22 Aug Joining the National Discussion on Trauma-Informed Care
Mental health clinicians are more familiar than most with the toll trauma can take on physical and behavioral health. Trauma can happen to anyone, regardless of their upbringing, family background, or socioeconomic status. It is pervasive, it can happen at any time, and its effects can last a lifetime. That’s why it’s critical for healthcare professionals – especially mental health clinicians – to stay up to date on the latest news and best practices that impact their work caring for clients who have undergone trauma or a traumatic event.
Over the last few years, there has been a growing movement to address trauma more directly as part of the treatment process. This new model is known as trauma-informed care. If we do not address trauma directly, and instead attempt to treat only the symptoms that it causes, trauma will remain a growing (and costly) public health issue.
Why is Talking About Trauma So Important?
Talking about trauma and dealing with it openly is extremely important. Studies have shown that between 50% and 60% of adults experience trauma in their lives. Although most adults are affected by trauma, children are not immune, and trauma at a young age tends to have a compounding effect on the trauma experienced later in life.
Both adults and youth reported higher instances of symptoms associated with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety over the last several years. This is due in no small part to isolation, social and financial uncertainty, and a wide range of other adverse effects stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, incidents like the recent school shooting in Uvalde have brought the grim realities of violence and death into our children’s lives, triggering anxiety, panic, and depression – even if they were not involved in the event themselves.
Since stopping all traumatic events is unrealistic, mental health clinicians must learn how to shape their work around it and offer clients care that takes their trauma into account.
What is Trauma-Informed Care?
Healthcare models that take trauma into account have come to be known as trauma-informed care. They are starting to be prevalent not only in mental and behavioral healthcare, but also in pediatrics, family medicine, and other specialties.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “trauma-informed care acknowledges the need to understand a patient’s life experiences in order to deliver effective care, and has the potential to improve patient engagement, treatment adherence, health outcomes, and provider and staff wellness.”
At its heart, this approach seeks to ask patients questions like “what happened to you?” rather than “what is wrong?” By focusing on the trauma that may be adversely affecting their life, clinicians can help clients feel supported and establish a more trusting relationship.
There are six principles of trauma-informed care that have been developed by leading researchers and mental health professionals.
Safety. By prioritizing their physical and psychological safety, clinicians can ensure clients are in an environment that facilitates openness and trust.
Trustworthiness and transparency. From there, the next goal is to build trust between clients and clinicians by giving the client control over decisions like how they want to be touched or where they’d like to sit.
Peer support. Peer support has been found to be beneficial for individuals who have gone through a similar traumatic experience. Connecting clients with resources to help them engage in peer support is a key principle of trauma-informed care.
Collaboration and mutuality. The principle of collaboration and mutuality seeks to ensure that all healthcare providers, from mental health clinicians to primary care doctors, are on the same page regarding a patient’s needs. By working together more closely, healthcare providers can limit the administrative follow-up required from clients to ensure the treatment they are given comprehensively addresses their needs.
Empowerment, voice, and choice. Validating the experiences and emotions of behavioral health clients and listening to them with care and attention is critical to encouraging their empowerment. When patients are empowered, rather than overpowered, it helps to ensure positive outcomes.
Recognition of cultural, historical, and gender issues. A crucial element of offering excellent care to clients is clinicians recognizing their own biases and stereotypes. While dealing with clients as individuals and treating them according to their needs is essential, there are broader cultural, historical, and gender issues at play that must be acknowledged and accounted for.
Why Adopt a Trauma-Informed Care Model?
Many benefits can be gained when mental health clinicians and organizations adopt a trauma-informed care model. For clients, this model of care addresses the long-term impacts of trauma and can help mitigate adverse health outcomes. It can also:
- Increase patient feelings of safety, allowing them to feel more comfortable in sessions
- Lead to more positive client-clinician relationships
- Help to avoid re-traumatization, a situation that can exacerbate anxiety and depression
- Empower the patient to feel more ownership of their own care and treatment
- Bring together individuals with similar shared experiences
- Increase the quality of services and reduce unnecessary interventions
Clinicians looking to take decisive action to address the ongoing trauma faced by their clients should consider adopting trauma-informed care within their practice. This model of care focuses on the cause of so many mental health concerns, rather than the symptoms. It also seeks to create a holistic picture of the client and their history to ensure all their needs are addressed. Simultaneously, it benefits practices by limiting unnecessary interventions and providing a more supportive environment – not only for clients – but also for staff and clinicians too.
Learn More about Trauma-Informed Care
Want to learn more about incorporating the principles of trauma-informed care within your practice? Here are some of our favorites.
SAMHSA: Treatment Informed Protocol on Trauma-Informed Care
Infographic: The 6 Guiding Principles of Trauma-Informed Care
Resources on Trauma-Informed Care for Children
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