Louise Godbold: Educator & Trauma Advocate

Echo is a Los Angeles based educational organization that offers parenting classes and trauma and resilience trainings for professionals and community members. Annenberg doctoral candidate Megan Genovese spoke with Echo’s Executive Director Louise Godbold about shifting approaches in addressing trauma since the outset of the  #MeToo movement in Hollywood.

How do you define and address trauma at Echo?

Trauma is any situation where you are under physical or emotional threat and you are powerless to protect yourself. Our bodies instinctively go into survival response and we are flooded with the toxic stress hormone, cortisol. This was designed to help us fight or run away from a threat and is a brilliant survival mechanism when you are confronted, say, with a bear. The problem is that when you’re in an ongoing hostile work environment this toxic stress response does not turn off. That’s when you see characteristic hallmarks of PTSD such as hypervigilance, being really jumpy, panicky or conversely, depressed and numb.

As a trauma survivor, it’s important to understand these are normal, natural processes and to realize you’re not crazy or messed up or a failure as a human being. It’s so empowering because if you understand what’s going on, then you have half a chance of being able to address it. Since these are mostly physiological responses, the good news is that we can reverse them. We just need to know how. Becoming more in tune with our bodies, learning how to discharge the trauma that’s within our bodies, that’s key to recovery. Once you have this information, then you’re given power over your own body, over your own trauma responses.

How do you approach the issue of trauma as it exists among sexual harassment and assault survivors in Hollywood?

There’s been a real shift in our agency in how we approach any traumatized community. We had been doing a lot of training for professionals in social services. There is this thing called trauma-informed care that anybody in health and human services has heard about. If you get a federal grant now you have to check the box that says yes we’re trauma-informed or practice trauma-informed care. After I came forward about Weinstein, I got connected with a lot of other Weinstein survivors and also a lot of other survivors of high-profile abusers and realized they really needed this information and so started inviting them to our workshop. At the same time, we have applicants in various communities who were realizing, “Hey, the people in my community need this information.” We want to put this information into the hands of the survivors because we do get a lot of professionals coming to our trainings including clinicians. And I have nothing against clinicians, but this information is then metered out in 50-minute blocks and you can be charged $150 or so. This is information that needs to get directly into the hands of the survivors.

I’ve realized even to talk about trauma-informed care is suggesting a power differential – that the professional has got the resources to give to this person in need. Not only should this information be going directly to survivors to empower them, but we talk a lot about survivor wisdom. A lot of the insight that I bring to this work is having done all the research, read the body of knowledge that’s out there, and keeping up with the current science, but if you can’t apply that with survivor wisdom, it just becomes so much rather abstract, rather inaccessible information.  We believe that survivors have a lot to teach us as well. Every time someone has an a-ha moment in one of our workshops, I learn more about trauma. I learn more about human behavior. I learn more about what someone’s really trying to communicate through their behavior, and it expands my heart so that I can have more compassion for other people and also for myself.

In terms of a more systems approach in Hollywood, obviously, we want to work directly with survivors. But I’m really interested in this proposal to work with Time’s Up Entertainment in creating a workshop that replaces sexual harassment training. I think that we need to come up with a replacement for sexual harassment training because sexual harassment training clearly doesn’t work. We need to look at what are the root causes of sexual harassment and bullying.

Just having gender parity is not the solution. I can tell you my encounter with Weinstein was not fun. Any of those sexual harassment incidences or sexual violence that I experienced in the film industry clearly is something that’s marked me in my life, but the thing that has marked me the most was the bullying I received from other women. Obviously, with more women in positions of power, there’s more of an understanding and, hopefully, a championing of women and women’s rights. But we need to unpack an awful lot before that really happens because some of the women in positions of power have gotten there because they learnt to play by the rules at the time, which was be nice, be invisible, be a people pleaser, be polite, or the other extreme, be one of the boys, be more aggressive than the boys, be more hard-nosed. The women in power have learnt these ways to survive. It’s going to take a while to unpack that because if that worked for you and you’re being presented with an alternative you don’t really understand and you haven’t yet gained proficiency in this alternative, what would you do? You’re going to stick to what works, and that might include bullying.

So there’s a toxic environment not just from male sexual aggressors in the film industry and in the entertainment industry; there’s just a toxic climate altogether and it has something to do with the fact that there’s so much at stake. There’s so much money at stake. So much money can be made. There’s also a hazing mentality. For a long time the prevailing wisdom was, “Well, we had to pay our dues. Now they have to.” When I started out in the film industry here in Hollywood, I’d already been producing commercials in Europe, but that didn’t really mean anything because if it’s done outside of the US it doesn’t count for anything. I got a job as a director’s assistant and I worked horrendous hours. I worked for minimum wage. I had to do things like go to the dry cleaners and pick up his dry cleaning or go to the dealership and pick up his wife. That was considered normal because you’re paying your dues. The payoff is that you get to have the opportunity to have access to a huge amount of power and money, and so people will do it. But again, it creates a totally exploitive culture.

