Laura van Dernoot Lipsky | The Trauma Stewardship Institute

Who We Are

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, founder and director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute and author of Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, has worked directly with trauma survivors for 25 years.

At age 18, she regularly spent nights volunteering in a homeless shelter. From there, she went on to work with survivors of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, acute trauma, and natural disasters. Simultaneously, she has been active in community organizing and movements for social and environmental justice and has taught on issues surrounding systematic oppression and liberation theory.

Over a decade ago Laura experienced what she calls a near-psychotic break. It was the result of years of witnessing and being intimately involved in trauma without tending to herself in the necessary ways. After that, she began a journey of inquiry into the lasting effects on individuals and groups of exposure to the suffering, hardship, crisis, or trauma experienced by humans, other living beings, or the planet itself. She offered her first version of a workshop on trauma stewardship to a group of public health workers in 1999. Since then, she has trained a wide variety of people, including zookeepers and reconstruction workers in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, community organizers and health care providers in Japan, U.S. Air Force pilots, Canadian firefighters, public school teachers, and private practice doctors. She has worked locally, nationally, and internationally. Laura is known as a pioneer in the field of trauma exposure.

Recently, Laura turned her attention to the effects of trauma exposure on those doing frontline work in environmental and conservation movements throughout the world. She was among the first to talk publicly about the profound price that the witnessing of mass extinctions and the potentially irreversible ecological losses caused by global warming and other forms of human encroachment is exacting from the organizations and individuals who are attempting to save our planet.

Over time, many people urged Laura to write a book on her work. For years, she stubbornly refused, because she did not think of herself as a writer. As Laura was coming to the end of her time in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, some residents asked if she had anything in writing to leave for them. She did not. She returned home and with a tremendous amount of collaboration wrote and independently published Trauma Stewardship in 2007. The revised edition, published in 2010 by Berrett-Koehler, has reached tens of thousands of readers in the U.S. and internationally. The ideas of the book will continue to evolve under the rubric of the Trauma Stewardship Institute, which Laura has created to enhance the sustainability of helping efforts for people in all walks of life.

In addition to traveling near and far as part of her efforts to support others in practicing trauma stewardship, Laura volunteers in the public schools and is the founder and director of Prescolar Alice Francis, a Spanish-language preschool that is guided by a curriculum in social and environmental justice. Conducted entirely in Spanish, it is the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Laura lives in Seattle, Washington, holds a master of social work degree, is an associate producer of the award-winning film A Lot Like You, and was given a Yo! Mama award in recognition of her work as a community-activist mother.

Laura has a unique way of presenting difficult material. I know from 27 years on the job that people in law enforcement generally don’t see themselves as needing help and shy away from things that may be too touchy-feely. However, Laura is able to present about the cumulative toll of being exposed to overwhelm in a way that results in even the toughest naysayers viewing things differently.

Colonel Deborah Campbell

New York State Police