a bill will be heard across several years in different legislative sessions and it's voted against or it doesn't make it to a hearing the next time. Or the pain in that it passed but the legislature passed it, but the governor or president vetoes it is real, right, Budgetary constraints or something, and so it can be real ups and downs that you need to remain resilient to. And it's important to acknowledge first off, just with radical honesty ouch, that hurts, right, and be clear about the fact that this is not easy work, especially when something you're advocating about or for is deeply personal to you. And I think one of the important things is really, when this happens, reconceptualizing what we think of as sort of failures in this work, Rather than seeing these setbacks as defeats. We can think of them as learning experiences that present really important information about where our world really is at, as hard as that might be to accept, so we can meet the necessary parties wherever that really is to create change, versus trying to engage with them as if they're already where we wish they were or where we believe they ought to be.

Whitney Marris:

And I believe we can reframe these moments and notice them as opportunities, and that will help us unlock new strategies. It will help us adapt. It will help us come back stronger and even more impassioned in the next steps of the change process. I think that mindset is really crucial for sustaining long-term efforts in advocacy, and I also think it's really important that we're looking for taking notice of, really intentionally and celebrating moments that indicate when we are making an impact, no matter how small they may seem in the moment.

Whitney Marris:

It's about the conversations that spark change, the awareness, raise the communities, mobilize the one person who tells you that what you did made a difference to them mobilized the one person who tells you that what you did made a difference to them. Every effort counts and every action has the potential to contribute to the larger movement. So I think, in the face of setbacks or resistance or ambivalence from others. I remind myself and work to remind my own community of advocates that I work with that our work is really not a sprint community of advocates that I work with that our work is really not a sprint right, it's a marathon and every step forward, no matter how small, is progress that will positively impact lived experiences and outcomes and that absolutely always matters.

Manya Chylinski:

Yes, and I appreciate you saying that, that it always matters. And you mentioned something in your own story about, early on, not necessarily thinking of yourself as an advocate, and that resonates with me so strongly. I mean, I picked up the phone to call my Congresswoman to ask a question and that set in motion something amazing, something life-changing for myself and certainly for many people who I'm never going to get a chance to meet, and that's the work, right. But in those moments I wouldn't have characterized myself as an advocate, so I wasn't even thinking on that level. It was just darn it. This is a thing and it needs to change. And here's a person who I think can help. And so I think it's interesting that many people almost kind of back into it and without necessarily having that label to it, without necessarily having that label to it and I don't even know that I have a question here but I just I find that interesting that it's probably very common experience to not necessarily know that you've already become an advocate, totally, totally.

Whitney Marris:

And you know, I think something that's really important to take with. That is sort of a both and approach. It's really important to hold at the same time that every individual action you take matters and contributes and could be conceptualized as advocacy, and also that no one person in isolation can accomplish the type of total transformation right that we are trying to achieve. We really need each other in this work, are trying to achieve we really need each other in this work, and I think that that's a really important conceptualization, that aspect of oh, I'm already doing this. And also, how do I join with others to buffer the stressors and to carry the weight of this work that you were speaking to earlier in ways that don't contribute to burnout or compassion, fatigue or moral injury and distress?

Manya Chylinski:

Right, and that's actually that piece you just said is how you and I know each other, which is.

Manya Chylinski:

I found out about the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice and first off, I have to say, as soon as I heard the name I was like, yeah, these are my people, I need to get involved with these people and it's through that group that I have met many other people, I've learned more about being an advocate and I have found that support that I probably on some level knew that I needed but didn't know how to find.

Manya Chylinski:

And you know you talk about one person can make a difference, and one of the ways one person makes a difference is by talking to another person and then either building a movement or making some sort of policy change or something like that. And I'm curious, you know, especially given your work at CTIP, I guess advice for people who want to partner with or work with policymakers or kind of that official policy change advocacy how should someone work with a policymaker to make real changes? And you know, here we're talking about mental health and trauma. It's true in any, in any vertical, but this just happens to be the subject matter that you and I are talking about today, absolutely.

Whitney Marris:

It's a real, it can be a real dance, and so much of it is knowing your audience right, really understanding and noticing alignment and shared values, and where you all want the same things, and using that as sort of an inroad to speak to both their head and their heart through.

