What is Trauma Informed Practice

What is Trauma Informed Practice?

Trauma Informed Practice or TIP is a bit of a buzz phrase right now. As someone who teaches this topic, I felt it would be useful to clarify what we mean when we talk about Trauma Informed Practice.

Defining Trauma

Lets start by getting an understanding of what we mean by the term Trauma. Here is one definition:

“an event, series of events or a set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

In other words, trauma can occur when someone has an experience that is sufficiently frightening, painful or overwhelming, that it creates a stress response in the nervous system. 

Last year I attended a Somatic Experiencing course presented by Giselle Genillard, one of the founders of SOS Internationale. Giselle described trauma as “ too much, too soon, too fast.” 

Bessell Van Der Kolk talks about trauma as being an inability to stay in the present moment. He suggests that our past traumas remain in our bodies and in our nervous system. This in turn creates physical responses to stimulus, which we experience in the present day.

If we see trauma as being rooted in fear, providing safety then becomes the focus of how we provide services for people who have experienced trauma.  How do we support people to feel safe, and in the “here and now” when they are with us? How can we attend to the physical and emotional symptoms of overwhelm and empower people to find their own ways to self soothe?

Recommendations for Trauma Informed Practice

SAMHSA helpfully recommend four key assumptions for a trauma-informed approach. These 4 R’s are to:

  1. Realise – what is Trauma, who does it effect …
  2. Recognise – what might trauma look like in the body and in behaviour?
  3. Respond – how might we respond in our interactions using the trauma lens
  4. Resist Retraumatization – how can we oranise our systems and processes to ensure we proactively avoid re-traumatizing people.

Real Life Application of Trauma Informed Practice

For a Youth Offending Worker that might be to consider the impact of trauma on a young person who has committed an offence, and to put that behaviour in the context of a stress response and one of survival.

For a GP that might be to consider the role of trauma in the history of patients with  auto immune disorders in their care, and consider prescribing embodied stress release techniques which have a good evidence base.

How TIP can Help

Taking a TIP approach helps us to look behind the behaviour with compassion and consider our next steps in our interactions through a trauma lens.

As well as the approach, there are some key principles that I teach in my Trauma Informed Practice courses:  

  • Trauma is personal and each of our experiences in this area are unique
  • A strengths based approach which acknowledges the “bad” and promotes the “good” is more helpful than a deficit model.
  • Help prime the brain to remember the experiences which were positive, encourage the memory to prioritise the joy by asking strengths based questions
  • Relationships are the stuff of healing 
  • Recovery is a direction not a destination
  • Being trauma informed has to start with us and our own nervous system.  Only when we are calm can we access true compassion and empathy.
  • Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
4 Six principles of trauma-informed systems | Download Scientific Diagram

If you would like to know more about TIP, please feel free to get in touch.

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