Trauma is something that approximately 70% of Americans experience at least once in their lives. The lasting effects of a traumatic event can change a person emotionally, mentally, and spiritually and cause them to look at the world differently than they did before. Trauma can alter the course of a person’s life and cause them to react strongly to things that many others wouldn’t. Since so many people have been changed by the trauma they have endured, trauma-informed care works to, according to the Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center, “shift the focus from ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’”
Trauma-informed care is common knowledge in clinical settings where interaction with patients requires sensitivity and understanding. For example, the staff at an addiction treatment center utilizes trauma-informed care to help prevent re-traumatizing their patients, as it is likely that most patients in the center have already experienced trauma. However, in other settings, such as in doctor’s offices, trauma-informed care is encouraged to be utilized around-the-clock because doctors are not always aware of which of their patients has been the victim of trauma or not. Trauma-informed care allows providers to approach all patients in ways that stop them from re-traumatizing them once more. Additionally, it provides for a safe, comfortable work environment among co-workers who may have experienced trauma on a personal level.
Trauma is defined as a “deeply disturbing or distressing experience.” Many people will face some level of trauma in their lives, and while some people find it easier to manage the lasting effects of a traumatic experience, others have more difficulty doing so. This is especially true in those who experience repeated traumas. Some of the most common traumatic experiences include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Domestic violence (witnessing it and/or being a victim of it)
- Physical, verbal, emotional, or mental abuse
- Sexual assault
- Community violence (witnessing it or being involved in it)
- Being a victim of racism, sexism, homophobia
- A serious physical injury or accident
- Sudden loss of a loved one
- Natural disasters
Traumatic experiences occur on a regular basis in the lives of people throughout the country. Getting the proper care is the most beneficial thing a person who has experienced trauma can do, however it is also the responsibility of others to help prevent re-traumatization of these individuals. This is known as implementing trauma-informed care, which is a practice commonly adopted by businesses, organizations, and companies.
Trauma-informed care is vital to the success of all professional organizations. Implementing this approach requires all employees to understand several key points about trauma, including what it is and how it can affect people. The most critical of key points to recognize and accept in order to provide excellent trauma-informed care include the following, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
- Realizing the widespread impact of trauma and understanding potential paths for recovery
- Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in individual clients, families, and staff
- Integrated knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
- Seeking to actively resist re-traumatization (i.e. avoid creating an environment that inadvertently reminds the patients of their traumatic experiences and causes them to experience emotional and biological stress)
When members of a team or staff are well-informed and educated about trauma and how it impacts others, they then have the skill set to prevent re-traumatization all while acknowledging and respecting the experiences of others, regardless of if they are aware of what they are or not.
In an effort to continually implement trauma-informed care in these settings, it is imperative that organizations and businesses focus on ensuring they are providing the following to their patients and co-workers:
- Empowerment — Identifying individual’s strengths and utilizing them to empower them in their care
- Choice — Providing patients with choices regarding their treatment, allowing for them to choose what is most comfortable for them
- Collaboration — Ensuring providers include patients in their treatment planning
- Safety — Establishing practices that ensure the physical and emotional safety of all patients
- Trustworthiness — Being exceptionally clear regarding types of treatment, who will be providing treatment, and how it will be provided
When trauma-informed care is being executed properly, patients feel safe, respected, empowered, and important. This reduces the risk of re-traumatization dramatically, as involving patients in their own care prevents triggers that remind a person of their trauma, such as:
- Being controlled by another person
- Being disrespected by those around them
- Feeling unable to trust others
- Becoming fearful of what to expect
- Feeling violated due to inappropriate comments or behaviors
- Feeling like they cannot advocate for their own needs
Trauma-informed care is an absolute necessity in all types of professional settings not only for patients, but for staff members as well. Ensuring that everyone feels comfortable, supported, and valued allows for productivity, effective treatment, and positive individual growth.