Trauma is an intense, overwhelming, distressing event in a person’s life that causes prolonged distress as a response. It affects a person’s ability to properly cope. A traumatic experience is an event that threatens or violates one’s health, safety, or integrity. Traumatic experiences are classified as acute traumatic events or chronic traumatic events.
Acute Traumatic Events
These singular events are typically accompanied by an intense, overwhelming feeling of fear or being helpless. Often these include assaults, community violence, natural disasters, the sudden loss of a loved one, and others.
Chronic Traumatic Events
These include a repeated threat or violation of safety, health, or integrity. They often involve a complex range of emotions such as fear, shame, hopelessness, numbness, and distrust. Such events could be prolonged abuse at the hands of a loved one, being held captive, and others.
The Three E’s of Trauma
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are three E’s associated with trauma, to help people better understand what it entails.
The “event” aspect of trauma includes the specific situation or circumstance that caused an extreme threat of physical or psychological harm. This also includes severe, life-threatening neglect for a child that impacts healthy development. It could be a natural disaster, assault, or other intense experience. Whatever the event, it can be singular or a repeated instance.
The “experience” aspect recognizes that each traumatic event is an individualized case. One event may be traumatic for one person but not another. This brings awareness and recognition to how the individual labels the event, assigns meaning to it, and how they are physically and psychologically distressed by the event. These factors will impact the individual’s labeling of an event as traumatic.
The “effect” of the trauma on the survivor is crucial. The effect, or multiple effects, may occur immediately during or after the event or be delayed. How long the effects last also differ from person to person. Some may only have them for a short time while others may experience them for a longer period of time. Sometimes, the person may not even recognize the connection between the traumatic event and the effects.
What Does It Mean to Be Trauma-Informed?
A person or program that is trauma-informed meets the following criteria:
- Realizes the impact that trauma has as a whole and understands that different paths can be used for recovery depending on the trauma and the person
- Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, friends, family, and others
- Is aware of the prevalence of trauma
- Understands that the impact of trauma affects emotional, mental, and physical health, behaviors, and engagement with treatment services
- Understands that current treatment can retraumatize individuals
- Responds by combining their knowledge about trauma into their practices and routines in everyday life
- Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization
What Are the Main Principles of Trauma-Informed Therapy?
Trauma-informed therapy should ensure people’s physical, psychological, and emotional safety. This includes the staff, the survivor, and others. Privacy is respected.
Trustworthiness & Transparency
The therapy makes sure to uphold task clarity, consistency, and interpersonal boundaries. All decisions are made with transparency. This helps to cultivate and maintain trust between staff, patients, the patient’s family members, and others.
Peer Support & Mutual Self-Help
This is crucial to the delivery approach of trauma-informed therapy. It is understood as the basis for building trust, establishing safety, and empowerment.
Collaboration & Mutuality
Decisions in therapy are made with the survivor to equalize power. This step recognizes that healing occurs in sharing the power and decision-making processes. It includes knowing that each person plays a role in the trauma-informed approach and knows that a person does not need to be a therapist to have therapeutic qualities.
Empowerment, Voice, & Choice
Empowerment and skill-building are prioritized. The fact that every individual’s experience is unique must be recognized, so an individualized approach will be taken with each patient. This step responds to what the patient needs and what the staff has to offer, rather than only responding to what the patient is lacking.
The Four R’s of Trauma-Informed Care
This involves realizing and understanding the impact of trauma. This includes not just the effect of trauma on the survivor but on their families and communities.
Recognizing the signs of trauma is important, but it does not only include the survivor. It includes family members, staff, and others involved.
This includes combining the principles and knowledge associated with trauma policies, procedures, and practices.
It is vitally important to resist re-traumatizing the individual during treatment.
A trauma-specific intervention recognizes three things.
- The need for a survivor to be informed, trusted, respected, connected, and hopeful in regards to their own recovery.
- The need to work in a way that is collaborative with trauma survivors, their family and friends, and other human services agencies in a way that empowers survivors and the general public in trauma education.
- The relation between trauma and the symptoms of trauma, such as addiction, anxiety, depression, anxiety disorders, etc.
Trauma-informed therapy can make a difference in healing a survivor or causing them more harm. This approach to treatment treats everyone involved—such as the survivor, their family, friends, the staff, and others—in the treatment process. Being well educated about trauma, its effects, and its impact on not only the survivor but those surrounding them is important in maintaining a safe and secure space for healing to occur. NorthStar Transitions uses trauma-informed care alongside addiction treatment to help its clients understand the causes of their addiction and heal them. Contact NorthStar at (303) 558-6400 to learn more about their programs and how trauma-informed care can help you.