Health care providers in the medical and behavioral health fields are increasingly recognizing that experiences of past trauma significantly influence our overall health, our relationships, school, work, and our ability to adopt healthy behaviors. And while we often associate trauma with things like soldiers in war settings, victims of crime, or the death of a loved one, it turns out that multiple life experiences clinically qualify as traumatic. In this article, we explore how the concept of holistic, trauma-informed care can improve the outcomes of mental health treatment.
What is meant by ‘trauma’?
Recent studies show that by the time they reach college, 66-85% of 18 year-olds report lifetime traumatic event exposure, with many reporting multiple exposures. That’s a lot. According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. But a person may experience trauma as a response to any event they find physically or emotionally threatening or harmful - for example, bullying and other character attacks; loss of a friend or loved one whether through death, moving, or a break-up; emotional, physical or sexual abuse; or even seeing something violent or disturbing. What matters is how the individual perceives an event, not how society judges how an individual should perceive an event.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “the effects of traumatic events place a heavy burden on individuals, families and communities. Although many people who experience a traumatic event will go on without lasting negative effects, others will have more difficulty. Emerging research has documented the relationships among exposure to traumatic events, impaired neurodevelopmental and immune systems responses and subsequent health risk behaviors resulting in chronic physical or behavioral health disorders.”
What is a trauma-informed approach to care?
Trauma-informed care changes the opening question for those seeking mental health services from “what is wrong with you?” (i.e., patient or consumer) to “what has happened to you?” (i.e., survivor). Trauma-informed care is based on the assumption that every patient seeking services is a trauma survivor who can inform his or her own path to healing, facilitated by support and mentoring from a mental health provider. A trauma-informed approach to care acknowledges that providers “need to have a complete picture of a patient’s life situation — past and present — in order to provide effective health care services with a healing orientation.”
The six key principles of a trauma-informed approach are:
- Trustworthiness and transparency
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment, voice, and choice
- Humility and responsiveness
In addition, potential biases and stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age are recognized and addressed within the context of trauma-based care.
Clinicians who train in trauma-based care also learn there are 10 domains of implementation of this approach, including governance and leadership, policy, physical environment, training and workforce development, progress monitoring and quality assurance, and more.
Why is trauma-informed care important?
It’s a win-win for everyone. For patients, trauma-informed care offers the opportunity to engage more fully in their own mental health care, develop a trusting relationship with their provider, and improve long-term outcomes. Studies have found that adopting trauma-informed practices can potentially improve overall patient engagement and adherence to treatment. It also reduces the need to relive experiences and retraumatize the patient. In addition, trauma-based care has been found to improve provider engagement.
Overall, adopting a trauma-informed approach to care has the potential to improve patient health outcomes as well as the well-being of providers. If you feel you or a loved one could benefit from trauma-based care, consult your doctor or mental health provider.
If you or a loved one need help with mental health issues, consider contacting a qualified telebehavioral health professional
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