What do you think when you hear the word trauma? Some might think of sexual abuse, battle in a warzone, or natural disasters. While these are common traumas treated regularly, there are many other types of trauma a person can experience, including bullying, physical abuse, emotional neglect, assault, addiction, shame, or a car wreck.
Trauma can mean many different things according to an individual, and no box confines trauma to one set type or one way people will react to a traumatic event. The same event can have a completely different impact on specific individuals, and not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will have subsequent trauma.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) defines trauma as exposure to an event involving death, serious injury, or sexual abuse in the following ways:
- A direct encounter with traumatic events
- Witnessing the traumatic event firsthand as it happens to another individual
- Discovering that the traumatic event transpired with a family member or friend
- Encountering excessive exposure to aversive elements of the traumatic event
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), individual trauma results from an occurrence or set of circumstances experienced by a person as physically and emotionally harmful and has ongoing adverse consequences on the person’s physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
Trauma-informed therapy is a strength-based approach to caring for people with compassion and clarity about boundaries and expectations to avoid unintentionally triggering a trauma or stress response.
Trauma-informed therapy is not about a particular intervention but rather about shaping techniques from the perspective of the individual’s trauma history, needs, and triggers.
Using trauma-informed therapy involves reporting clients’ trauma and its impact on their behavior, mental health, and ability to engage in treatment. Trauma-informed therapists assume that a client could have a history of trauma and will take steps to prevent unintentionally triggering or re-traumatizing the client in treatment.
The Guiding Principles of Trauma-Informed Therapy
Trauma-informed therapy follows a set of guiding principles that outline how therapists can work to decrease the possibility of re-traumatization. These principles are established throughout a variety of service settings. Instead of providing a set of procedures, the principles can be understood and applied in ways applicable to a specific type of environment. The fundamental principles essential to a trauma-informed approach are described in detail below.
Ensuring a person’s physical and emotional safety is the first critical step to offering trauma-informed therapy. The physical setting is safe and interpersonal relations encourage a feeling of security. A trauma-informed therapist will take steps to ensure that clients feel both physically and emotionally safe in their sessions.
Trustworthiness and Transparency
Trauma-informed therapists are open and honest with clients. Decisions are directed with transparency to construct and conserve trust with clients, family members, and staff.
Peer support is critical in creating safety and hope, building trust, increasing collaboration, and utilizing the client’s lived experiences to support recovery and healing. Peers refers to individuals with lived experiences of trauma and have also been referred to as trauma survivors.
Collaboration and Mutuality
Importance is focused on mutual understanding and leveling power differences between the therapist and client. Trauma-informed therapists aim to empower clients by educating them about their options and giving them an active role in their care. The counselor and client make decisions and share control in the counseling process.
Empowerment, Voice, and Choice
Throughout the counseling sessions, the individuals’ strengths and experiences are acknowledged and built upon to prioritize empowerment and skill-building while providing an environment that allows clients to feel validated and affirmed. The client has choice and control where they understand their rights and responsibilities.
Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues
Trauma-informed therapists ensure they are educated and up-to-date on research and best practices for working with all types of clients who have experienced trauma. They know each client’s unique cultural considerations based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion, gender identity, or geography. The therapist will offer access to gender-responsive services, influence the healing value of traditional cultural connections, incorporate policies and protocols that are receptive to the client’s racial, ethnic, and cultural needs, and acknowledge and address past trauma.
Benefits of Trauma-Informed Therapy
Many individuals with trauma have trouble maintaining healthy and open relationships. Trauma-informed therapy has many benefits, but the most significant include:
- It allows clients to participate more fully in their mental health care
- Clients can develop trusting relationships
- It can help improve long-term health outcomes for the client
- It acknowledges the need to understand a client’s life experiences to deliver effective care
- It can enhance client engagement, treatment adherence, and the well-being of providers and staff
An article from The Open Health Services and Policy Journal provides a consensus definition to help understand a trauma-informed approach. Trauma-informed care is a strengths-based structure grounded in understanding the trauma and responsiveness to the effect. Trauma-informed therapy accentuates physical, psychological, and emotional safety for the client and the counselor. It also produces opportunities for trauma survivors to reconstruct a sense of control and empowerment in their lives.
If you or a loved one has experienced a traumatic experience, consider seeking trauma-informed therapy. Trauma-informed care has significantly improved mental health care communities in supporting those who have gone through traumatic experiences. It has changed the face of modern healthcare and expanded to various service settings. Crownview Co-Occurring Institute in San Diego, CA, offers psychiatric treatment for multiple levels of mental health disorders. We provide individualized care that meets the physical and emotional conditions to concentrate on your plan for a successful long-term recovery. Our personalized approach ensures that each client receives quality care with successful results. We will support you from crisis to independence by providing a healing environment with a caring team of professionals ready to help you gain control of your life. Let us ease the trauma in your life.
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