Trauma Informed Care
I’ve been thinking hard and feeling the idea of Trauma Informed Care. It’s a buzz phrase in some ways because I think that people throw it around almost casually without fully understanding what it means in practice. I say that because I’m pretty sure I’ve done that myself; believing that because I am a trauma trained therapist, I know what it is to practice Trauma Informed Care (TIC).
It was while working with a client, who started naming the essential definition and tenets of Trauma Informed Care during our session, that I realized I couldn’t easily articulate what TIC actually meant. It was an eye opener and I’m mildly ashamed to admit it out loud and yet, there it was.
It is true that we practice Trauma Informed Care. I just didn’t realize how much more we could be doing to support our clients on their healing journeys by really working to adopt a TIC approach more consciously.
What clients have shared about non-trauma informed care
On a regular basis when working with clients, I hear the “horror” stories of their visits to other therapists or care providers. Providers who inadvertently triggered them and made them feel like a diagnosis or an unfeeling object, unimportant, disempowered, and invisible.
I’ll give you some examples:
- Straight up telling the client that the symptoms they are experiencing are made up or all in their head because their tests couldn’t find anything wrong. This is disempowering and minimizing of a client’s REAL and lived experience. Focusing on just metrics when working with a client denies them their humanity and dignity.
- A client receiving a 12-page document asking her to outline every detail of her biopsychosocial history prior to arriving at her first session with a therapist. Without the relational support and connection with the therapist, a client with a trauma history can get re-triggered having to complete this kind of document.
- Not asking for permission to touch their body. This is just a MAJOR NO-NO. Clients with a trauma history need to experience a sense of control and agency over their bodies, especially if there is a history of physical and/or sexual abuse.
- Not informing them of exactly what is to happen during an appointment and asking for consent to treat. For a client to know exactly what is to happen, whether during a phone call or a session, helps a client to feel safer and less overwhelmed because they know what to expect.
- After a first session, a therapist asking the client to go home and create a “Trauma Timeline” where the client records every trauma they’ve experience over their life time. Asking a client to tell the story of their trauma is like asking them to re-live the experience. This is because the limbic part of the brain doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. Asking them to do this by themselves without relational support and containment is like asking a client to leap without a safety net.
- Therapists that ask clients to talk about their trauma histories without tracking and supporting the client’s nervous system. Again, a client has to re-live their trauma and the nervous system dysregulation if a therapist isn’t properly trained in understanding what trauma is in the body and what’s happening in their nervous system.
There are many more stories I could tell you about how clients suffer when a trauma informed approach is not used. Every time I hear these kinds of stories I cringe and get angry!
I trust that care providers have really good intentions. However, trauma survivors are often re-traumatized by well-meaning caregivers and community service providers.
Defining Trauma Informed Care
Trauma Informed Care is an approach that assumes that an individual likely has some history of trauma and that often, people have many different types of trauma in their lives. Part of the practice is to create a safe(r) environment that empowers the individual to find healing. A trauma-informed approach involves adherence to principles for practice that ensure sensitivity, care and understanding to trauma-related issues regardless of an individual’s current presenting concerns.
The University of Buffalo School of Social Work outlines five principles of TIC:
Another article citing SAMHSA, a leading national organization for mental health and substance abuse research and practice had some other principles to add such as:
- peer support,
- voice and choice,
- cultural, historical and gender awareness.
The wonderful news is that there is so much information out there about the importance of TIC and how to put it into practice. While there is much to learn, we at Somatic Therapy Partners are committed to putting into practice all of the above principles as well as continuing to explore and institute ways we can deepen in this approach as we serve clients and our community.
The great news for you is…
We want to PARTNER with you on your healing journey. What this means is that while we may be experts in treating trauma, you are the expert on you and we want to honor your history, wisdom, intelligence and dignity while we collaborate on your healing plan.
We won’t necessarily do a “full history” with you during the first session, not because that information wouldn’t be helpful, but because asking you a bunch of hard questions about the hard times in your life is triggering!
Your therapist will choose gentleness, slowing down and creating ease over any “agenda” that doesn’t fit with what is actually needed in that moment.
We will lead with curiosity, humanity and heart in all of our interactions with you.
We will ask for consent. We will also support you in aligning both verbal and embodied permission. Embodied permission is when we can track how the body informs yes’s, no’s and everything in between.
If we mess up, we are going to offer to repair the rupture, take responsibility for our actions and impact and hold kind, compassionate space for your experience.
We avoid pathologizing symptoms and behaviors. We tend to view symptoms as ways that you and your nervous system are trying to get regulated. We don’t judge but we do get curious as well as see symptoms and behaviors as part of a client’s “survival efforts.”
Our time with you puts your nervous system health at the forefront of how we engage with you. I frequently tell clients that one of my jobs is to be “Mama Bear to your nervous system,” meaning that protecting your nervous system from overwhelm and big emotions by slowing you down and helping you to get grounded is vital for healing.
A safe(r) and soft place to land
It might be a strange thing to geek out about providing Trauma Informed Care. However, I’m driven to it because I know what it’s like to lose my shit, feel out of control and feel resigned to a life that feels hard. I geek out about this stuff because I would want to be treated with dignity, deep care, and compassion. I would want to be treated as a whole person and not my list of symptoms or previous diagnoses.
I also geek out because I know how hard my clients work at their wellness and recovery from trauma and anxiety. It’s not always hard, but when it is, it can feel like you’re an ant trying to move a mountain.
Part of how I orient to providing trauma informed care is this idea of having a safe and soft place to land. Clients with trauma histories are often dominated by experiences of chaos, disconnection, and suffering. Having a safe and soft place to land is about bringing ease, joy, relief and connection. From here, the nervous system learns how to come back into its natural rhythm and balance.
I look forward to on-going education and a deepening of bringing trauma informed care to our services.
If you’re looking for support with healing from PTSD, early trauma, anxiety, eating disorders, Somatic Therapy Partners is here for you. Please contact us today and we will reach out to you within one business day.
There is so much love for you here!