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“What’s wrong with you” is typically our response to what we consider problematic behavior.  But what if we shifted our mindset in such a way that would enable us to ask a question such as “What happened to you”?

Trauma-Informed Care makes that possible.

The trauma-informed perspective is a new way of evaluating consumers’ experiences and shifts from the traditional approach of care that focuses on eliminating problematic behavior to a trauma-informed approach that focuses on getting to the root of the issues so that individuals may experience recovery in an empowering manner.

Research data reveal that trauma can – and indeed, does – happen to anyone.  As a precautionary rule, then, the trauma-informed approach requires that all administrators, clinicians and other relevant staff and volunteers interact with all consumers as though they have experienced some form of trauma throughout their lives.

Trauma occurs when an external threat overwhelms a person’s coping resources. It can result in specific signs of psychological or emotional distress, or it can affect many aspects of the person’s life over a period of time. Trauma is unique to each individual—the most violent events are not always the events that have the deepest impact.  Everyone perceives trauma differently…what may be considered traumatic to one person may not be perceived the same way to another.

Acknowledging what happened to a person will help providers generate a more accurate interpretation of a consumer’s experiences as opposed to thinking there is something wrong with them.  As such, the approach to care becomes one in which there is recognition of the multiple ways traumatic experiences impact individuals’ well-being.

It also permits the provider to focus on developing, implementing and monitoring policies, procedures and practices that promote healing and recovery. According to Steven Wiland, “Human service systems become trauma-informed by thoroughly incorporating, in all aspects of service delivery, an understanding of the prevalence and impact of trauma and the complex pathways to healing and recovery.”

The trauma-informed approach is a framework that can be adapted to meet the diverse needs of various organizational, systemic, and individual structures.  All trauma-informed systems operate under the realization of the widespread impact of trauma; there is a recognition of traumatic symptoms in people part of our organizations and systems; and a trauma-informed response that yields changes in policies, practices and procedures in order to avoid the re-traumatization of people we encounter in our organizations.

 

Traditional Approach Trauma-Informed Approach
Lack of understanding about the prevalence of trauma and its impact Recognition of the prevalence of trauma and its impact
Elimination of symptoms/problematic behavior Recovery as a primary goal
Providing solutions from an expert position Collaborating with the consumer to agree upon solutions
Providing help to the helpless – providing no choices Consumers provided with choices and have autonomy
Reactive to behavioral cues – crisis driven Proactive – prevention of retraumatization – avoiding crises

In recognition of the pervasiveness of the experience of trauma, the trauma-informed approach involves the practice of prioritizing safety, trust, empowerment, collaboration, peer support, and culture through the adoption of policies and procedures embedded with these principles.

To get you started on imagining what Trauma-Informed Care might look like for your organization, take a look at examples of the traditional approach to care versus the trauma-informed approach to care as shown below.  Then ask yourself, how do we measure up?

Jessica Hutton is a macro-trained Licensed Master of Social Work (MSW) who is committed to systems change and organizational capacity building. She specializes in trauma-informed systems of care (TISC) and other evidence-based practices, training, facilitation and presenting, program design and evaluation, and nonprofit technical writing.

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