Does that culture also contribute to a misunderstanding of trauma in the industry? Of people not recognizing their own trauma and therefore visiting it on other people unthinkingly?

Absolutely. Perfectly said. Yes, that is what I believe is at the root of what’s happening because so many of us are living with undiagnosed trauma. That’s the big barrier to understanding because people don’t think they really need to be too concerned about trauma because it happens to those other people, those poor people, those people who have PTSD, those returning veterans; I don’t need to understand. In fact, the ACEs study, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, found that those with a score of six or more different types of adversity in childhood on average died 20 years younger than someone without ACEs. Here’s the fascinating thing. We think about the extreme situations of child abuse and neglect and we think about domestic violence and we think about the rape victims. But the truth is that in the ACEs study, which was done with 70% college educated, 70% white employed middle class residents of San Diego, 63% had experienced one type of adversity. When they did the study again—because there was not very much representation of people of color and understanding about impoverished communities or dealing with other toxic stresses such as racism in the first one—they discovered 83% of people were saying that they had some kind of adversity. We’re bringing our work especially into communities of color because there’s not just current trauma but historical trauma and it’s really important that people understand.

We use the ACEs questionnaire when we do workshops and we have more time to break down what exactly trauma is and to be able to explain that the question wording doesn’t have to apply perfectly. “If it says on the question, ‘Did you see your mother being abused by your father or stepfather?’, actually, that’s seeing anybody abused. It could be the woman who is abusing the man or it could be same sex couples so don’t worry about the wording of the question. Just if that felt like that was a yes for you, put a yes.” Being able to unpack it like that, we see that more than 90 percent of people have experienced some kind of childhood trauma.

If you want to break it down even further, trauma is a result of having a ‘power-over’ structure and especially power-over that’s really not taking into regard the feelings and needs of the other person. Many of us use that paradigm because that was a paradigm that we were raised in. That’s one of the reasons that we do trauma-informed nonviolent parenting classes, because if you’re really going to get to the root of all this, we need to change how we parent our children. Calling for blind obedience, just do as I say or you get hit—I mean, that’s an extreme version of it, but teaching compliance, well, then you get people who are compliant in situations where there’s bullies, or you get women who are compliant with abuse because that was the response they learned from childhood.

But getting back to the entertainment industry, if you have people whose boundaries have been violated in that way growing up or through institutions that they encounter—school’s another great example—then it’s going to get very skewed. It’s going to be very hard for people to be empowered to say, “No, that’s not okay” and to have kind of the sense of moral authority in being able to call out the behavior. I hope #MeToo is changing that. But also, you know the old adage: the oppressed becomes the oppressor. So many people who’ve experienced trauma then go on to replicate that in their relationships including in their work relationship because they might have learnt this is okay if you’re in power; this is what you’re supposed to do. This is how you’re supposed to exercise your power and this is your right to run roughshod over other people because this is what was done to me and the people I’m running roughshod over will do it to their own subordinates in time, and this is just the way things are. When we want to do training to really address sexual harassment, we need to get into these much more deeply rooted and profound problems in the ways that we have structured our institutions, in the ways that our society treats children, and in the way that people are being parented at home.

Has coming forward in the #MeToo movement been retraumatizing? In my limited knowledge of trauma survivors, they often feel a sense of shame around the idea of disclosing to people in their community, a fear of being rejected, and especially if it’s an insular community where everybody will know everybody’s business immediately. Hollywood is fairly small, but especially for public-facing people in the entertainment industry, coming forward could also involve coming forward to everybody who pays attention to the celebrity press. Have survivors been able to find support and community as they come forward?

I think that you might be onto something because just noticing among Weinstein survivors, the name actresses who came forward haven’t really said too much on record. They came forward just to add their voice and say, “Yes, this happened to me, too.” But it feels like they have backed away and I understand. I mean, if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie, you want to be known for your body of work. You don’t want to be known as, “Oh yes, that’s Harvey’s victim.” I certainly can see why people don’t want to be defined by their victim status. The second part of your question was, does that then prevent them getting the support they need? I don’t know. You’d have to ask those name actresses.

Among us Weinstein survivors, there was this sense of enormous relief in coming forward. I guess it was a little bit like you get divorced and you finally get to talk to your ex’s first wife. You go out for a drink and you’re saying, “Oh my god, he did that, too! Oh my god, that was exactly the same thing that happened to me.” That was a little bit like us. We immediately formed a very close supportive group. None of us—well, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, and Mira Sorvino, they’re name actresses. But other than those three, the rest of us are all rather obscure and we needed to band together, also because there was just a lot of media interest and we needed to be able to just vet some of these people who were calling us. There was a lot of fear also because of Black Cube and what had happened to Rose McGowan and Rosanna and some of the other people being contacted by people who said they were journalists and were not. We really needed to be sharing information for our own security.

