Ed Edmo

Lesson 2 – The Caretaker: The Listener


Understand that talking about a distressing situation or event in a safe environment can significantly reduce the intensity of painful emotions surrounding the experience.


Extend your help and support to others who suffer the effects of trauma in their lives.

Recounting Past Sorrows

The notion of  historical trauma has been used to shed light on the health status of different  cultural groups which have been subjected to actions and policies that have brought about great suffering, even death.  The challenge is finding ways to resolve those health issues.

In his interview, Ed cites consequences of living through traumatic events.  For example, his grandfather was sent to boarding school for the express purpose of subjugating his cultural identity as a Native American and inculcating behaviors and attitudes more acceptable to white reformers.  Ed also makes this observation… “My grandpa went to the Carlisle boarding school and learned how to hit.”

Tribal elders told Ed this story about Indian relocation…….

“We have a trail of tears here in Oregon where they took people from [their homes] and marched them up the highway.  Many people died.  You didn’t see that or read it in history books.”

Because of his own encounters with doctors, Ed is particularly sensitive to the treatment of Native Americans by the medical profession.  He says…..

There was a cultural diagnosis that doctors used to do on Indians.  My mother had bronchitis, but because she was Indian, they thought she had TB.  They shipped her to a sanitarium…she never had TB….she died of acute bronchiectasis.”

When people experience trauma they may begin to exhibit symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as anxiety and depression.  A person attempting to cope with these feelings may resort to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.  In this case, chronic substance abuse is motivated by the wish to escape or avoid remembering painful experiences.  Alcohol becomes a tool for survival.  Despite the fact that alcohol has anti-anxiety effects, it is also a depressant—so  bad feelings are never “cured,” only exacerbated.  Despair is self-perpetuating.

Be A Listening Partner

A form of therapy that has been useful in helping drug-dependent people deal with anxiety disorders and depression is called imaginal or exposure therapy and uses the principle of repetition to change patterns of thinking and feeling.  It is a method that resembles traditional learning styles of Native Americans in the sense that learning results from “showing and doing” rather than by lecture and note-taking.

Traditional instruction consisted of patient, face-to-face interaction between teacher and learner.  A child would observe an elder engaged in some activity and would gradually acquire the skill through careful watching and repetition.  In both traditional learning and imaginal therapy a key to success is repetition.

A “listening partner” does the following….

  • Assume the role of an attentive, supportive listener and guide to help another individual deal with substance abuse issues.
  • Provide a safe environment or circumstance to help someone recount and explore their painful memories.
  • Listen patiently to their story in a non-judgmental way.

Talking the Trauma Away

It’s like storytelling—only it’s your own story you’re telling.

We tell each other stories that reveal who we are—how we feel.  Verbalizing your story allows you to identify and confront the memories, situations, and people that are associated with personal trauma.  A person can describe situations or events that trigger stressful emotions and the desire to “have a drink” or “get high” in order to bury the pain.

Through “repeated telling” of a traumatic memory or event helps the person get control of thoughts and feelings surrounding the experience.  As a result, the crippling memories eventually lose their sting.  The urge to “drown one’s troubles” in alcohol also diminishes as a person gains insight into why they drink or use drugs.



An alternative to telling your story to a trusted listener, one might consider recording it on tape and listening to it until it loses its emotional hold.