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Trauma Is All Around Us: Here’s What Refreshing Leaders Need To Know – Interview With Kate Brassington

Kate Brassington is a Coaching Psychologist and Trauma-Informed Leadership Coach. Listed as one of the Top 10 professional coaches in Luxembourg by The For Better Institute, she coaches people all over the world from her attic zoom room. She helps leaders learn to withstand high pressure environments, while sustainably producing great results. Her mission is to help people get the buzz without the burnout. 

Trauma doesn’t discriminate by career title or social status, and neither does Kate. Her clients have faced combat trauma, first responder trauma, burnout, compassion fatigue, executive stress, leadership issues, career crisis, entrepreneur struggles, ageing, coming to terms with Neuro-Diversity diagnoses, gender identity, or working their way through personal or family health issues, loss, and bereavement. 

People think these conversations are difficult; Kate shows you how it doesn’t have to be. Her clients regularly comment how surprised they are at how much fun they have, even when dealing with heavy stuff. 

She’s also a speaker, both in person and online, helping leaders understand what trauma is. Spoiler alert, it is actually all around us. She will show you the power of trauma-informed leadership for business results. 

There is no blue-print (yet) for trauma-informed leadership coaches, so Kate has continued beyond her MSc as both researcher and practitioner, to help other cutting-edge pioneers develop and build this exciting and emerging field of psychology.

Above all this, Kate loves helping people ease suffering and get the fun back.

Image photo of Kate Brassington

Kate Brassington, Coaching Psychologist: Trauma-Informed Leadership

Introduce yourself! Please tell us about you and your life, so we can get to know you better. 

I grew up in rural Northern Ireland during the civil war known as “The Troubles”. I was grateful to be surrounded by horses, dogs, and animals during those turbulent years. Like the song, though, I “had to get out of that place” and as options for women were radically opening up, I did something for which I had no role model - in 1995 I joined the Army! I completed Officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; amongst the first cohorts of women to do the same training as the men. I loved the life of excitement and adventure as well as the gritty demands of leadership that this threw me into. It was normal to not only be the only woman in the room, but also often the most senior leader in the room. Thankfully the Army has changed a lot since those days, for now let's just say it was a highly formative experience! 

I have always wondered what it is that helps people go the extra mile. How can we have people do their best while not taking advantage of them? I worked in the commercial sector before landing an awesome role in the Ministry of Defence as a civil servant Human Resources business Partner doing large-scale business transformations. Since relationships seemed key to this, I first trained as a couple counsellor, absolutely loving the deep dive not only into Systemic and Psychodynamic Theory, but discovering the world of adult attachment behaviours. I did it in my spare time, but quickly found the knowledge incredibly useful handling workplace conflicts and even Trade Union negotiations.

I was beginning to outgrow standard HR roles, and this led me to a fantastic secondment to the UK Cabinet Office, as part of the small team of people leading employee engagement for the 400,000 employees in the UK civil service. It was here I discovered the science of “what is right with you”, especially for people providing high performance under demanding conditions, rather than the deficit models that focus on fixing what is wrong. I was hooked, and have been ever since!

Out of the blue, I experienced trauma giving birth to our eldest daughter. It is my personal recovery from that time that set me on my current path. I was an Army wife during the early years of the Afghanistan conflict so wasn't a priority for much therapy or support, but anyway I found it grim to spend time dragging over what had happened in the past. I felt sure that there must be a way of bringing together the positive aspects of what is right with us, and helping people to ease suffering and get the fun back. 

I completed my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology at UEL while our daughter (then age 7) was undergoing a (thankfully successful) bone marrow transplant. Soon afterwards, my research paper “Can resilience training improve well-being for people in high risk occupations? A systematic review through a multidimensional lens”, was first published (without correction) in 2020, with my co-author Dr Tim Lomas.

