Most individuals seeking behavioral health services have histories of trauma which often lead to mental health and co-occurring substance use disorders. Historically, trauma related treatment services have focused primarily on physical and sexual abuse. A new expanded approach broadens the definition of trauma to include situations such as job loss, chronic illness, the loss of a loved one, etc. and teaches that a person’s reaction to a variety of more common life stressors can be viewed, in their mind, as traumatic. The assumption then becomes that every client has potentially experienced a perceived trauma.

Through a new federal and state initiative, organizations across the country are making the revolutionary shift to become more trauma informed utilizing this expanded definition of trauma. The goal of becoming more trauma informed is to better serve individuals accessing mental health and substance use services, housing and homelessness services, child welfare, criminal justice services and education.

When a human service program takes the philosophical step to become trauma informed, every part of its organization, management and service delivery system is assessed and potentially modified to include a basic understanding of how trauma affects the life of an individual seeking services. Trauma informed organizations are based on an understanding of the vulnerabilities or triggers of trauma survivors that traditional service delivery approaches may exacerbate, so that services and programs can be more supportive and avoid re-traumatization.

Trauma sensitive clinical staff are trained to understand the nature and impact of traumatic stress and can respond appropriately to the client. The focus moves from “what is wrong with you” to “what happened to you.”

What is trauma?

A traumatized person experiences extreme emotions. Both primary emotions of fear and rage and secondary emotions of shame, guilt and sadness. When a traumatic memory is triggered, whether by site, sound, smell, touch or any other random association, the body and mind will do whatever it can to numb or avoid reliving the painful stored memory.

In the case of a traumatic memory, a person develops ways of coping with traumatic stress. These coping strategies such as substance use, dissociation, avoidance and anger may have been adaptive at one point, but seem to become problematic overtime.

Trauma-Informed Treatment Services

Trauma-informed treatment programs and services can include:

  • Psychiatric Medication. Symptoms can be treated effectively using anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants or a combination of both.
  • Individual and Group Therapy. Common treatment modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques could be used/taught in an outpatient therapy treatment setting.
  • Safe Treatment Environment. Services should be provided in a safe, nonjudgmental and nonthreatening physical and emotional environment.
  • Reframe Traumatic Thinking. Therapy can help clients reframe thinking to erase feelings of shame and/or guilt associated with the trauma.
  • Desensitization. Treatment gives the client an opportunity for repetitive telling of the trauma and associated events as part of the healing process and promotes gradual desensitization.
  • Skill Building. Treatment helps clients build skills for developing healthy relationships and coping strategies.
  • Understanding and Regulating Emotional Response. Clients who experience trauma benefit from an awareness of their emotions and are taught to regulate their emotional responses.

David Lawrence Centers has embraced the trauma informed care philosophy and taken the lead in Southwest Florida to become a trauma informed organization. Throughout the month of July, all staff will complete a mandatory trauma informed care training program and will be retrained every year going forward through the Center’s comprehensive Staff Development Training program. The training program has also been made available to partner agencies through the Center’s extensive Speaker’s Bureau.

Jul 01, 2011 | Mental Health

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