Around 70% of American adults, or approximately 223.4 million individuals, have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lifetime, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health.
Trauma, which literally means “wound,” can be experienced in many ways. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can significantly affect the likelihood of trauma, for example. They can also influence long-term physical and mental health, which can hold people back from living full lives. ACEs can include witnessing and surviving violence, living precariously in unstable housing, experiencing food insecurity, and encountering discrimination, but this list is not exhaustive. Around 64% of U.S. adults report that they experienced an ACE before age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Becoming a licensed social worker involves understanding trauma and how best to respond to it. Students in advanced degree programs such as Florida State University’s online master’s in social work program gain extensive trauma-informed care training and learn how to support individuals and communities affected by trauma.
What Is Trauma-Informed Care in Social Work Training?
Trauma-informed care is not a type of therapy; it is an approach to supporting individuals with a history of trauma. Using trauma-informed care allows social workers to recognize the role that trauma has played in a person’s life. It helps them rebuild their clients’ sense of control and empowerment by involving them in decisions about their own care and recovery.
In social work, trauma-informed care involves recognizing, understanding, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma-informed care training helps social workers identify the signs and symptoms of trauma. To help survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment, trauma-informed care emphasizes safety in all forms — physical, psychological, and emotional.
Social work training in trauma-informed care also enables professionals to recognize how trauma can affect an individual’s self-perception, views of others, and beliefs about the world. Social workers must understand that these altered beliefs can directly affect the person’s ability or desire to connect with and use support services. With the appropriate sensitivity to their clients’ trauma histories, social workers can modify their policies, procedures, and practices to help their clients reduce potential obstacles and avoid being retraumatized.
Avoiding Being Re-Traumatized
Retraumatization is a critical concern because those who experience trauma repeatedly often exhibit more severe trauma-related symptoms than those who have encountered trauma only once. Those with multiple trauma experiences may also be less willing to participate in treatment.
By employing trauma-informed care, social workers can avoid situations or environments that mirror a client’s past trauma, which can trigger their emotions and reactions linked to the original traumatic event. Social workers can also help clients recognize and navigate their triggers as they move through life.
At the organizational or systemic level, prioritizing trauma-informed care can transform the culture of an organization to focus on respecting and appropriately addressing the effects of trauma on clients. Without that focus, social workers are at increased risk of triggering or exacerbating and retraumatizing individuals’ trauma symptoms.
The Importance of Trauma-Informed Care Training
It can be difficult to predict what a person’s trauma response will be. Trauma can occur whenever an individual’s coping skills are overwhelmed by their circumstances and responses can be emotional, physical, or psychological. No one is completely immune to the effects of trauma, and there are no easy ways to anticipate who will be impacted most, as no two individuals experience the same circumstances in exactly the same way.
Since trauma can affect a wide range of social work clients, it is important that clinicians receive trauma-informed care training and work to implement trauma-informed care principles. Trauma-informed care principles are practices that all agencies can implement to ensure that providers follow best practice guidelines for trauma-informed care.
These may include taking measures to ensure the physical and psychological safety of all clients and providers in an agency, and that providers are culturally aware and responsive to each client’s unique circumstance. Screening questions can be included on intake forms, and trauma-informed care training that focuses on consciously shifting one’s language, assessment approaches, and interventions to accommodate clients who have experienced trauma can be implemented to ensure that clients are not further traumatized when seeking help.
Ideally, trauma-informed care should be a multidisciplinary collaboration, as clients often interact with other systems within the community in educational, medical, or correctional settings.
Considerations for Trauma-Informed Care in Social Work
Principles of trauma-informed care include creating a safe and supportive environment, building trust, providing choice and control, being culturally sensitive, avoiding retraumatization, and promoting empowerment and recovery. A closer look at trauma-informed care illuminates common issues that social workers may face when supporting individuals and communities with a history of trauma.
Understand Intergenerational Trauma and Oppression
Social workers practicing trauma-informed care need to be knowledgeable of dynamics such as intergenerational trauma, which can be transmitted through families with each new generation, as well as historical trauma and systematic oppression, which cause trauma on a community level. Agencies should work to establish a setting that is responsive to all people who may have experienced trauma, not just those who are actively seeking services.
Take a Strength-Based Approach
Trauma-informed care requires a strength-based approach, which is part of the foundation of the social work field. Trauma-informed social workers seek to help their clients recover from trauma rather than just adapt 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 should never underestimate their clients’ resilience and their capacity for growth and change.
Monitor and Find Support for Secondary Trauma
Social workers who work with clients who have experienced trauma must also closely monitor themselves and those 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 without having directly experienced a traumatic event, due to the frequent or serious nature of the firsthand accounts they hear of the traumatic events experienced by their clients.
