What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

Learn how it benefits patients and transforms healthcare.

By Rosewood Recovery Team
July 12, 2024

Understanding Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is an approach that recognizes the impact of trauma on individuals' health and well-being. It aims to create a safe and supportive environment that promotes healing and recovery. By shifting the focus from "What's wrong with you?" to "What happened to you?", trauma-informed care seeks to understand and address the underlying causes of distress [1].

Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

The principles of trauma-informed care serve as a foundation for creating an environment that fosters healing and resilience. These principles include:

  • Safety: Ensuring physical and emotional safety for both patients and providers. This involves creating a safe physical space, establishing clear boundaries, and promoting a culture of respect and trust.
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency: Building trust by consistently demonstrating reliability, honesty, and clear communication. Being transparent about the treatment process and involving patients in decision-making empowers them to actively participate in their own care.
  • Peer Support: Recognizing the importance of peer support in promoting recovery. Peer support offers individuals the opportunity to connect with others who have shared similar experiences, providing validation, empathy, and hope.
  • Collaboration and Mutuality: Emphasizing collaboration between patients and providers, fostering a partnership where decisions are made together. This shared decision-making process recognizes the expertise of both parties and promotes a sense of empowerment.
  • Empowerment, Voice, and Choice: Encouraging individuals to have a voice in their treatment and care. Providing choices and opportunities for self-advocacy helps individuals regain a sense of control over their lives.

Benefits of Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care offers numerous benefits for both patients and providers. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Improved Patient Engagement: By addressing the underlying trauma, trauma-informed care helps patients engage more fully in their health care. This leads to increased treatment adherence and better health outcomes.
  • Enhanced Provider and Staff Wellness: Implementing trauma-informed care can help reduce burnout among health care providers and staff. By fostering a supportive and collaborative environment, it promotes provider well-being and job satisfaction.
  • Improved Patient Safety: Recognizing the importance of non-clinical staff, such as front desk workers and security personnel, who have significant interactions with patients, is crucial for ensuring patient safety. Trauma-informed care emphasizes the training and support of all staff members to create a safe environment.
  • Reduced Avoidable Care and Costs: By addressing the root causes of distress and trauma, trauma-informed care can potentially reduce avoidable care and excess costs for both the health care and social service sectors. It offers a holistic approach that considers the long-term impact of trauma on individuals' health, resulting in more efficient and effective care.

Implementing trauma-informed care requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses both the clinical and organizational levels. By embracing the principles and benefits of trauma-informed care, health care settings can create an environment that supports healing, recovery, and overall well-being.

Implementing Trauma-Informed Care

Implementing trauma-informed care requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses both the clinical and organizational levels. It is essential to recognize that trauma-informed care is not solely the responsibility of clinical staff but involves the entire organization, including non-clinical staff. This approach acknowledges the importance of understanding and addressing the impact of trauma on patients' lives.

Clinical vs. Organizational Adoption

To ensure sustainable and meaningful change, trauma-informed care must be adopted at both the clinical and organizational levels. Implementing trauma-informed care solely at the clinical level without proper organizational support can lead to uneven and unsustainable shifts in day-to-day operations. It is crucial to recognize that non-clinical staff, such as front desk workers and security personnel, have significant interactions with patients and play a vital role in ensuring patient safety and creating a trauma-informed environment [2].

Organizations can adopt trauma-informed strategies to help individuals overcome the effects of trauma. This involves making organizational changes to the culture and atmosphere of a healthcare setting, as well as fully addressing trauma at the clinical level. By building trauma-informed healthcare organizations, safe, caring, and inclusive environments can be created for all patients [2].

Core Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is guided by a set of core principles that are essential for transforming a healthcare setting into one that is trauma-informed. These principles include:

  • Safety throughout the organization: Creating an environment that promotes physical and emotional safety for patients and staff.
  • Trustworthiness: Building trust with patients by providing consistent and reliable care.
  • Transparency: Communicating openly and honestly with patients about treatment options and processes.
  • Peer support: Encouraging the development of supportive relationships between patients and peers who have experienced similar traumas.
  • Collaboration: Involving patients in decision-making processes and working together to develop individualized treatment plans.
  • Empowerment: Supporting patients in their journey towards recovery by fostering their strengths and resilience.
  • Humility: Recognizing the impact of trauma and maintaining a non-judgmental attitude towards patients.
  • Responsiveness: Being responsive to the unique needs and preferences of each patient, ensuring that care is individualized and culturally sensitive.

By adhering to these core principles, healthcare organizations can create an environment that supports patients in their healing journey and improves long-term health outcomes. Trauma-informed care not only benefits patients but also helps reduce burnout among healthcare providers, potentially lowering staff turnover [2].

