What is trauma?
Trauma is a term that refers to any event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as harmful or life threatening, and that has lasting adverse effects on their mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. Trauma can result from a wide range of experiences, such as abuse, neglect, violence, war, natural disasters, accidents, illness, loss, or oppression. Trauma can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, culture, or background.
What are the effects of trauma?
Trauma can have profound and long-lasting effects on a person’s brain, body, and behaviour. Trauma can alter the way a person perceives themselves, others, and the world around them. Trauma can also affect a person’s ability to cope with stress, regulate emotions, form healthy relationships, and trust others. Some common signs and symptoms of trauma include:
- Flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories of the traumatic event
- Avoidance of reminders of the trauma or numbing of emotions
- Hyperarousal or hypervigilance (being constantly on guard or easily startled)
- Anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, shame, or low self-esteem
- Dissociation (feeling detached from oneself or reality)
- Substance abuse or other addictive behaviours
- Physical health problems such as headaches, insomnia, chronic pain, or immune system disorders
Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop these symptoms or be diagnosed with a mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, trauma can still affect a person’s quality of life and well-being in various ways.
What is trauma-informed care?
This approach aims to create a safe, supportive, and empowering environment for people who have experienced trauma, as well as for the professionals who work with them.
Trauma-informed care is an approach that is grounded in the understanding that trauma exposure can impact an individual’s neurological, biological, psychological, and social development. As frontline staff, we know that trauma can negatively impact our residents, and their ability to feel safe or develop trusting relationships with staff.
According to Mind, if a service says it is trauma-informed, this means all staff should follow principles such as:
- understanding how trauma can affect people, including how mental health problems can be reactions to trauma
- asking sensitively about past trauma, and offering appropriate support if you disclose it
- being aware of the potential for mental health services to cause harm if delivered without trauma awareness
- understanding your strengths and recognising what has helped you survive and cope
- being trustworthy, transparent and involving you in your care.
By recognising the impact of trauma and providing a safe and supportive environment for healing, the above principles can help improve the well-being of the residents in a service.
St Martins’ implementation of Trauma-informed Care
To implement trauma-informed care in St Martins, we had to start with recognising the signs, symptoms, and widespread impact of trauma. This involves creating culturally sensitive, safe services that people trust and want to use. Trauma-informed practice acknowledges the need to see beyond an individual’s presenting behaviours and to ask, ‘What does this person need?’ rather than ‘What is wrong with this person?’. Our staff are experts in creating trusting and supportive relationships which build rapport quickly with residents.
One of the key principles of trauma-informed care is to prevent re-traumatisation. This means avoiding the re-experiencing of thoughts, feelings, or sensations experienced at the time of a traumatic event or circumstance in a person’s past. St Martins is a trauma-informed organisation which is founded on an active commitment to encourage healing from trauma and prevent re-traumatization. The policies, practices, and procedures of St Martins’ approach towards trauma-informed care addresses the physiological, interpersonal, historical, and other complex consequences of trauma.
At St Martins, our reflective practice is based within a trauma-informed approach and supports staff in exploring alternative ways of working to achieve better outcomes for residents. This supports staff to work in consistent ways which build trust in the staff team and organisation.
In summary, implementing trauma-informed care within St Martins involved recognition of the impact of trauma on individuals and communities, creating safe and culturally sensitive services, preventing re-traumatization, and addressing the complex consequences of trauma through policies, practices, and procedures. By doing so, more organisations can support the healing process for those who have experienced trauma and promote better mental and physical health outcomes.
Information about Trauma-informed care
- Treatment for trauma – Mind. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/trauma/treatment-and-support/
- Working definition of trauma-informed practice – GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-definition-of-trauma-informed-practice/working-definition-of-trauma-informed-practice
- What is trauma-informed care? Meaning, examples and how to help – USA TODAY. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2023/04/22/what-trauma-informed-care-meaning-examples-and-how-help/11681928002/
- What is Trauma-Informed Care: An Example – Community Psychology. https://www.communitypsychology.com/what-is-trauma-informed-care-an-example/
- What Are the 6 Principles of Trauma-Informed Care? https://onlinenursing.duq.edu/blog/what-are-the-6-principles-of-trauma-informed-care/
- Key Ingredients for Successful Trauma-Informed Care Implementation – SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/programs_campaigns/childrens_mental_health/atc-whitepaper-040616.pdf.