Trauma-informed care principles suggest that good supervision, support, and self-care are key to maintaining the well-being of social workers so they can continue to partner with clients on their road to recovery from trauma.
Industries in Need of Trauma-Informed Care Training
Trauma-informed care training is essential wherever professionals interact with people who have experienced trauma. It is crucial across various industries and sectors, including educational institutions and healthcare environments. Below are just some examples of industries that can benefit from trauma-informed care.
Trauma-Informed Care in Schools
Trauma can affect student wellbeing and behavior in schools. According to Kaiser Permanente, students who have had at least three ACEs are six times more likely to experience behavioral issues, three times more likely to experience academic failure, and five times more likely to experience issues with attendance.
Teachers, school counselors, and other school staff need to be trained in trauma-informed care to provide a supportive environment for students who have experienced trauma. In schools, trauma-informed care training can educate staff about the different types, signs, and symptoms of trauma and its potential impact on students’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being, behavior, and academic performance.
A school social worker can use the following strategies to provide trauma-informed care.
The first priority is to create a safe and supportive school environment. The physical space should be welcoming and non-threatening and should establish clear boundaries and expectations to build trust with students. School social workers can foster an environment of emotional safety by being consistently supportive, nonjudgmental, and respectful in their interactions with students, actively listening to them, and validating their feelings and experiences.
Another component of trauma-informed care in schools is empowering students. Providing choices and a sense of control over their environment and interactions can help students restore the sense of power that they may have lost in traumatic situations. School social workers can do this by giving students an active role in their healing and decision-making processes, helping them identify their strengths, and encouraging them to develop healthy coping strategies.
School social workers also can advocate for policies and practices within the school that support trauma-informed care. They can collaborate with teachers, parents, and other service providers to provide comprehensive student support. They also can recognize and respect each student's cultural and individual differences and tailor their approach accordingly.
Trauma-Informed Care Training in Healthcare
Patients in healthcare settings may have experienced trauma at any period of their life. For example, they may have experienced ACEs, which are associated with chronic conditions, substance misuse, and mental health issues. Or, the reason they need treatment may be due to a traumatic event. Other instances of trauma can also have short- and long-term negative mental and physical health effects.
As such, healthcare professionals should be equipped with trauma-informed care training so they can provide an environment of safety, advocacy, and healing for all patients. Healthcare professionals who are well-versed in trauma-informed care can also develop sensitive and appropriate treatment plans for patients who may have experienced trauma.
Trauma-informed care training in healthcare is designed to educate healthcare professionals about the principles of trauma-informed care; the impact of trauma on patients’ mental, physical, and emotional health; and how to implement trauma-informed practices in their interactions with patients.
Trauma-informed care training should also take into account the social determinants of health (SDOH) and how they may affect different patient’s experiences and attitudes about healthcare to ensure their care strategies are relevant and appropriate. Effective training in trauma-informed healthcare centers patient empowerment and health equity and educates providers about triggers, situations, and interactions that may retraumatize patients.
Trauma-Informed Care Training for the Justice System
Individuals in the criminal justice system — whether they are accused of a crime, victims, or witnesses — may have a history of trauma. According to a 2021 study by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, ACEs are positively linked with increased likelihood of involvement with the juvenile justice system. A trauma-informed approach in the criminal justice system can lead to more effective preventative measures, interventions, reduced incidents of violence in correctional facilities, and better overall outcomes for individuals involved in the system.
Social workers in the justice system often encounter clients who have experienced significant trauma as victims, witnesses, or even as alleged perpetrators. Trauma-informed training can make a substantial difference in how these clients are supported and affect their outcomes in the justice system.
Law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and other professionals in the system can benefit from understanding the effects of trauma on individuals as well. Social workers in the justice system can provide training for other professionals — such as police officers, attorneys, and judges — about the effects of trauma and how it can manifest in behaviors and reactions. This can help the wider system become more sensitive to the needs of those who have experienced trauma.
Change Lives Through Trauma-Informed Care Training
Are you ready to gain the necessary trauma-informed care training to support individuals, groups, families, and communities? Make a difference with an online MSW from Florida State University’s College of Social Work. As one of the first social work programs in Florida and the southeastern United States, Florida State’s College of Social Work is recognized nationally as a center of social work practice, policy, and research.
Wondering what you can do with a master’s in social work? Our clinically-focused MSW’s wide-reaching curriculum and clinical field placements empower graduates to pursue licensure as clinical social workers. Take the first step toward learning how to support clients and communities today.