What is Trauma Informed Care?
Being trauma informed is one of the most important skills I have learned working with women, and especially women in recovery from a substance use disorder. Unfortunately, most women in recovery from addiction experienced a traumatic event before the addiction developed. If a clinician or a treatment program is working with women and they are not trauma informed, they can inadvertently re-traumatize the patient. Re-traumatizing a woman in early sobriety can lead to mood instability, increased shame and guilt and possibly relapse. Here are the basics of trauma informed care:
1. Safety is the most important thing
Trauma survivors need to be in an environment where they feel safe and can trust the clinicians they are working with. Safety can mean different things to different people, but generally a safe therapeutic environment means that the patient feels worthy and respected, not judged, and her thoughts, feelings, and needs are heard and valued. Additionally, safety also means autonomy. Many women who are trauma survivors have been controlled and manipulated. A safe therapeutic experience is one that allows the trauma survivor to inherently know that she is worthy and valuable.
2. Avoid re-traumatizing your patient
This is another very important aspect of working with women and trauma survivors. Most women who have experienced trauma have experienced the traumatic event on multiple levels. The first level is the traumatic event itself, the second is family, parents, and loved ones possibly not believing or not supporting the trauma survivor when they ask for help or report the abuse. The third is the justice system itself. Many times women experience discrimination or maltreatment by the justice system when they report abuse to the authorities. Because of the many levels that women can experience a trauma, it is important to do a thorough trauma assessment in order to learn what trauma they have experienced so that you can adjust your behavior and interventions appropriately. It is extremely important to understand how their support system and the justice system handled the traumatic event. If the trauma survivor was not supported through the trauma, and was even blamed, shamed, or told it did not happen, that can shed light for you as the clinician on the type of behavior that may re-traumatize your patient.
3. Help your patient find her power
Every woman deserves to feel strong, worthy, capable, and confident. It is my job as a therapist to continually affirm and reinforce healthy self talk for my patient. Some women and trauma survivors have never heard positive and affirming statements about themselves. They need to hear that from us, but more importantly the goal is that they start saying these positive statements to themselves. As women feel more worthy, they begin making healthy choices in other areas of their lives, such as relationships with friends, family, and partners. When your patient finds her power, this will create a ripple effect of healthy choices throughout her life. It's a beautiful thing to watch.