It turns out that this was only the beginning! Clients began finding their way to me, and I grew less and less surprised, as one by one they would reveal past traumas to me. I knew my coach training, even at Masters level (and with previous therapy training) was nowhere near enough preparation to ethically do this work. So I rapidly sought a range of training and development that would better help me serve these people, leading me through Trauma-Informed Coaching certifications, training as Children and Adult Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness teacher; deep dives into the use of Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, Internal Family Systems Model, and becoming a Meaning and Purpose Practitioner. 

Along the way I achieved much healing for myself too, not least when I had a Havening Techniques ® appointment (a no-talk therapy for releasing the emotional charge associated with traumatic memories), that was so genuinely life changing that I simply had to offer it to clients. Just over a year later I proudly became a fully accredited and registered Havening Techniques ® Practitioner. 

In December 2020, during the pandemic, my husband got an amazing job in Luxembourg, so our two children, the cat, and I, cleared out the micro-farm where we had been living in Northern Ireland for 5 years, and set off for a new adventure together. This was my 19th move in 28 years, and one of the best yet! We live in the gorgeous town of Bettembourg, a friendly local community, and our children attend the International School of Luxembourg, gaining exposure to life, skills and experiences that we could previously only have dreamed of. My work, always designed to be portable around the demands of my parent-carer responsibilities, simply came too!

What is a Coaching Psychologist?

A Coaching Psychologist uses the psychology of coaching to inform their work. For me, this means I do Deep Coaching, in close psychological contact with my client on a 1-with-1 basis, informed by the fields of trauma, high performance, and with applied evidence-based science from across many fields of psychology. My work is neuro-affirmative, inclusive, and respectful of difference. It isn’t a quick fix. People tend to stay with me at least 6 months, most commonly a year. I love it when people “graduate” and move on, steady on their feet after working with me. I also love being part of a secure scaffold that continues to support them as they move on through life. As per other neuro-affirmative or trauma-informed approaches, we don’t remove such supports just because some invented timeline has passed!

Coaching itself is a huge, unregulated industry. There is no minimum standard required for someone to start up as a coach. A Psychologist who Coaches, on the other hand, is firstly a psychologist with high-level training and experience in critical application of psychological theories and research in the course of their applied work. Simultaneously they are a coach-practitioner, working with clients, applying evidence-based theories to real-life. This combo offers additional security, safety, and ethics to both parties.

The British Psychological Society recently recognised the status of Coaching Psychology to be as credible an endeavour as Occupational, Clinical, or other major fields of psychology. However, what I love most about the Division of Coaching Psychology is that we are all actively encouraged to be both practitioners and researchers prac-academics! Coaching Psychology is a fantastic, high-energy, adaptable, and innovative field of Psychology to be in right now and I am thrilled to be part of it. (If you want to find out more here’s a link to the DoCP webpage.)

Surely trauma is bad things that happen to a few people; how come you say it is all around us?

First you need to understand that “trauma” is not the adverse exposure (the index incident). Instead, it is the response (reaction inside your mind, body and spirit) that can follow. As Dr Gabor Maté says, “trauma is not what happens to you; it is what happens inside of you as a result”.

In a vast study published in 2016, the World Health Organisation estimated that 70% of the world adult population has been exposed to at least one traumatic event, yet of these only around 8% have a diagnosis of PTSD, or other mental injury condition. To me this study was a radical wake-up call. 

The coaching industry, and indeed the world of employment, needs to open its eyes and realise that it is more likely than not, the negative impact of trauma could be present in as many as 7/10 of us. They are in our coaching rooms, workforce, offices, communities, schools, and in our families.

Being trauma-informed means being on the look-out to spot signs in everyday life (not diagnosing or calling it out, but being quietly aware more on this in the first article of my upcoming series with Brainz). It means you understand that just because trauma doesn’t look a certain way, doesn’t mean it is not there. It opens up options for you to ensure you don’t unintentionally re-traumatise someone, miss signs they are in distress, or come up with unhelpful solutions in your family or workplace. It is not wearing kid gloves. Instead, it's about making bold, brave space in yourself and others, to really listen until people feel heard.

If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be and why?

