What is Trauma-Informed verses Trauma-Responsive Care?

The term trauma-informed has been utilized as a goal, as an outcome and as an information level for most professionals and organizations that deal with trauma-impacted individuals.  What is interesting about that is that there are as many definitions of being trauma-informed as there are trainings. Just like any form of therapeutic education the information you receive will have different emphasis from different training programs. There are no specific standards that define what it means to be trauma-informed.  

Some individuals have taken one brief workshop and consider that to be the extent of their training. Others take a series of workshops and that is their definition. All of this information is valuable but with so many different criteria it is hard to know when you have enough information to gain a solid understanding of what one needs to know to be competent.

The other significant issue is that the research about the neuroscience of trauma changes as the science develops. I recognize that it is a full-time job to keep up with the growing knowledge about trauma. Even with Lakeside’s curriculum utilizing 2500 resources from almost every field of science, we recognize that we never have arrived in our knowledge and discovery. It is an area of education that compels us to remain humble and open to change. We consistently review our courses to see what changes need to incorporated to expand our training with integrity and the latest research.

What we also know is that the information about trauma is only a part of the process of helping professionals work with individuals who have experienced varied forms of adversity resulting in their particular kind of trauma. Knowing about trauma is very different than being capable to help those in our care to cope with its impact. So in addition to trauma information, we also spend a great deal of time teaching some of the skills that are required for professionals and organizations to become trauma-responsive. 

The perspectives and skills around trauma responsiveness are essential to effective care. The perspective of asking “What happened to you?” and not “What’s wrong with you?” is basic to non-judgement and proper assessment of how someone responds to their triggers. There needs to be an understanding of how the brain works and what the brain arousal stages are when someone manifests beliefs and behaviors that are dysregulated.

Also, the specific skills of active listening, sensitized communication, brain regulation skills, group management skills and the ability to create complex discussions around their specific traumatic experiences are all very useful. Learning and practicing these skills will help professionals and organizations establish safety, create compassionate clinical care, help their clients regulate, and cope and set the stage for healing and recovery. Creating these processes with individuals who have experienced trauma allows for a more trauma-responsive environment where the practices, policies and communications do not re-trigger them. It is in this type of environment that the obstacles to recovery can be explored and the individual can begin their journey of healing.  

Becoming trauma-responsive is contingent on being trauma-informed and then utilizing contextual skills so that affected individuals can discover their journey to a deeper understanding of the impact of their trauma as well as interventions to help them overcome their trauma responses. If we are truly going to provide the appropriate levels of care we need to grow in our knowledge and the needed skills as a trauma-responsive caregiver.

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