What is Trauma Informed Care?

What is Trauma Informed Care?
What is Trauma Informed Care?

Katie Krukenberg is an MSW graduate (2006) from Florida State University and a licensed clinical social worker in North Dakota. She works at the University of Mary and is an assistant professor of social work as well as the director of field education for the social work program.

Students in Florida State University’s online MSW program gain the education and skills needed for a variety of practice issues that they will likely encounter in their career.The skills they gain through trauma informed training enables them to work with individuals, groups, families, and communities that have been impacted by trauma.

Trauma can occur anytime an individual’s coping skills are overwhelmed by the circumstances they are encountering. Trauma responses can be emotional, physical, or psychological in nature, and may carry over into multiple parts of a person’s life. No one is completely immune to the effects of trauma, but there are also no easy ways to anticipate which people will be impacted the most, as no two individuals experience the same circumstances in exactly the same way. Seriousness of the traumatic event and protective factors such as a high level of support immediately following the traumatic event are variables that may impact a person’s experience of trauma, but neither are reliable predictors of what a person’s response to a traumatic event will be.

Since trauma can affect a wide range of social work clients, it is important that agencies and clinicians receive trauma informed care training and work to implement trauma informed care principles. Trauma informed care principles are practices that all agencies can utilize to ensure that providers are following best practice guidelines when it comes to trauma informed care. These may include taking measures to ensure physical and psychological safety for all clients as well as providers in an agency, and the need for providers to be culturally aware and responsive to each individual client’s unique circumstance. Screening questions can be implemented into intake forms used in a variety of settings, and a conscious shift in language, assessment approaches, and interventions can be a focus of trauma informed care training to ensure that clients are not further traumatized when seeking help. Ideally trauma informed care should be a multidisciplinary collaboration since clients are often interacting with other systems within the community such as education, medical, or correctional settings.

Social workers practicing trauma informed care need to be knowledgeable of existing dynamics such as inter-generational trauma that is transmitted through families with each new generation, and historical trauma and systematic oppression that clients may have experienced, causing trauma on a community level. It is important that agencies work to establish a setting that is responsive to all people who may have experienced trauma, not just those that may be seeking services due to past trauma or have otherwise disclosed this to providers.

Trauma informed care also requires a strength based approach to work with clients, which is at the very foundation of the field of social work. Trauma informed social workers seek to promote recovery from trauma rather than just adapting to its effects. Social workers are trained to understand the way that social determinants such as trauma can impact a person in various aspects of their life, but is also important to not underestimate the resilience of the clients we encounter, and the endless capacity for growth and change.

Social workers that work with clients who have experienced trauma must also closely monitor themselves and those that they supervise for signs of secondary trauma. Secondary trauma occurs when a social worker (or other helping professional) begins to experience symptoms of a traumatic response with directly experiencing a traumatic event, due to the frequent or serious nature of firsthand accounts of traumatic events experienced by the client. Trauma informed care principles suggest that good supervision, support, and self-care are key to maintaining the well-being of social workers to that they can continue to partner with clients on their road to recovery from trauma.