So in our case, the opposite of being retraumatizing. We found great common cause and we’ve tried to all support each other and support each other’s work. Many of the other survivors are wonderful about lifting up Echo’s work and there’s also Voices in Action. It stemmed from Jessica Barth and Caitlin Dulany’s experience of this #MeToo Hollywood, and now they set up a reporting system for people to anonymously report abuse.

#MeToo Hollywood allowed people to come out from under their shame. My encounter with Harvey is something I didn’t want to revisit. It did feel shameful, mostly—and other survivors have said the same thing—mostly that I was so damn stupid! That was the feeling that I was left with. It was like, “Oh my god, I’m so stupid! Why didn’t I see that coming? Why did I do this? Why didn’t I do that?” Which has not helped, of course, because that’s the narrative that you get out in the world, right? “Well, why didn’t you kick him in the balls?” There was some ancient producer who a week ago or so said something about “Oh, if I had been them, I’d have shot him in the balls.” I’m thinking, “How ridiculous! None of us go armed to a meeting.”

But with #MeToo, it was so obviously not us. It was Harvey. Something I tweeted last week was, “It’s not you. It’s them. That’s why there’s always more than one,” as in more than one victim. And when there’s more than one victim, it helps because then you realize it wasn’t me who screwed up on that day or did something to lead him on. He was a predator. I just got lured into his very well practiced MO that he was really good at, really, really good at. You can see by the number of women who fell afoul of that.

The problem of shame right now is with men. And I don’t think that’s particular to the entertainment industry. In general, men have a much harder time with the shame of sexual violence and it’s so much harder for men to talk about it. That’s why we have the statistic that one in six men whereas one in three women have been abused. I would be really interested to see what happens in coming generations when that stigma, I hope, is removed, to see whether actually those figures begin to even up because I think there’s so much more abuse of boys and men that is not talked about. The people who have come forward like Terry Crews, Anthony Rapp, and John Schaech, they are heroes to me because they have had so much backlash. They are in the eye of the storm when it comes to toxic masculinity and it’s so much harder for them.

Do Hollywood studios and unions and so on have the will and the capacity to help implement necessary systemic changes?

When you start to then interface with large corporations and with the entertainment industry in particular, it’s very hard to explain what we think is the root cause of sexual harassment and bullying in the industry without sounding like we’re being moralistic and potentially making the decision-makers feel like we’re trying to rap them over the knuckles. There’s a political aspect because we’re fired up by a lot of ideas that people may feel are kind of left wing-leaning, but aren’t really. I mean, we’re basically trying to ensure the rights and dignity of every human being and that belongs neither to the left nor to the right. We only talk about values and ideals. Moral language makes it harder for us to try and get into those spaces, and it’s hard enough to talk about our theory of trauma. I’m talking about ‘power with’ rather than ‘power-over’ and we sound like Communists. And then I’m talking about getting trauma out of your body, so they’re going to think like, “Oh my god, they’re going to have us prancing around in leotards.” You can see why it’s not an easy sell to the heads of the entertainment industry.

But I think that the bigger problem is that you’re in a coveted world. For every one person who has a complaint, there’s nine others, maybe 900 others, who are just lining up to take their place. I think that whether you are a studio employee or whether you’re a union member, you don’t want to get black-listed or people being told, “Don’t hire this person because they make trouble.” That’s exactly the same for a freelancer as for somebody who’s a full-time permanent employee because there are so many people waiting to take your place. The unions do collective bargaining and they negotiate things like which holidays people get to take off and very general working conditions, but I don’t think that they would stick their neck out for an individual unless it was something so egregious that they just couldn’t turn away from it.

What are the institutional fixes the industry could implement? You talked about changing the way that parenting happens, raising children to understand their boundaries and their autonomy, but for the people who are already adults, what are the ways that we can intervene in those power dynamics to prevent or ameliorate the trauma of victims?

Well, I think psychoeducation is very important and where I would start because that’s what we do. That’s what we know. We work in a lot of systems and we start at the relational level because toxic stress and trauma is usually as a result of interpersonal relationships. Also, the way to heal from trauma is through a safe, stable, nurturing relationship. At whatever age you are, that’s the guaranteed way to heal from trauma.

I don’t think that we get people able to practice trauma-informed care unless they’ve actually understood their own trauma and their own resilience. I don’t think that we’re going to change the way that the entertainment industry or any industry or institution or system is run until people recognize the harm that they’re propagating, first, by recognizing the harm that was done to them, and then determining that they’re never going to create that same harm for another human being. And also understanding the cost. The cost of disconnection. The cost of ‘othering.’ The cost of not enjoying that oxytocin, that wonderful feeling when we’re unified and we’re working together, we’re collaborative, and everything is flowing. If you are perpetuating the power-over structure, you’re cutting yourself off from that.