Whitney Marris:

I believe, storytelling being sort of the best way to engage that and to make that happen. And I think when we are thinking about preventing and addressing trauma in our advocacy with policymakers and stakeholders and creating change in that arena, it's equally important that we're thinking about building resiliency to future threats to holistic well-being, as well as creating the context and conditions for all people to flourish and thrive. And so I think it's also really important to acknowledge it's a multi-pronged process when we're in our educating phase. Right, it's not just about the challenges and the harms, it's also about building a thriving and healthy society. It's also about framing this as a possibility of a different future where everybody can have access to what they need to live a full and self-actualized life. Because we know that that exists and I think we can get really into what I can sort of refer to as almost like trauma porn and exploiting these stories right.

Whitney Marris:

And only talking about the real challenges, and that's important, and this is another both and right.

Whitney Marris:

It's this aspect of, and also it's not just about preventing harm in the future and addressing the harm that's already happened. It's also about helping people get what they need to live a fundamentally good life, and the thing is we know what helps with that. We know protective factors, we know factors of resiliency at the community and individual level, we know what helps and what hurts, and so I think really helping legislators get a full scope and sort of correct the record of what is addressing the root causes also enables positive things. In addition to being in conjunction working with the things that are already being done to address challenges is important, because when we look at what people invest in, a lot of times it's single issues that feel like they can check a box, say, well, we targeted this real challenge and so we've done our work, without looking at what thriving really looks like. And so I think that that's one of the most important things telling a really balanced story about what's happening and also what's possible, based on knowing your audience and digging into those shared values and visions.

Manya Chylinski:

Yes. So one thing you mentioned was the concept of storytelling and, as someone with lived experience, that was how I was reaching out to advocate and I was able to use my story and affect change. Not every person who advocates has a personal story. So how does somebody like that who may not be directly affected by trauma, for example, but truly believes how important it is that we're building a trauma-informed society somebody like that? How are they going to make a real difference if they don't have that story to share?

Whitney Marris:

Absolutely. You know. I think one of the most important things to recognize for anyone who even feels a little spark inside of them to advocate is that there's absolutely a place for everyone in this work. It's okay to not have the lived experiences that you're looking to help heal and repair and prevent, and to engage in ongoing self-reflection about what you care, about what feels authentic for you is really important to recognize what you're great at, where your strengths are, what you really want to accomplish and how much you want to participate in. I think all of those things are really critical in this work because it's important to know. You know that there is exploitation of caring and being committed. That happens in this work, and if you don't sort of think about where do I see myself in this, even if I don't have that lived experience that I am thinking about, where's my place in this, you could end up being pulled in a lot of different directions. So there's a lot of just knowing yourself right and knowing your calling, I think can be a really important sort of North Star to follow, and so I really encourage everyone to consider what makes sense and fits for you.

Whitney Marris:

Some of us are storytellers weaving narratives that do expose those injustices and ignite a spark in others to act based upon our own experiences. Others are connectors right, bringing people together to amplify and unify others' voices in collective action toward change. There are people who are really great strategists. They can map pathways toward a more just and equitable future sort of really talented at both zooming in and zooming out to the micro, the mezzo, the macro and linking that and helping guide the movement.

Whitney Marris:

There are informants right who are keeping current with and conducting and conveying research to strengthen collective action. And there are nurturers I think this gets left out of the conversation sometime. Nurturers right Just maybe offer compassion and support and help partners in change feel safe and empowered to keep moving forward and to tell their stories. So I think really you are the one who gets to choose the legacy that you leave as a change maker, and that can be writing a powerful blog post raising awareness. Maybe you organize a community event sparking crucial, courageous conversations. Maybe you're just holding space for someone as they share their inner world and lived experiences with you and you're not jumping right into action. You're just holding that and being with them right, trust and believe that whatever you do, it's enough and it matters.

Manya Chylinski:

Yeah, I think that's a really important piece and an important reminder for people who are advocating that what you are doing matters, whether you've necessarily seen a change or not. You know and you and I know each other through CTIP, and we think about and talk about the concept of trauma and mental health, and that's the kind of advocacy that we are at least focused on in this moment. Is there anything particular about this kind of advocacy that makes it more difficult or that we need to be more aware of how to take care of ourselves when we're talking about these kinds of difficult and very personal topics?

Whitney Marris:

You said it beautifully, right. Because I recognize like we've both grappled with the weight of the work in our advocacy journeys and it's not uncommon for these phenomena to emerge. And it's because it's so personal, so often right. And on top of that, at least in the trauma-informed advocacy space that we're speaking to, you're also hearing a lot of trauma narratives. Yes, yes.

