trauma-informed conflict resolution

“Redemption happens when we free ourselves and others from the static roles of victim and victimizer. It is only in an uncondemned state that any of us can change.”

Leaf Seligman, Restorative Justice Practitioner
We can only really hope to understand conflict by also understanding individual & social impacts of trauma

I’ll tell you a secret: For most of my life, I’ve been terrified – terrified – of conflict. Though my parents and siblings are deeply well-intentioned people, my childhood experience in my family of origin was punctuated by explosive, unpredictable bursts of aggression followed by periods of intense codependency. Later on, when I ran away to join communities of queers, activists, and artists, I noticed this same pattern playing out over and over again, each time seemingly more destructive and vicious than the last. Even in the ”healing” worlds of non-profit work, social services, and mental health, I’ve seen this happen between people whom I cherish and admire. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I’ve seen lives, relationships, organizations, and communities completely destroyed by conflict.

After spending years desperately avoiding conflict, I decided that I had no choice but learn as much about it as I possibly could. And so I began what became a years-long devotion to pursuing solutions to the problems and patterns that have plagued me and my loved ones for my entire life: Where does conflict come from? Why do compassionate, skilled, loving people so often collapse helplessly or explode uncontrollably in the face of interpersonal tension? What can we do to make conflicts, whether internal, interpersonal, or sociological, survivable? How can we come to reckoning with harm and accountability in the spirit of healing and even joy?

The conflicts within ourselves tend to mirror the conflicts in our social worlds

Conflict is an invitation to engage in transformative internal and interpersonal change

Kai Cheng Thom

My approach to conflict resolution is profoundly informed by my ”past lives” as an activist, community organizer, and former couple & family therapist. I do not believe that most of the significant conflicts impacting individuals, communities and workplaces today can be meaningfully addressed without an understanding of the ways in which trauma, social power dynamics, and colonization shape our experiences of conflict.

To that end, I weave together my professional training as an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) practitioner with my skills and knowledge as a somatic practitioner and former mental health clinician to facilitate dynamic, emotionally responsive processes. I am also very much informed by prison abolition, Restorative Justice, Transformative Justice, and non-punitive philosophies on addressing harm. My thinking is indebted to the work of such thought leaders as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, adrienne maree brown, Mariame Kaba, Ejeris Dixon, and Mia Mingus.

My Conflict Resolution Services

Most conflict resolution professionals specialize in a particular area of practice. My focus is on working with conflict in community groups, housing co-ops & roommates, organizations & workplaces, and spiritual congregations. I do not provide conflict work regarding disputes about child custody, elder care, or violent crime at this time, as I am not yet adequately trained to provide such work.

There are many different types of conflict resolution and management services. Some are more or less suitable depending on the situation you are moving through, and sometimes they can be combined for greater effectiveness. Here are some of the conflict services that I provide:

MEDIATION – Mediation is a structured, consent-based process that brings together two or more parties that are involved a dispute. Mediation is an opportunity to work through conflict collaboratively by developing a shared agreement. Unlike arbitration or a court-based process, mediation is voluntary, which means that a consensus is required to create an outcome. The mediator does not take sides, but rather is responsible for maintaining a safe-enough space for generative conversation. Mediation is a good option when a clear decision about how to proceed needs to be made, and when the parties in conflict are both relatively willing and able to consider reconnection. My mediation style is heavily based on the Transformative Mediation model, which has more of a focus on relationships than other mediation models.

CONFLICT & LEADERSHIP COACHING – Conflict coaching and leadership coaching are 1 on 1 and small group processes that are meant to help increase individuals’ skills at preventing, managing, and resolving conflicts by themselves. In coaching, the coach uses a supportive relationship, asking questions, goal-setting, psycho-education, role play, and other tools to help the client(s) work through conflict related problems. Leadership coaching adds an element of supporting those in positions of management, directorship, and informal leadership to step fully and effectively into their key roles in addressing conflict. Conflict and Leadership coaching are good options for when people in conflict are not willing or able to speak with one another, when the conflict is ”underground” or chronic, and for increasing the effectiveness of mediation.

RESTORATIVE PROCESSES – Restorative processes are facilitated dialogues about difficult topics, emotions, and events. Often, an element of ritual and collective healing is incorporated into the process. Restorative processes can be helpful when many people are impacted by a conflict and/or traumatic event, or when big sociopolitical issues such as structural racism and oppression need to be addressed.

CONFLICT TRAINING & EDUCATION – Conflict education can take the form of a workshop or series of workshops. Often, simply understanding how conflict occurs and impacts those involved can allow us to prevent, defuse, and resolve issues. As a trainer, I work to ensure that a wide range of learning styles is engaged through visual aids, experiential activities, and practical strategies for conflict de-escalation. My trainings are tailored to every group I work with and uniquely grounded in a blend of neuroscience, trauma psychology, embodied exercises, and the Loving Justice model that I have personally developed.

ASSESSMENT & CONSULTATION – Sometimes, we simply don’t know what we need. If your group or organization is being impacted by conflict and/or trauma, I am available to provide assessment and consultation services. This usually involves conducting some interviews with key individuals and developing a list of reccomendations for how to proceed.

THE DETAILS: My conflict resolution services can be provided online or in person (once COVID 19 safety issues are resolved). I am able to travel where funds are provided. Rates vary based on the length and type of service. Please inquire to request a quote, consultation, or more information.

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