Peer Support: What is Trauma Informed Care?

Trauma informed care is centered on the basic understanding that most people who seek mental health and addiction services have experienced some form of trauma in their lives. The trauma informed approach attempts to eliminate retraumatization in the healthcare settings by implementing a culture of trauma awareness across all levels of the clinical and organizational structure.

A trauma-Informed staff is equipped to recognize symptoms of trauma and are trained to de-escalate crisis situations.  The intention of trauma-informed care is not to treat symptoms or causes of trauma, but to provide supports in a manner that does not provoke retraumatization. The goal of trauma informed care is to help staff to better understand trauma recovery and integrate knowledge of trauma into service delivery.

Trauma informed care shifts the focus from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” People in recovery are all too often bombarded with self-shaming rhetoric that cause them to see themselves as an illness that cannot be cured. Common sense suggests that the majority of alleged “mental illnesses” are derived from trauma. By asking, “What happened to you?” we can support our peers by shifting the paradigm from illness to recovery.

“Trying to implement trauma-specific clinical practices without first implementing trauma-informed organizational culture change is like throwing seeds on dry land.”
Sandra Bloom, MD, Creator of the Sanctuary Mode


Retraumatization is any situation or environment that reminds a person of past trauma thus triggering intense feelings and reactions associated with the trauma. Some of the main forms of retraumatization in the healthcare setting include forced treatment, locked doors, physical restraints, and debilitating medications. However, retraumatization can also be triggered unintentionally through smells, sounds or types of interactions.

Preventing retraumatization is critical for people in recovery. Those who are frequently traumatized experience increasingly unbearable symptoms compared to those who have experienced a single trauma. Repeated traumatic experiences, especially in a healthcare setting, can lead to feelings of hopelessness that cause the person to disengage from treatment options.

Systemic Retraumatization

Having to continually retell story
 Being treated as a number
Procedures that require disrobing
Being seen as a label (Addict, Schizophrenic)
No choice in service or treatment
No opportunity to give feedback

Retraumatization in Relationships

Not being seen/heard
Violating trust
Failure to ensure emotional safety
Does things for rather than with
Punitive treatment, Coercion and oppressive language

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