Whitney Marris:

Yeah, and on the one hand, it's an honor for someone to entrust you with their story, and also, we're human and it can take a toll on us. So, in conjunction with feeling compelled to act to make change in the world, there's also this real calling and need to stay connected to ourselves and our experiences, and, I would say, to tap into both self-care and also collective care in order to sustain ourselves in this space. And exactly what you were speaking to earlier, right, what that means is creating a support system, reaching out to fellow advocates, sharing experiences, celebrating successes together, mourning challenges together and remaining present to our impact and compassionate in our work with one another. And I think, through engaging with intentionality in how we care for ourselves and each other, we can learn from each other as well new coping mechanisms to reach for new resources, to access new ways to help each other stay connected to our purpose and the impact of our work, by reminding each other that, even when it can feel like we're on an island, we're not alone and that we're making a difference together. And I think you know.

Whitney Marris:

Speaking concretely, one thing that becomes really important as you make more and more connections in the work is recognizing that setting boundaries is essential. This means knowing your own personal yeses and noes right, being aware of when it fits for you to take on a new challenge, and being honest with yourself when you need to tap into your support networks and delegate so you can attend to your own wellbeing. And it's important to recognize that's not selfish. You're not betraying the movement, you're not not doing enough. We are humans who have needs, and as much as many of us who've had to make ourselves small or ignore those needs to survive in our lives, if we've had lived experience of trauma, it's so important to remain attuned to what's really happening in ourselves, because when we don't, that's where we do harm inadvertently, unintentionally in the work to ourselves, to others we're working with, whereas when we take care of ourselves and each other, there's just more spaciousness for compassion and empathy and clarity in the work.

Manya Chylinski:

Yes, absolutely Well. Thank you for giving a few little hints about self-care, as we are working with advocacy and we are getting close to the end of our time and I want to give you a chance. Is there anything you haven't had a chance to share yet, that you want to make sure our listeners know about advocacy, about trauma advocacy in particular, anything to share?

Whitney Marris:

You know, that's such a good question because I feel like we could probably talk forever, but what I'm called to right now is I think there's also a really important piece of acceptance that sometimes needs to happen when you go into this work, and it sometimes can be helpful to conceptualize ourselves as seed planters, because the reality is, on this long arc of change, that acceptance is that we might not see the fruits of our labor in full during our lifetimes, during, during, even the next generation. It might not be happening, but again, staying firm, trusting the process, recognizing that the seeds that we're planting will be nourished and that they'll take root as we continue to grow together and use our voices and work together, that that is a process to trust and believe will, you know, germinate down the line. I think that's a really important piece, which brings us back to the importance of really celebrating those smaller successes along the way, because otherwise, right, you might lose sight of the fact that what you're doing really is contributing to long-term change.

Manya Chylinski:

Yes, well, thank you for that. And, whitney, you are correct, we could, and we have spoken for hours on this topic. Valid, but tell our listeners how they can reach you and learn more about you and your work.

Whitney Marris:

Absolutely so the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, or CTIPP as we've been calling it C-T-I-P-P. You can visit our website. We have an advocacy series. It's a free, nine-part sort of choose-your-own-adventure series. There are videos, there are slides, there are reflective activities. If anything here has sparked your interest, there's ways to build on it there. We've also published a really large analysis of progress made in the last year when it comes to trauma-informed policy. So if this is the first time you're hearing about this and you're curious to see what's already happening that you can sort of join, or what's not happening where there are gaps for you to help us fill, we have all of these different resources available to you on ctiporg, and you certainly are welcome to email me directly at to you on ctiporg, and you certainly are welcome to email me directly at Whitney at ctiporg.

Manya Chylinski:

Excellent. Whitney, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your story of advocacy with our listeners, and just thank you so much for being here.

Whitney Marris:

Such a pleasure, grateful to be in community with you.

Manya Chylinski:

Thank you for listening. I hope you got as much out of this conversation as I did. So if you'd like to learn more about me, manya Chylinski, I work with organizations to help understand how to create environments where people can thrive after difficult life experiences, and I do this through talks and consulting. I'm a survivor of mass violence and I use my experience to help. Thank you, if this is something you want to learn more about, visit my website, www. manyachylinski. com, or email me at Manya@ Manya Chylinski. com, or stop by my social media on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thanks so much.

Advocacy and Resilience
The Power of Advocacy in Action
Advocating for Trauma-Informed Change
Importance of Self-Care in Advocacy
Supporting Thriving Post-Trauma Environments