What does trauma-informed care mean? – Cleveland Clinic

What do you think of when you think of trauma?

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This can happen as a result of abuse, violence or neglect. But it can also be due to loss, war or natural disaster.

Trauma can happen to anyone, anytime, and its mental, physical, social, and emotional effects can last a lifetime.

And that can mean doctor appointments and checkups can feel invasive and trigger certain feelings and emotions. Physicians can unknowingly escalate situations when the goal is to provide care in a safe environment.

This is why an approach to health care, known as trauma-informed care, is so important. It considers each individual’s experiences, how the trauma may impact their life, the symptoms they experience, and then works to prevent further trauma.

“The goal of trauma-informed care is to change the way we care for people,” says Michele Reali-Sorrell, Trauma Expert, DNP, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P. “Instead of saying, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ we change that to ‘What happened to you?’

It explains the principles of trauma-informed care, how they work and why they are important.

What is a trauma?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as “the result of an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or that is life-threatening and has lasting adverse effects on an individual’s mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual functioning and well-being.

“When people think of trauma, they usually think of a physical injury. A person has a car accident or a life-threatening gunshot wound – something very traumatic has happened to their physical body,” says Reali -Sorrell “So yeah, that’s part of it. But trauma is also emotional trauma, mental trauma, and spiritual trauma.”

Some symptoms of trauma may include:

  • Being hyper-vigilant or easily startled.
  • Having difficulty paying attention or concentrating.
  • Representing negative thoughts about themselves or the world.
  • Feeling guilty or blamed.
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities.

Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

Here are some examples of principles that health care providers can use in their approach to trauma-informed care.


The first principle is safety. The goal is to ensure that people feel physically and psychologically safe during their appointment.

So what does it look like?

“It’s about making sure that when a doctor’s office schedules an appointment, the person knows what to expect at that appointment,” says Reali-Sorrell. “We want to give them as much information as possible so there are no surprises.”

At some specialty clinics, victim advocates can help individuals apply for restraining orders and seek compensation for victims of crime, a program offered in all states.

Reliability and transparency

“Our goal is to build trust. The individual is the driving force behind every decision. Do they want to talk to law enforcement? Do they want to file a complaint? Do they want to start taking certain medications? said Reali-Sorrell. “So it’s about involving them and building that trust.”

And it even goes back to small details like a doctor asking permission before touching a person or even offering them a choice of where they would like to sit during an appointment.

Peer support

Through peer support – whether it’s support groups or hot dates – the goal is to connect with others who have gone through or are going through the same traumatic experience.

“What we do is connect people with resources in the community where they can get that peer support,” says Reali-Sorrell. “We work with mental health services, counseling and survivor groups.”

Collaboration and mutuality

Overall, it’s important to be all on the same page. From medical staff to outside providers, it is essential that no one has more power or voice than the other.

This sense of collaboration and reciprocity helps when it comes to ensuring that each person receives the care they need and tries to limit the number of appointments to be scheduled. An appointment may include blood work while meeting with a social worker to maximize time and accessibility.

And that includes helping each person along their journey, whether it’s providing information about mental health services or helping to schedule an upcoming appointment.

“We know that sometimes when people need to make follow-up appointments, they can’t go right away or they don’t have the courage or the energy to make that call,” notes Reali- Sorrell. “So we try to do as much as we can for them right from the start.”

Empowerment, voice and choice

While ensuring that everyone is on an equal footing, it is also essential that those receiving care feel empowered.

Often, a person seeking care may feel that their doctor has power over them.

“We empower people. We validate what they went through. We believe them,” says Reali-Sorrell. “It allows them to be the person in charge of their health and well-being. And what can we do to help empower you, what resources do you need.

Recognition of cultural, historical and gender issues

It is essential for every caregiver to recognize biases and stereotypes.

“We need to recognize our own personal biases and stereotypes, as well as any biases or stereotypes that each person we care for might have,” says Reali-Sorrell. “Working on how we implement our own experiences in life and how that affects how we care about and treat people is key.”

Benefits of Trauma-Informed Care

For those receiving treatment as part of trauma-informed care, benefits may include:

  • Commitment to their health care.
  • Development of a relationship of trust with their doctor.
  • Improved long-term health outcomes.

Research shows that trauma can have long-term negative health effects, including effects on brain development and cognition.

The study also examines negative childhood experiences, which include factors such as violence, abuse, neglect, having a family member with a mental health problem or instability. at home. It shows a link between trauma and an increased risk of disease and disability.

“The more you are exposed to a child situation when you are in those crucial years of developing your self-esteem and self-esteem, communication can be disrupted by trauma,” says Reali-Sorrell. “It can affect how you cope and how you manage your physical and mental health.”

why is it important

By following the principles of trauma-informed care, providers will have a complete picture of the person’s life and any trauma that has occurred.

They may have developed negative coping skills, as well as poor health or hygiene habits.

In addition to ensuring that each person is not re-traumatized during their treatment, understanding what happened to each person allows providers to provide treatment and services that will lead to better health outcomes.

The goal is to come up with a treatment plan that works for each individual to ensure they have a better quality of life.

And if you’re not sure if your doctor or provider offers trauma-informed care, start by having a conversation with them.

“It’s okay to tell your doctor that you have physical things you want to talk about,” Reali-Sorrell reassures. “But let them know that you have emotional or mental needs as well.”

A visit to the doctor should be a safe space and isn’t just about treating physical illness – it’s about treating your whole mind, body, and soul.

Overall, trauma-informed care aims to treat everyone with empathy and help them heal from their experience.

“We’ve all experienced some kind of trauma in our lives,” says Reali-Sorrell. “By using trauma-informed care, each person can engage and invest in their own health and thrive in their environment.”

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