What Is Trauma-Informed Care? Here's Why It Matters

Trauma-informed healthcare providers take extra steps to make you feel seen, heard, and understood.

Published December 31, 2022
Patient and doctor discussing test results

It is not uncommon for people to describe life as a rollercoaster. But some people experience more dips and twists than others. Sometimes, these jolts are created by traumatic experiences, which can forever change the way a person navigates through life. Trauma can impact a person's overall sense of well-being and it can even affect their willingness to access much-needed healthcare.

This disparity has led to a compassionate new approach to treatment known as trauma-informed care. Providers who practice trauma-informed medicine and mental health care take extra steps to help their patients feel safe and cared for. This approach can make a real difference in the patient experience and even improve the outcome of treatment.

Trauma-Informed Care: Definition and Goals

Trauma-informed care brings a holistic approach to the field of medicine. Instead of focussing on a single illness, injury, or diagnosis, it takes into account the events of a person's past and present that may have impacted their overall well-being and the way they view the world. To fully understand what trauma-informed care is, it is helpful to break down each component.

  • Trauma - According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is "an emotional response to a terrible event." These occurrences are devastating and impactful and can include experiences such as sexual assault, domestic violence, a car accident, or a natural disaster. The APA notes that traumatic experiences can lead to long-term consequences, such as difficulty regulating emotions, flashbacks or nightmares, and can even include physical symptoms, such as nausea. It can occur at an individual, interpersonal, or collective level.
  • Informed - To be informed about something means to be knowledgeable about it. This means that people must receive information, education, and training on the effects, signs, and nuances of trauma.
  • Care - This is the service provided by healthcare workers. It entails a person being concerned and mindful as they provide assistance to a patient.

The National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC) was established in 2005 in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA). Since its inception, this approach to treatment has been adopted by many healthcare providers and organizations to improve the way patients are treated for illnesses and injuries.

Some additional goals of trauma-informed care include:

  • To avoid re-traumatizing patients.
  • To ensure individuals understand the impact of trauma.
  • To help people recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma.
  • To implement knowledge of trauma into current healthcare practices and procedures.

Benefits of Trauma-Informed Care

Who benefits from trauma-informed care? Everyone. Not everyone has experienced trauma, but everyone has unique triggers and perceptions of the world around them based on their personal history. Your history can impact your view of the healthcare system and, in some cases, it might prevent you from seeking care when you need it.

Trauma-informed care helps:

  • Boost a person's likelihood to adhere to treatment requirements
  • Create a healthcare system that's more inclusive
  • Develop trust between patients and providers
  • Improve overall health outcomes
  • Increase patient engagement
  • Reduce strain and rates of burnout experienced by healthcare workers

Trauma-informed care can improve the provider-client relationship by providing a well-rounded approach to treatment. It can help create a space where patients feel safe and understood while receiving medical care.

5 Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

There are five guiding principles that set a framework for how healthcare providers can engage in trauma-informed care. Rather than having a set of hard and fast rules, trauma-informed care is open to interpretation and can be modified to address the specific needs of a patient or community.

Safety

Providers should do everything possible to ensure that a patient feels safe in all aspects of their healthcare experience. For example, a patient should feel physically safe in the hospital or treatment center, as well as feel emotionally safe with sharing their personal information with others.

Choice

Providers should give patients choices whenever possible. For example, providers should inform individuals of different medications or treatment plans that might be beneficial for their specific situation. This can help patients regain a sense of control and autonomy during their healthcare experience.

Collaboration

Healthcare treatment shouldn't feel one-sided. Trauma-informed care should be a group effort where an individual and a provider work together to come up with a treatment plan that fits an individual and meets their healthcare needs.

Trustworthiness

It's important for providers to build rapport with their patients. This can create a bond between an individual and their provider, which can help patients feel more comfortable. Patients should feel comfortable in the belief that their provider is a capable individual that has their best interest at heart.

Empowerment

Providers should do their best to help patients feel capable and empowered. They can highlight a patient's strengths, reinforce their sense of autonomy, and remind them of the skills they already have that can help them through difficulties.

How to Find Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is becoming more common and accessible, especially in certain fields of healthcare. For instance, some gynecologists specifically define themselves as trauma-informed providers and care for patients who have been victims of sexual trauma. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is practiced by many mental health care providers and combines trauma-sensitive treatments with traditional cognitive behavioral therapy.

You can find out if a provider specializes in trauma-informed care by looking at their website or asking questions before your appointment. There are also organizations that can help connect you with a trauma-informed provider. For instance, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) has a directory that can help you find a provider near you. And the Attachment and Trauma Network has a similar directory online.

If you've experienced trauma, you need to feel seen, heard, and understood. Taking the extra step to find a healthcare provider who meets your specific needs can make a difference in your treatment outcome. Remember that you deserve the safe, holistic, and empowering environment that trauma-informed care can provide.

What Is Trauma-Informed Care? Here's Why It Matters