Experiencing trauma, especially during childhood, significantly increases the risk of health problems including but not limited to chronic lung, heart, and liver disease, depression, sexually transmitted diseases, and alcohol and illicit drug abuse.
However, trauma does not only increase the risk of health-related problems; trauma also has long-lasting adverse effects on people that may be physical, mental, or emotional.
No Universal Definition of Trauma
The term “trauma” is often used narrowly to describe physical or sexual abuse or to experiencing or witnessing violence while serving in the military. Many people do not understand that they have experienced trauma because their experiences do not fall into categories of violence or abuse.
The most commonly referenced definition is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
“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.”
SAMHSA further explains the three “E’s” of Trauma:
- Experience of Event(s)
Trauma begins through an event or circumstance that includes “an extreme threat of physical or psychological harm” or “severe, life-threatening neglect for a child that imperils healthy development.” The long-lasting adverse effects are an important component of trauma, and effects may be immediate or have a delayed onset.
Many individuals may not realize the significant effects of trauma in their lives at all. Perhaps they don’t make connections between their past trauma and present problems, or they may avoid the topic altogether. That is where trauma-informed care comes in and can benefit the patient or client and the healthcare provider in proper and effective treatment plans.
What is Trauma-Informed Care?
Trauma-informed care (TIC) recognizes the potentially adverse impacts traumatic experiences have on an individual and commits to not repeating these experiences, as well as restoring a sense of safety, strength, and self-worth.
Trauma-informed care shifts the focus from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”
Specifically, trauma-informed approaches help health care providers better understand how to treat their patients most effectively by seeking a complete picture of a patient’s life situation, including past experiences that adversely affect the present.
According to the Center for Health Strategies, Inc., trauma-informed practitioners:
- Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery;
- Recognize signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, and staff;
- Integrate knowledge and awareness about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices;
- Seek to actively resist “re-traumatization.”
It’s also important to note that a comprehensive approach to trauma-informed care should be applied at both the clinical and organizational levels of the healthcare organization. Sometimes healthcare providers attempt to implement trauma-informed care for patients and clients only without supporting employees and staff.
What are the Six Principles of Trauma-Informed Care?
Healthcare organizations and medical staff should understand the six principles of trauma-informed care, as adopted from SAMHSA.
Patients and their families should feel safe not only physically but emotionally and psychologically. Therefore, healthcare settings should provide patients and families with a sense of security through a peaceful, welcoming atmosphere and positive interpersonal interactions.
2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
Patients and family members need to feel a sense of trustworthiness and transparency with healthcare professionals. Employees should be well-informed on procedures and policies that may impact how they care for patients. When explaining the type of care they provide for patients, employees should be thorough and completely transparent.
3. Peer Support
Peer support is defined as individuals who have lived through traumatic events and are caregivers to others in their recovery. Peer support is essential for “establishing safety and hope, building trust, enhancing collaboration, and utilizing their stories and lived experiences to promote recovery and healing.” As one expert states, “One does not have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.”
4. Collaboration and Mutuality
Healthcare organizations should view patients as partners to develop treatment plans. As collaborators, both healthcare workers and patients should work together to make decisions. The organization recognizes that everyone has a role to play in a trauma-informed approach.
5. Empowerment, Voice, and Choice
Individuals’ strengths and experiences should not only be recognized but built upon. The organization promotes a healthcare system that sees trauma as a unifier to help communities, patients, and employees heal. Workforce development and services are in place to foster empowerment for staff and patients alike.
6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Studies
The organization actively recognizes and eliminates any potential cultural, racial, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation stereotypes and biases. Policies and processes should be responsive to racial, ethnic, cultural, and additional needs of the individuals served.
Why is Trauma-Informed Care Important?
An extensive look into patient’s past trauma is vital for health care policymakers and providers across the world.
Trauma-informed care proves beneficial not only for patients but for providers and staff. Patients are able to engage more fully in their care and treatment plans while developing a trusting relationship with their providers. This trust and active role in treatment inevitably lead to improved long-term health outcomes.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes, “Adopting a trauma-informed approach is not accomplished through any single particular technique or checklist. It requires constant attention, caring awareness, sensitivity, and possibly a change at the organizational level.”
While implementing trauma-informed care into an organization takes planning, resources, and strategic skills, the results of long-term recovery in patients and clients are well worth it.