For years, trauma victims failed to get the type of treatment that they needed. Based on an antiquated way of thinking, patients were asked “what is wrong with you?” in an effort to get to the bottom of their mental health issues. Conversely, the real question that should be asked of trauma victims is “what happened to you?” Shifting the focus from looking internally to looking externally for answers, therapists are able to address healing in an entirely new light.
Trauma-informed care (TIC) is the heart of that focus shift. By acknowledging that an event or circumstance may have caused trauma, a path to recovery is created. Trauma-informed care focuses on the understanding of trauma as well as responsiveness to the impact of trauma. In doing so, trauma-informed care approaches recovery with a culture that facilitates the six key principles outlined by SAMHSA:
Trustworthiness and transparency
Collaboration and mutuality
Empowerment, voice, and choice
Cultural, historical and gender issues
Seeking to treat the whole person, trauma-informed care takes into account past traumas and subsequent coping mechanisms, while focusing on the attempt to understand behaviors in order to treat the patient.
Trauma-Informed Care’s Role in Addressing Trauma
Trauma-informed care aims to address healing and recovery from trauma, without unintentionally re-traumatizing the patient. TIC operates under the assumption that a person is more likely than not to have a history of some type of trauma. By recognizing trauma symptoms and acknowledging the role that trauma plays in shaping a person’s life, the level of care given appropriately guides the patient towards healing.
When it comes to substance abuse and trauma, it is important to understand that patients may abuse drugs or alcohol as a survival skill as a result of trauma. The ability to consider that perspective gives healthcare providers a much better chance of providing adequate care and guidance. Substance abuse and trauma often go hand-in-hand, where a cycle creates a traumatic childhood experience followed by substance use and so on and so forth. Children who grow up in a household where substance abuse is an issue are often exposed to trauma.
Trauma has no universal definition. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a definition often cited by healthcare professionals. “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
Trauma-informed care addresses trauma by focusing on these concepts:
Acknowledging the pervasive impact of trauma and understanding possible paths for recovery
Identifying the symptoms of trauma in individuals and families, as well as staff
Ensuring that practices, policies, and procedures are incorporate knowledge about trauma
Actively aiming to avoid re-traumatization
A trauma-informed healthcare provider understands trauma’s widespread impact. In doing so, they are able to guide individuals and families with a unique perspective and a strategic approach to avoid re-traumatization.
In all levels of care, tolerance and empathy are crucial components of healing. Utilizing the trauma-informed care approach, patients are put in a position to heal and recover knowing that they are being guided with understanding. All patients deserve to be treated in a setting that facilitates compassion, kindness, and open-mindedness. Trauma-informed care has proven to penetrate emotional barriers and unearth incredible breakthroughs for both patients and healthcare providers.