The next thing we look at is institutional policies and procedures because much of the trauma has been institutionalized and we need to undo that. Even things like our HR policies, it’s all based on punishment and reward, which is a way of controlling behavior. We punish people who break rules and we reward people who don’t, so you’re just replicating that power-over structure again. It’s not putting connections first. Here’s where everyone’s going to run away screaming because it sounds so woo-woo, but if you look at the human brain, the human brain has got three basic parts to it. There’s the primitive part, which is survival, what kicks in when we experience threat. Most traumatized people are living in their survival brain, which is not a very kind place to be. It’s that very primitive part of the brain that’s about “I’ve got to protect what’s mine.”

The next level of the brain is the emotional part. This part of the brain that was developed to help us survive as a species because we are not really very well equipped to survive in the wild. We had to band together. We had to learn how to build things together, to connect, communicate, to develop language. Our brains are designed for collaboration and cooperation and where we’re in connection with another human being, we produce oxytocin, which is the feel-good hormone or called the love drug. It’s what we’re all jonesing for, this sense of connection. If we keep replicating these very manipulative, punitive ways of running our institutions, then we are just tapping into our survival brain. We’re not making use of that higher, emotional brain.

And then, of course, the third part of the brain is the neocortex, which is the abstract thinking and planning. And in some ways our institutions have become psychopathic because if you have the primitive brain, survival, linked to the abstract planning, thinking, intelligent brain, but without the emotional brain, that’s the definition of a psychopath and that’s the definition of most of our institutions. We have to unpack the policies and procedures that are governing our institutions.

And then, lastly, our physical environment has a big impact on us and our levels of stress. I’m thinking of physical environment being more in terms of how people operate best with other human beings. The moment we start to get stressed, things like really bright lights, a lot of noise, especially if you’re a trauma survivor, these things are very activating. Then once you get activated, you’re going to go into one of your survival responses, which could be to fight and create these toxic hostile environments because everybody’s stressed out. Also, the long working days in industries like entertainment are not conducive for optimum human existence. If you think about editors stuck away in dark rooms for hours and hours on end sitting in one place, if you think about people on set doing long, long hours, they’re stuck in environments and their brains and bodies have no chance to reset. I mean, when I used to work in commercial production, there was one of our directors who was using cocaine because this was the wild ’90s and everybody hated working for this director because he would do all-nighters and it would just be a never-ending shoot. In commercial production, it was not uncommon to have a 10-day shoot. You didn’t get any down time. You’d be up 5:00 in the morning and not getting back until 11:00 at night.

Even with unions, the union day I think is 10 hours. It depends which union you are and which job you get. There are certain jobs that you pray you won’t get because they will work 12 hour shifts, seven days a week straight through and not have any breaks because somebody somewhere hasn’t planned properly, and so there’s this tremendous rush to get everything ready and there’s big amounts of money at stake. They’re prepared to pay the overtime, but this labor dynamic destroys people. We’re burning people out. We’re destroying people’s health. They’re turning to alcohol and drugs. It’s fracturing relationships. There’s a lot even just in those physical environments that are certainly not helping us.

So those are the three domains that we look at when we’re working with systems: relationships, protocols, and the physical environment. To create change in Hollywood or anywhere, that’s what we would need to look at.

Echo had a training session on May 5 with Time’s Up Entertainment’s “Who’s in the Room” mentorship program, which addresses deficiencies of career development and support in the creative executive and producer pipeline. Time’s Up Entertainment’s Program Manager Michelle Jones wrote about the experience, “I can’t say enough, how awesome and moving your presentation was. I knew what to expect but I had no idea the impact it would have on our candidates. They were emotional, they cried, they released and some felt healed. They were heard most importantly–and that is what they’ve been yearning for.”

Louise Godbold  is the Executive Director of Echo. Before joining Echo in 2010, she worked for over 15 years in the nonprofit field, both in nonprofit management and as a consultant. For several years she was retained by UC Berkeley to provide statewide technical assistance to county alcohol and drug administrations. She has also worked for The California Endowment and the Los Angeles County Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, as well as innumerable nonprofits, providing assistance with evaluation, strategic planning and creating research-based programming. Louise is the developer and lead trainer for Echo’s professional development curriculum on trauma- and resiliency-informed practice. She is also a trauma survivor and #MeToo silence breaker.

Megan Genovese is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies entertainment media and media fandom, with focus on gender, sexuality, political expression and cultural norms.

Center for Media at Risk

This article was published by the editors and producers at the Center for Media at Risk.