Trauma-Informed Care

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Trauma "results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being"[1]

Traumatic events are common and can affect any person from any cultural, socio-economic, ethnic, religious or educational background. Trauma is not specific to gender or age. A traumatic experience can be a single event, a series of events, and/or a chronic condition (e.g., childhood neglect, domestic violence).[1] [2] It can also include second-hand experiences (e.g. an individual might not have experienced the trauma directly, but they were indirectly affected by it.[1]

For some people, reactions to a traumatic event are temporary with immediate psychological and/or physical effects. For others, trauma can have lasting effects on a person’s life and well-being. Some people have a more sustained reaction to trauma. This reaction can become chronic or persistent with more severe, prolonged, or enduring mental health consequences (e.g., post-traumatic stress and other anxiety disorders, substance use and mood disorders) and medical problems (e.g., arthritis, headaches, chronic pain). It can alter individual biology and behaviour over the life course, which can impact both interpersonal and intergenerational relationships.

Due to a high prevalence of unidentified trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACE), trauma-informed care has become recognised as a valuable part of patient care. In settings of conflict or natural disasters, a mindset within the professional health and social services, which is attentive to past trauma in care-seekers, can prevent re-traumatisation and improve treatment outcomes for individuals who have experienced trauma.

Individuals who have experienced trauma, including adverse childhood experiences, are more vulnerable to a variety of health conditions and diseases, e.g. mental health disorders, substance abuse, cardiovascular diseases, chronic pain disorders, etc.[3] [4] Often, trauma is not detected or dealt with and subconsciously affects a patient's response to treatment. Mindfulness towards trauma and adverse childhood experiences can help to lessen the long-term effects on the physical and mental health of affected individuals by addressing the underlying conditions in a sensitive and respectful matter.

“Trauma-informed services do no harm i.e. they do not re-traumatise or blame survivors for their efforts to manage their traumatic reactions, and they embrace a message of hope and optimism that recovery is possible. In trauma-informed services, trauma survivors are seen as unique individuals who have experienced extremely abnormal situations and have managed as best they could”.[7] - Dr Cathy Kezelman

Principles[edit | edit source]

The trauma-informed care model is a framework that acknowledges the impact of trauma, and ways to respond to the trauma. It aims to enhance the physical, psychological and emotional safety of both service providers and patients, and provides opportunities for patients to rebuild their self-control and empowerment.[8] There are six key elements of a trauma-informed approach.[7][9][10][11][12][13]

Safety[edit | edit source]

The first and most important principle of trauma-informed care is to ensure a feeling of physical, psychological and emotional safety for both staff and patients.[8] While completing an assessment, the rehabilitation professional should create an environment where patients can feel physically and psychologically safe. A therapist should interact with, and ask questions in such a way that the patient feels comfortable telling their story and describing their subjective feelings and emotions during the assessment process. The therapist should assure the patient that if they feel uncomfortable, they can stop the assessment process at any time. The patient is also assured that confidentiality will be maintained between the therapist and the patient.

Trustworthiness and Transparency[edit | edit source]

Clarity in communication and decision-making helps to develop trustworthiness and transparency. All decision-making and setting of goals should be transparent to help the patient trust the rehabilitation professional. The assessment should be client-oriented and the findings should be recorded so that there is consistency between the therapy sessions.[14] The type and behaviour of pain described should be recorded exactly as described by the patient. The patient's autonomy should be respected. While measuring pain, validated outcome measures should be used.[15]

Peer Support[edit | edit source]

Bringing together patients and professionals with similar experiences can help to integrate individuals into the service or therapy. A "peer" is a person who has faced the same kind of trauma as the patient. If the patient feels comfortable being with the peer group, the therapist can offer this option to the patient.[7] Peer support can be provided face-to-face, in a group, or via the internet as per the patient's choice, and it can offer valuable emotional support.[1]

Collaboration and Mutuality[edit | edit source]

It is essential to involve the patient in treatment plans. In general, decisions should be shared between staff of different levels/ professions and the individual. The assessment findings should be discussed with other health professionals for the benefit of the client. Mutual collaboration between health professionals and caregivers also results in positive outcomes. For example, a patient may perceive pain differently at different points of time with different people. So, discussing the patient's pain assessment findings among caregivers and other members of the team will help to provide accurate assessment findings. Everyone has a role in trauma-informed care.[7][14][1]

Empowerment, Voice and Choice[edit | edit source]

Patients and professionals all need to be able to make use of their strengths. This principle supports resilience and self-efficacy within therapy and the process of healing by giving control back to the individual. It is important to provide and encourage opportunities for clients and professionals to make individual choices during all stages of treatment. The therapist can provide emotional and psychological support to the patient, so that the patient can feel comfortable describing their pain. The patient should be involved in the shared decision-making process, goal setting, and strategies to cope with pain. The physiotherapist should help the patient to develop self-advocacy skills.[7][14]