Coaching universally doesn’t make space for trauma because it is assumed such people will be going to therapy instead. I want the coaching industry to see that this is a lie, because trauma is already present in coaching rooms. It doesn’t live in discrete pockets of people’s minds, or certain demographics, or any other simple-to-spot group. Instead, it is a function of the nervous system and how it works under pressure, which is why we can’t just switch it off. There is no external signal that shows us that someone is experiencing a trauma reaction. A lot of the time, people themselves don’t know it’s there either. 

While I completely understand this distinction came about as a healthy response from an unregulated industry to help buyers understand what they can expect from a coach compared to a therapist, it means there is a vast gap in suitable trauma-informed awareness. This leaves coaches vulnerable to unintentionally re-traumatising someone, missing important signs, or coming up with inappropriate activities. For the client, at best this can be a waste of money and cause a slump in confidence. At worst, it can be damaging. I recently was a guest on the Association for Coaching podcast series, talking about exactly this, if you’d like to explore more.

I fully hold the view that coach training and accreditation needs to radically shift so that all practitioners adhering to a code of ethics and conduct are given suitable training and support that makes space for the fact that trauma may well be present in their coaching room, whether acknowledged or not. (We admittedly can’t do anything about the people who coach with no training or qualifications.) I celebrate my buddy Caroline Strawson who has strength and courage to match this vision. She has just launched the world's first Level 7 Trauma-Informed Coach Training, check it out! 

More than this, I want people everywhere (far beyond just the coaching industry) to wake up to the fact that trauma is already all around us. This is where trauma-informed leadership comes in. We urgently need trauma-informed communities, workplaces, facilities, elderly care, schools. It goes hand-in-hand with neuro-affirmative approaches, and is good for everyone. There’s nothing to lose! 

What kind of people coach with you?

One of the best freedoms I find in being a coaching psychologist is that I'm not trapped in one specific sector or industry. I simply coach the person in front of me. People come to me privately (paying out of their own pocket), and corporate (work is paying). For both, I have very strict codes of discretion and privacy, offering a very high level of confidentiality. For example, I have found it shockingly common for an organisation to engage a coach so they can get an external assessment of their employee based on things said in confidence during sessions. From the outset I make it crystal clear that this will not come from me. Without an absolutely discreet, safe space, I cannot safely and ethically do my work. 

I’m very proud of the pro-bono and discount part of my work. I coach for charities including BLESMA (limbless veterans) and have done some research for The Warrior Program. Many clients are ex US or UK service personnel, or first responders, and I’ll always help these communities where I can.

I see leadership as a powerful character strength and skill that people must embody in the course of their everyday lives. Leadership used to be very old-fashioned, about strengths, stiff upper lip, decision-making, and getting people to do what they don’t want to do. Happily, this is changing rapidly now. Leadership no longer resides in a title or role, but in the qualities of leaders laced throughout an organisation, community, family, or group.

I'm fascinated by what makes someone a great leader, and have been running my podcast, Refreshing Leadership, for around a year now, exploring this through conversations with some of the most inspiring and enlightening people I could ever have the joy to meet. Let me know what you think of it!

Where can people find you?

I hang out on LinkedIn and Twitter / X, and host my podcast Refreshing Leadership, and my blog, on my website. You can contact me via the website to talk about coaching one-with-one for yourself or your team member, or to enquire about me speaking at your event in person or online. 

I’m working towards starting a Doctorate on trauma-informed leadership coaching next year. If your organisation would be interested in exploring partnering on this, get in touch! 

Through this year I’ll be publishing a series of articles with Brainz covering many aspects of Refreshing Leadership Trauma-informed approaches; How to handle emotional baggage in yourself or your team; Bringing Whole Self to work; Organisational Voice; Ultra discreet, brave spaces; Getting the buzz without the burnout; Balanced Leader attachment styles at work; Nervous system under pressure; Healthy disconnection and the magic of co-regulation. Bookmark my profile on Brainz so you can read each article as they drop!

Please share this with people you think might value it we need to spread the word about a trauma-informed world!

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Follow me on Twitter / X, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!



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