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  • Maia Cheatham

Neelley Hicks: Trailblazing Transformation Through Trauma Recovery Initiatives

By Maia Cheatham

Visionary founder of Harper Hill Global, and co-founder of its associated program, Triumph Over Trauma, a driving force behind emotional resilience through the transformative journey of healing and recovery, now shares her remarkable story.

Rev. Neelley Hicks, the visionary founder of Harper Hill Global and co-founder of its associated program, Triumph Over Trauma, is on a mission to heal communities worldwide. Her pioneering initiative activates faith leaders globally, providing them with essential trauma recovery training and resources that consequently empower them to lead faith-based programs in their communities. Tailored to diverse contexts, languages, and faith traditions, Triumph Over Trauma's resources transcend geographic and religious boundaries, fostering healing for thousands.

Recently, Hicks presented a groundbreaking intervention at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) on September 19th. Her presentation, titled "Trauma-informed Care in Faith-based Communities as a Response to Violence in the United States," showcased the latest work and the contributors of the Triumph Over Trauma program. Triumph Over Trauma is funded by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), a private, not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) organization representing the state executives responsible for the $41 billion public mental health service delivery system serving 7.5 million people annually in all 50 states, six territories, and the District of Columbia.

A Vision Born Amid Adversity

The inspiration for Triumph Over Trauma took root during Hicks’ time in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she was involved in building the Mama Lynn Center, a sanctuary for women who had been sexually assaulted during war and conflict. During construction, a communications campaign to reduce the stigma around assault victims quickly garnered international attention, sparking a wave of inquiries from around the world.

Hicks envisioned a global support network akin to an AA group, where trauma survivors could access assistance, recovery, and trust within their communities. This crucial aspect of trust in recovery led her to co-create Triumph Over Trauma, a seven-week psychoeducational program that offers support from trusted individuals who understand the journey of trauma recovery.

A Partnership with a Purpose: NASMHPD

The commitment to trauma-informed care led Hicks to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), an organization she immediately identified as an indispensable resource. Their extensive library of established models, primarily Trauma, Addiction, Mental Health, and Recovery (TAMAR), perfectly aligned with her vision. NASMHPD enthusiastically embraced Hicks’ notion of tailoring TAMAR, a comprehensive curriculum initially crafted to support incarcerated individuals dealing with trauma, to meet the specific needs of faith communities.

In 2021, Triumph Over Trauma collaborated with NASMHPD to conduct its first training, uniting participants from 10 different countries online. The program's success quickly led to further expansion and pilot projects. During the following year, NASMHPD contracted with Harper Hill Global to assist in increasing capacity to serve people with mental health needs in communities. The psycho-educational TAMAR program originally funded by SAMHSA twenty-five years ago, was revised and customized to expand trauma and mental health services in congregations currently offering Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and various other Twelve-Step services.

Hicks passionately emphasizes the program's inclusivity, stating, "Our overarching goal, for both Triumph Over Trauma and its parent organization, Harper Hill Global, has consistently been to foster collaboration among diverse faith traditions. She continues, “We believe in setting aside theological differences and uniting to address the universal issues that transcend these self-imposed boundaries."

Faith-Based Communities: Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Health

Triumph Over Trauma's focus on faith-based communities has yielded remarkable results, particularly in uniting communities during times of violence and trauma. This impact was evident at the African American Faith Leader Summit, where leaders from diverse backgrounds united to address trauma, effectively dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health within religious spaces. Hicks emphasizes the pivotal role of discussing the physical effects of trauma within religious contexts— destigmatizing mental health discussions while helping individuals connect the dots in their own lives.

Creativity and Faith: Integral Components of Healing

Within the Triumph Over Trauma initiative, creative exercises, such as clustering and poetry, serve as constructive outlets for participants to process their emotions and thoughts. Faith is interwoven into the program through religious supplements that align with participants' belief systems, serving as creative supplements to be used along with TAMAR. Hicks explains, “This approach honors the diverse cultural and religious backgrounds of individuals while fostering a holistic healing experience.” She continues, “With the freedom to make the program their own, faith-based communities gain the capacity to forge a profound mind-body-soul-spirit connection.”

Equipping Communities with Essential Tools

The Triumph Over Trauma program empowers participants with tools to comprehend the intricate interplay of trauma on the body and the mind. Hicks highlights the importance of this knowledge stating, "By grasping how our responses work and knowing how to navigate triggers, we can foster improved interactions within our communities.” Participants learn mechanisms such as flight-fight-freeze-fawn response and self-soothing techniques. She ascertained, "These tools empower communities to respond effectively to trauma, reclaim self-control, and skillfully de-escalate challenging situations, promoting emotional resilience.” The application of these techniques can significantly influence the outcomes of critical situations that are increasingly prevalent.

Inclusivity: A Cornerstone of Triumph Over Trauma

Triumph Over Trauma's dedication to inclusivity radiates through its relentless work in adapting resources to suit diverse languages and religious context supplements. “They [the program’s array of religious context supplements] serve as bridges, enabling us to transcend geographic boundaries and break down the artificial barriers that have divided communities and faith traditions for too long,” says Hicks. While presently accessible in both English and Spanish, with ongoing efforts to translate it into French to serve Francophone communities, the program's expansion knows no bounds. Multilingual leaders have also proactively undertaken the task of translating the program's materials into Hausa, further bridging linguistic gaps and ensuring relevance across different communities. The Triumph Over Trauma initiative not only empowers local leaders but also encourages them to seamlessly incorporate examples from their communities, fostering a sense of ownership and authenticity.

In exciting news, Triumph Over Trauma has just launched a youth-oriented program last month, expanding its reach and impact even further. This new initiative reflects Triumph Over Trauma's ongoing commitment to inclusivity and providing support to individuals of all ages and backgrounds. The program aims to address the unique challenges that young people face when dealing with trauma and mental health issues, offering them essential tools and resources for healing and recovery.

A Legacy of Healing and Transformation

Triumph Over Trauma's impact on individuals, families, and communities has been profound. Wherever trained leaders have emerged, they have become steadfast beacons of hope and support, providing vital emotional triage and access to recovery resources during times of crisis.

Triumph Over Trauma is the very program that breathes life into prayers, allowing them to stand firmly and lay the foundation for a future of renewed hope and unity. Communities are not only learning to stand together but also healing collectively, fostering a more resilient future.

Pioneering Future Initiatives

Triumph Over Trauma's journey is marked by an unwavering commitment to expanding its reach and impact. Hicks shares exciting initiatives on the horizon, including the imminent launch of an LGBTQIA+ supplement, online training sessions accompanied by American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, and children's coloring books designed to help young minds comprehend and embrace their emotions.

Additionally, Triumph Over Trauma is exploring the concept of an open TAMAR model, offering daily sessions in both English and Spanish. This initiative aims to provide continuous support for trauma survivors, allowing them to access resources at any time.

As Triumph Over Trauma continues to evolve and grow, it is essential to recognize that support and donations play a pivotal role in fulfilling the mission of healing and transforming communities.

Neelley Hicks, a visionary leader, is leaving a lasting mark on communities worldwide through Triumph Over Trauma. Her unyielding dedication to healing and inclusivity breaks down barriers and kindles hope for those in need. Triumph Over Trauma stands as a resounding testament to the transformative power of unity, faith, and compassion in the face of adversity.

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