Cultural, Historical and Gender Issues[edit | edit source]

In trauma-informed care, any trauma based on discrimination (e.g. gender, skin colour, ethnicity) is recognised, bias and stereotypes are addressed, and diversity is respected during treatment by both patients and staff. All patients should be treated equally and their cultural / historical background should be respected. During an examination, the patient's privacy and their culture should be considered. For example, it is necessary to get consent and explain a procedure before asking a patient to undress for an examination. If a patient feels more comfortable with health care professionals of the same gender, the organisation should consider/accommodate the patient's request.[7][14][1]

Key Components of Implementing Trauma-Informed Care[edit | edit source]

To implement trauma-informed care, it is necessary to train clinical and non-clinical staff.[14] The framework should be founded on the above-mentioned principles. Standard clinical and administrative procedures should be reviewed to ensure these principles are considered. It is also essential to ensure that these procedures are patient-centred.

The framework must consider organisational and clinical changes.[14] By training staff (clinical and non-clinical), opening up opportunities for communication about trauma and coping (for both patients and staff) and providing means to include patients and workers into organisational tasks, a workplace can start incorporating the principles of trauma-informed care.

It is also advisable to hire a trauma expert for both consultation and training. Knowing that there is a specialised contact person who can be consulted for trauma-related issues, helps to create a safe environment for many individuals. However, the structural requirements have to be created first. The leadership team needs to acknowledge and support the approach as it requires changes within the clinical organisation. The allocation of resources and funding is the first step to establishing a trauma-informed clinical setting. The group overseeing the integration of trauma-informed care into the clinical setting should also include individuals who have experienced trauma. This helps to ensure transparency, trustworthiness and collaboration between health care workers and patients.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Trauma-informed care is an intervention and organisational approach that focuses on how trauma may affect an individual’s life and their response to behavioural health services, from prevention through to treatment. It focuses on the importance of patient-centred care rather than applying general treatment approaches, and provides patients with more opportunities to engage in services that reflect a compassionate perspective of their presenting problems.[1]

Further Resources[edit | edit source]

  1. For more information and practice implementation strategies, visit the following websites;
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. SAMHSA's Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. HHS Publication No.(SMA) 14-4884. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014. Available from: (last accessed 27 March 2022).
  2. Nation L, Spence N, Parker S, Wheeler MP, Powe K, Siew M, Nevin T, McKay M, White M, Dark FL. Implementing Introductory Training in Trauma-Informed Care Into Mental Health Rehabilitation Services: A Mixed Methods Evaluation. Frontiers in psychiatry. 2021;12.
  3. SAMHSA. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioural Health Services. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Rockville (MD); 2014. Available from: (last accessed 27 March 2022).
  4. Grossman S, Cooper Z, Buxton H, Hendrickson S, Lewis-O'Connor A, Stevens J, Wong LY, Bonne S. Trauma-informed care: recognizing and resisting re-traumatization in health care. Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open. 2021 Dec 1;6(1):e000815.
  5. Center for Health Care Strategies. What is Trauma-Informed Care?. Available from:[last accessed 01/07/22]
  6. Wesley Family Services. Trauma Informed Care. Available from:[last accessed 01/07/22]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 NSW Health. What is Trauma-Informed Care? Available from: (last accessed 27 March 2022).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hopper EK, Bassuk EL, Olivet J. Shelter from the storm: Trauma-informed care in homelessness services settings. The open health services and policy journal. 2010;3(2):80-100.
  9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4884. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,2014.
  10. University at Buffalo Centre for Social Research. What is Trauma-Informed Care? Available from: (last accessed 27 March 2022).
  11. Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Centre. What is Trauma-Informed Care? Available from: (last accessed 27 March 2022).
  12. Knight C. Trauma informed practice and care: Implications for field instruction. Clinical Social Work Journal. 2019 Mar;47(1):79-89.
  13. Fleishman J, Kamsky H, Sundborg S. Trauma-informed nursing practice. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. 2019 May 1;24(2).
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Menschner C, Maul A, Center for Health Care Strategies. Key Ingredients for Successful Trauma-Informed Care Implementation. April 2016. Available from: (last accessed 27 March 2022).
  15. Wideman TH, Edwards RR, Walton DM, Martel MO, Hudon A, Seminowicz DA. The multimodal assessment model of pain: a novel framework for further integrating the subjective pain experience within research and practice. The Clinical journal of pain. 2019 Mar;35(3):212.