What is Trauma Informed Care?

4 min read

Most people will undoubtedly experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. 

These experiences are not isolated events. Humans store them in their nervous system, and memories – whether they’re conscious of them or not. Having an understanding of this process is the foundation of trauma informed care.

Providers with a trauma informed care perspective take into account how their clients’ traumas may impact how they receive care. These providers aim to encourage health and healing, instead of inadvertently re-traumatizing their clients.

Why is Trauma Informed Care Important?

Trauma can take many shapes and forms. From sexual trauma, emotional abuse, domestic abuse and violence, natural disasters, as well as being subject to systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty, and so much more. 

Oftentimes when people enter a care setting, their providers inadvertently do or say things that end up re-traumatizing, or triggering them, hindering their care.  

While this goes beyond women’s health, Intimina wants to acknowledge the impact this conversation has for those receiving reproductive health care. 

Providers in these fields must be especially cautious, because of the delicate nature of this work. For someone who has experienced sexual trauma, a routine OB/GYN visit, or getting a pap smear has the potential to retraumatize them, and it’s the provider’s responsibility to help mitigate that risk. 

The same goes for pregnant and birthing people. Especially considering the inherent risk that labor and birth has for creating new traumas, whether that be due to an injury, things not going according to plan, or because of the neglect of some sort from the medical providers.

Take for example a cervical check, where a midwife or obstetrician will manually insert their fingers into their patient’s vagina to see how much their cervix has dilated during labor. Although it’s in a medical setting, you can see how this can be incredibly triggering, especially if a provider does it without informed consent. 

Shaping Trauma Informed Care

The role of trauma informed providers is not to specifically treat and address the relevant traumas, but appropriately provide their services while making their best efforts to not retraumatize or trigger their patients or clients. 

If a provider does trigger a patient who has experienced trauma, they are often totally unaware of it – which is why it’s vital to know how to minimize that risk in the first place.

This is not just having good bedside manner, although that’s part of it.

A trauma informed perspective shifts providers thinking from “What is wrong with this person?” to “What has happened to this person?”

Here are some other ways providers can utilize trauma informed care:

  • Informed Consent: Making sure that a client understands the procedure or action before doing it, and that they consent to it.
  • Talking Them Through a Procedure: This is so clients understand why, when, and how a provider is doing something to their body.
  • Asking for Feedback: Checking in with the client to see how they’re doing during and after the session or procedure.
  • Ensure Emotional Safety: Providers must set the tone to create a space that feels safe emotionally, as well as physically.
  • Listening: Truly listening and seeing their clients, and not just seeing them as a number or a diagnosis.
  • Understand Intersectionality: Taking into consideration how the various aspects of one’s identity shapes how they receive care.

What Industries Can Utilize Trauma Informed Care

The first type of providers that may come to mind when talking about trauma informed care are mental health clinicians. It goes without saying that a trauma informed perspective is entirely necessary in this field – but what about others ones?

All patients would benefit from medical providers who not only have trauma informed care training, but actively integrate it into their practices.

It doesn’t stop at medical care, anyone who is in a human services field, can help best support their clients by being trauma informed. Social workers, community outreach positions, youth workers, those in public policy, probation officers, sociologists, and so many more positions would benefit from a trauma informed approach.

Educators, teachers, and professors, especially those working with children and adolescents should also have an understanding of potential traumas their students have faced, and how that may impact their learning experience.

This understanding can change how educators approach discipline and grace for students who are not meeting academic standards. Take for example a student who is continuously kicked out of class for “disruptive behavior”, when in actuality, that behavior is a result of the student experiencing acute or chronic trauma. You can learn more about the role educators play in trauma informed education, with an emphasis on intersectionality in this interview.

The Bigger Picture

The idea of being “trauma informed” can spread out from the medical industry and human services, and into how we navigate our daily lives. Interacting with people with an understanding that they may have their own history of trauma, allows us to be more conscientious, compassionate, understanding, and better humans all around.

Trauma informed care asks for a more human centered approach. One that takes into account all the potential experiences that help shape a person, and how to tread those waters with grace and compassion.

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