Implementing trauma-informed care requires a commitment from the entire organization, from the highest levels of leadership to every staff member. By adopting trauma-informed strategies and embracing the core principles of trauma-informed care, healthcare organizations can provide care that is compassionate, empowering, and responsive to the needs of individuals who have experienced trauma.

Trauma and Healthcare Settings

In healthcare settings, trauma can have a profound impact on both patients and staff. Hospitals themselves can be a source of trauma, leading to retraumatization and new primary or secondary trauma. Hospitalization may involve painful and frightening procedures, loss of autonomy, and oppressive policies and practices that mirror societal systems. These factors contribute to compassion fatigue, moral injury, and system-induced distress among staff [3].

Trauma Effects on Patients and Staff

For patients, experiencing trauma can have lasting effects on their physical and mental well-being. Trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions. It can also manifest in physical symptoms such as chronic pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal issues. Healthcare providers need to be aware of these potential effects and approach patients with sensitivity and understanding.

Staff members in healthcare settings are not immune to the impact of trauma. The demands of the current healthcare system, coupled with the challenging nature of their work, can contribute to compassion fatigue, moral injury, and system-induced distress. Witnessing traumatic events, dealing with difficult patient situations, and experiencing organizational stressors can take a toll on the well-being of healthcare providers.

Importance of Non-Clinical Staff

While clinical staff members play a crucial role in providing direct care to patients, it is important not to overlook the significance of non-clinical staff in trauma-informed care. Non-clinical staff, such as receptionists, administrative personnel, and support staff, are often the first point of contact for patients. Their interactions and demeanor can significantly impact patients' experiences and sense of safety.

Non-clinical staff members who are trained in trauma-informed care can create a welcoming and supportive environment for patients. They can contribute to the overall culture of the healthcare setting by understanding the principles of trauma-informed care and applying them in their interactions with patients. This includes being mindful of language and tone, respecting boundaries, and recognizing the potential triggers that may arise during patient interactions.

By recognizing the trauma effects on both patients and staff and involving non-clinical staff in trauma-informed care initiatives, healthcare settings can create a more compassionate and supportive environment for everyone involved. Implementing trauma-informed practices throughout the entire organization is crucial to ensure that trauma survivors feel safe, heard, and respected while receiving care.

Impact of Trauma on Individuals

Experiencing trauma can have profound effects on individuals, impacting various aspects of their lives, including their mental health and substance use. Understanding the relationship between trauma and these conditions is crucial in providing effective care and support.

Trauma and Substance Use Disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals with substance use disorders to have a history of trauma. According to the NCBI Bookshelf, many people who have substance use disorders have experienced trauma as children or adults. Substance abuse can predispose individuals to higher rates of trauma, including dangerous situations, accidents, and violence that may occur while under the influence or as a result of the lifestyle associated with substance abuse.

Substance use can serve as a coping mechanism for individuals who have experienced trauma, as they may turn to substances to numb emotional pain or alleviate distressing symptoms. However, substance abuse can exacerbate the effects of trauma and hinder the healing process. It is essential to address both trauma and substance use disorders concurrently to promote recovery and overall well-being.

Trauma in Severe Mental Disorders

People receiving treatment for severe mental disorders often have a higher prevalence of trauma in their history. The NCBI Bookshelf highlights that individuals with severe mental disorders may have experienced various forms of trauma, including childhood physical and sexual abuse, serious accidents, homelessness, involuntary psychiatric hospitalizations, drug overdoses, interpersonal violence, and other forms of violence.

Trauma can contribute to the development or exacerbation of severe mental disorders. It can increase the severity of symptoms, complicate treatment, and impact an individual's overall functioning. Therefore, it is crucial for mental health professionals to recognize the presence of trauma and incorporate trauma-informed approaches in their care.

By acknowledging the impact of trauma on individuals with substance use disorders and severe mental disorders, healthcare providers can adopt trauma-informed care practices that address the underlying trauma and promote healing. This approach involves creating a safe and supportive environment, prioritizing patient autonomy and choice, and fostering collaboration between providers and patients in the treatment process. Through trauma-informed care, individuals can be better supported in their recovery journey and experience improved outcomes.

Healing from Trauma

When it comes to healing from trauma, understanding the impact of traumatic memories and finding effective coping strategies is essential. Trauma-informed care takes into account the unique nature of traumatic memories and offers specialized therapies, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), to aid in the healing process.

Trauma Memories and Coping

Traumatic memories are stored in different brain regions compared to standard memories. They are primarily stored in the amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions and fear responses. As a result, recalling these traumatic memories can lead individuals to re-experience the trauma, causing emotional distress and triggering intense reactions [4].

