Complexity and Context:
An Ecological Understanding
of Trauma Practice
The theoretical terrain in which social workers encounter the impact of trauma is governed by a complex array of knowledge, much of which is familiar and well received by a social work perspective, and other parts of which sit less comfortably within our holistic approach. This chapter sets out to explore an ecological understanding of trauma theory and practice, and in so doing, highlights some current knowledge of trauma and issues for social work practice in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Social work theory and practice in Aotearoa New Zealand is governed by the implicit knowledge of interconnections between events, processes and human experience. The contribution of systems approaches to social work, arising first within the paradigm shift in Western epistemology in the 1970s, is in the recognition of holism and non-lineal explanations of causality (Auerswald 1968; Germain 1980, 1991; Meyer 1976). An awareness of non-lineal and complex relationships sits comfortably within both indigenous and Western epistemologies (see, for instance Durie 2001, 2003; IFSW/IASSW 2001), and has been conceptualized within social work as an ecological approach. The essence of this approach is the application of a matrix of knowledge spanning the ontological (the personal histories and experiences of one person) to the macro (the values and core identities that underpin our cultural and collective
locations), and the interaction and mutual influences that result.1