Marymound is Creating Presence for Staff

29 January, 2024 | Marymound

When Dawn Isaac began working at Marymound in 2016, she noticed something about what she calls the felt sense of the organisation. “I felt like something was wrong when I looked around,” she recalls. “The body language of staff, the non-verbal cues…it felt heavy here. We knew there was healing to do.”

In an organisation such as Marymound, which offers programs and services for vulnerable youth and their families, staff are acutely aware of the impacts of trauma on participants. What can sometimes be overlooked is the impacts of trauma on staff, and that’s where the Creating Presence Model, created by Dr. Sandra Bloom, comes in. The model is an organisational and clinical approach for creating trauma-informed, trauma-responsive and trauma-resilient organisations.

In late 2023, Marymound became one of the first Creating Presence certified organisations in North America. “We have a long history and that includes adverse events, unfortunately,” explains Isaac. “We need to heal from those. This model has helped us to create a new way of being for the organisation.”

The Creating Presence certification was an intensive process. Two-day training sessions were held for each member of staff, then different cohorts, divided by function, continued to explore and create new ways of being over a four-year process. Marymound also had to submit policy changes, case studies and other support documents. “This wasn’t about buying training,” clarifies Isaac. “This is an organisational therapeutic process that required fully commitment from leadership to the front lines.”

Isaac is grateful to Marymound CEO Nancy Parker for her willingness to try to implement a new model. “She and I talked a lot in the early days of my time here about finding a model to help Marymound become unstuck,” shares Isaac. “If we were going to provide the best service possible for our youth, we needed to serve the staff first. We knew it’d be like opening Pandora’s box, to bring everything out in the open, but Nancy knew that if we were going to enact change, we had to deal with a bit of risk. And it has really paid off.”

Many concrete changes have occurred throughout the certification process, but Isaac is particularly happy with the way the response to interpersonal challenges has evolved. “We’re looking out for each other,” she shares. “We’re normalizing emotional regulation in ourselves, and that’s so important. The lines of communication are certainly more open, and the way we’re managing conflict has changed, too. It’s become more task-based instead of focused on the personal, and we’re learning that we can maintain relationship while still having healthy conflict.”

The most important change for Isaac can’t necessarily be measured on a chart. “The biggest difference is that you walk in now and heaviness isn’t there. We’ve started visualizing our organisation as a living, breathing system and noticing how we’re all connected.”

She’s also proud of the shift towards collaborative decision-making wherever possible. “Our front-line staff have solutions, they’re doing the work every day,” Isaac says. “They’re now involved with the strategic plan, and we’re doing our best to encourage and empower bottom-up decision-making. It takes all of us.”