To cope with trauma memories, individuals can employ various strategies:

  • Seeking professional help: Mental health counselors and therapists who specialize in trauma-informed care can provide guidance and support in navigating the healing process.
  • Creating a safe environment: Establishing a sense of safety and security is crucial for individuals healing from trauma. This can involve creating a safe physical space, as well as fostering a supportive and understanding social network.
  • Engaging in self-care: Practicing self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, and engaging in hobbies can help individuals manage stress, reduce anxiety, and promote overall well-being.
  • Utilizing grounding techniques: Grounding techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, focusing on the present moment, or using sensory objects, can help individuals regulate their emotions and stay connected to the present when triggered by traumatic memories.

EMDR Therapy for Trauma

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is a specialized approach used in trauma-informed care. It aims to process traumatic memories by simulating Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During EMDR therapy, individuals are guided to recall traumatic memories while engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as following the therapist's finger movements or listening to alternating sounds.

The bilateral stimulation used in EMDR therapy helps to activate both sides of the brain, facilitating the processing of traumatic memories and their integration into non-immediate memory storage areas. This process reduces the emotional intensity associated with the memory, allowing individuals to heal and move forward [4].

EMDR therapy has shown promising results in reducing the symptoms of trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can help individuals reprocess traumatic memories, alleviate distressing symptoms, and promote healing and resilience. It is important to work with a trained and licensed therapist who specializes in EMDR to ensure the therapy is conducted safely and effectively.

Healing from trauma is a complex journey that requires patience, support, and specialized care. Trauma-informed approaches, such as understanding the distinct nature of traumatic memories and utilizing therapies like EMDR, can play a significant role in facilitating the healing process and empowering individuals to regain control over their lives.

Trauma-Informed Care for Children

When it comes to trauma-informed care, it is crucial to recognize that children can also experience and be impacted by traumatic events. Understanding how to provide appropriate care and support to children who have experienced trauma is essential for their well-being. In this section, we will explore two important aspects of trauma-informed care for children: early trauma recognition and managing trauma effects in children.

Early Trauma Recognition

Recognizing trauma in children, particularly in those who may not have the language skills to express their experiences, is a crucial first step in trauma-informed care. Early trauma recognition involves being attuned to signs and symptoms that may indicate a child has experienced trauma.

Some indicators of trauma in children include:

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Indicator Description
Behavioral changes Sudden changes in behavior, such as aggression, withdrawal, or excessive clinginess.
Sleep disturbances Disruptions in sleep patterns, nightmares, or fear of sleeping alone.
Emotional dysregulation Frequent mood swings, irritability, or difficulty managing emotions.
Regression Reverting to earlier developmental stages, such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking.
Hyperarousal Heightened sensitivity to stimuli, increased hypervigilance, or exaggerated startle response.

It is important to approach these signs with sensitivity and understanding, creating a safe and supportive environment for the child to express their feelings and experiences.

Managing Trauma Effects in Children

Once trauma is recognized, providing appropriate care to manage its effects is essential. Trauma-informed care for children emphasizes several key strategies to support their healing process:

  • Avoiding power struggles: Recognizing that power struggles can retraumatize children, it is important to approach them with empathy and understanding. Instead of engaging in power struggles, providing choices and offering reassurance can help children regain a sense of control and safety.
  • Validation of emotions: Validating a child's emotions when they act out is crucial. Acknowledging their feelings and providing a safe space for them to express themselves helps build trust and promotes emotional healing.
  • Encouraging expression through art: Drawing or other forms of creative expression can help children process and communicate their traumatic memories. Encouraging them to express themselves through art can be a valuable therapeutic tool.
  • Understanding the lifelong effects of trauma: Recognizing that trauma can have lifelong effects, even if it occurs early in a child's life, is essential. This understanding helps shape long-term support and interventions that address the lasting impact of trauma.
  • Distinguishing trauma behaviors from other conditions: Differentiating behaviors that stem from trauma, such as hypervigilance, from other conditions, such as ADHD, is crucial. It allows for appropriate interventions and prevents misdiagnosis or misunderstanding of a child's needs.

By implementing trauma-informed care strategies, professionals can provide the necessary support and interventions to help children heal from trauma and develop resilience.

Understanding and implementing trauma-informed care for children is vital to their well-being and recovery. By recognizing early trauma indicators and employing appropriate strategies to manage trauma effects, caregivers, educators, and mental health professionals can create a supportive environment that promotes healing and growth for children who have experienced trauma.


[2]: https://www.traumainformedcare.chcs.org/what-is-trauma-informed-care/

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10013720/

[4]: https://www.quora.com/How-do-trauma-informed-practices-differ-from-traditional-approaches-to-mental-health

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