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How To Become Trauma-Informed To Support Your Clients

Trauma is pervasive. 70% of adults have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. This can include many different experiences. Surviving a natural disaster, experiencing abuse or sexual assault, first responders arriving at the scene of a crime — all these experiences (and more) can create a traumatic stress response. For healthcare organizations of all kinds, becoming trauma-informed has never been more important.

What does it mean to be trauma-informed?

At its core, a trauma-informed approach seeks to reorient the traditional view of trauma and its effects on the individual. Rather than asking, “What’s wrong with you?” this approach asks, “What happened to you?”

In this way, you can better understand a traumatic event and how it has affected the behavior and psychology of an individual. This approach can be applied to working with an individual via trauma-informed care (TIC).

TIC has become a widely recognized paradigm when creating safe spaces for individuals who have experienced trauma and reducing the likelihood that accessing services would cause re-traumatization. The impact of TIC on individuals and organizations is powerful, and this approach has shown to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms.

TIC as a treatment framework involves recognizing, understanding, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Rather than seeing trauma reactions as pathological, it reframes these reactions as adaptive. They are the individual’s best attempt to cope with the experience of trauma.

Why it’s important to become trauma-informed

The importance of becoming trauma-informed lies in the effects that trauma can have on an individual. Indeed, a traumatic stress response can have serious and long-lasting implications. It can evoke a wide range of emotional and cognitive reactions, such as confusion, exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. It can also lead to poorer physical health.

At its core, traumatic stress can alter the chemical makeup of the brain and cause the body’s nervous system to shift into dysregulation – often causing symptoms such as an increased startle reflex, becoming hypervigilant, or feelings of dissociation. While not everyone who experiences trauma will feel these effects, many will.

By becoming trauma-informed, your organization can better help both clients and staff who are dealing with trauma.

Steps to take to become trauma-informed

Your organization cannot become trauma-informed overnight. But there is a process to follow to help you get there. In this section, we’ll review the steps you and your organization need to take in order to work within the TIC framework.

Step 1: Develop your plan

To help your organization become trauma-informed, you need a plan everyone can stick to.

Begin by understanding what your organization’s current mission and values are and how they may need to change. If your organization does not currently use a TIC model, you may need to realign or overhaul existing philosophies.

Next, collect data from staff and clients on the key issues you wish to address by becoming trauma-informed. This will help guide your efforts as you create and implement your plan. You will also need to use this data to understand the efficacy of your efforts (more on this in Step 4).

Your plan should also include the long-term goals your organization wants to achieve by adapting TIC. For example, providing better care to clients, increasing staff retention, and improving workplace wellness. Next, outline short term goals your organization can use as steppingstones to these larger aspirations.

Step 2: Get commitment and buy-in from all stakeholders

Becoming trauma-informed requires a shift in organizational culture. Like any other initiative of this scale, you need to guarantee buy-in from all levels of your organization.

To begin, educate leaders and administrators on what the TIC framework entails and how to apply it. Once they understand its benefits, leaders and administrators can act as promoters of this model.

This means your organization will not simply tell staff, “We’re adopting TIC.” Rather, your organization will communicate this model’s benefits, including how it will allow staff to provide better care for clients and how it can make everyone’s job, clinical and non-clinical staff alike, a little easier.

Step 3: Collaboration and partnerships

A trauma-informed model of care and operation cannot be implemented in a vacuum. It exists to help staff and clients obtain better results. To that end, organizational leaders and administrators need to engage in collaborative partnerships with staff, clients, and other agencies.

This includes giving staff the resources they need to properly communicate the benefits of TIC with potential clients and to reach out to people in need before the situation becomes dire. This will also require partnerships with other organizations and agencies.

By creating these partnerships, your services can become part of a wider network that implements a TIC model to those experiencing trauma when they need it. This will allow your organization to achieve the mission you outlined in Step 1.

Step 4: Implement and improve

Collect data from staff and clients on the efficacy of your efforts. Then, compare this data to the data you collected in Step 1. Have you improved in certain areas? Are there gaps or issues that need to be addressed?

Use this data to answer these and other critical questions facing your efforts at becoming trauma-informed. Once you’ve addressed these issues, implement the solutions you created. Use this method every three to six months to reevaluate how your organization is performing.

This constant cycle of implementation and evaluation will allow your organization to make incremental improvements in its methods.

Closing thoughts

Becoming trauma-informed is a journey that will take time. It requires long-term commitment and the ability to consistently reassess your organization’s efforts. You do not need to do this work alone — let Relias help you work toward your goal of becoming a trauma-informed organization.

Creating a Trauma-Informed System of Care E-book

The experience of trauma has widespread impact on the lives of those you serve. With trauma-informed care, you can address these concerns and create positive outcomes for the individuals you serve, your staff, and your organization.

Download the E-book →

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