What is Trauma-informed Care

Trauma-Informed Care – What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

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The term ‘trauma-informed care’ is something you may have encountered in recent years, as it is used more and more in relation to social projects and community work. But what is trauma-informed care, and why is it something we should be focusing on?

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care means treating a whole person, taking into account past trauma and the resulting coping mechanisms and their outcomes when attempting to understand behaviours and treat physical, psychological or social problems.

Why Trauma-Informed Care is Important

One of the primary goals of trauma-informed care is also to avoid re-traumatising someone who has already experienced trauma. This could refer to children or adults who have experienced trauma either recently or in the past. It is not uncommon to hear victims of crime or abuse complain of feeling re-traumatised by their experiences of dealing with police officers, healthcare workers or even the courts system, institutions which should in theory provide them with support, but which unfortunately end up leaving them feeling more traumatised than before.

Most often this occurs not because those institutions are inherently bad, but because they are not focused on trauma-informed approaches.

The Trauma-informed Approach to Substance Abuse

What then should trauma-informed care look like? An example could be in how we approach people who struggle with substance abuse. A trauma-informed approach to substance abuse is one that starts by acknowledging that people may use substances, such as drugs or alcohol, as a coping mechanism for the pain they feel as the result of unresolved trauma.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) Study, which looked at the lifetime outcomes of childhood trauma, found strong links between childhood trauma and adult substance abuse. Studies have found that people who experienced five or more adverse childhood experiences (such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, extreme poverty) were seven to ten times more likely to report substance abuse problems than people who has not experienced adverse childhood experiences.

It would make sense then, when treating or attempting to support someone who struggles with substance abuse, to take into account their exposure to trauma and address it as part of their treatment and rehabilitation. It would also enable us to approach their substance use in a more compassionate way, understanding it as part of an attempt to deal with unbearable pain and hardship rather than seeing their addiction as a sign of a weak character.  

The 4 Aspects of the Trauma-informed Care Approach

The trauma-informed care approach is guided by four aspects, known as the ‘Four R’s’:

  1. Realisation about trauma and how it can affect people and groups
  2. Recognising the signs and symptoms of trauma
  3. Having a system in place which can respond to trauma
  4. Resisting re-traumatisation

By incorporating these Four R’s into our work with vulnerable individuals and communities, we can begin to provide programmes and solutions that focus on holistic health and wellbeing, looking at social and personal problems and ills as outcomes of traumatic events and pasts, rather than as unexplained phenomena or signs of moral failings.

Not only will this enable us to approach people who need help in a more empathetic way, but it will also help us to prevent traumatised individuals from suffering even more trauma at the hands of those who should be helping them heal.

Sources:

Trauma-Informed Care and Why It Matters | Psychology Today

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (cdc.gov)

http://www.nchv.org/images/uploads/Research_Brief_61_-_SAMHSA_Trauma_Care.pdf

Creating Trauma-Informed Systems | The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (nctsn.org)

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