What is Trauma-Informed Care? 

If you’re on a journey to heal or have learned about trauma, you might have come across the term ‘trauma-informed care’. You might’ve also heard about ‘trauma-focused’ care, like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or the Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapies. But what exactly is trauma-informed care (TIC), and how is it different from trauma-focused care? To explain, let’s first understand what trauma is. 


Many people have gone through some type of trauma. Does that seem like an exaggeration? It’s not, once you understand the definition of trauma. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and a major research center, explains that trauma is the long-lasting emotional response you feel after a distressing event. With this definition, you can see how most people have either witnessed or directly experienced something that led to tough emotions that lingered after an event. 


Trauma isn’t just about one-time events like natural disasters or car accidents. It also includes ongoing stressors that affect your ability to cope and live your life. For instance, the ongoing stress linked to chronic poverty can be traumatic. Similarly, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) show how widespread trauma can be. ACEs have been thoroughly studied, revealing that exposure to potentially traumatic situations and environments has lasting negative effects. An Ontario study found that 81% of adults had experienced at least one ACE, with 31% facing four or more ACEs (Gentile, 2022). 


Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is an approach that understands that trauma is widespread. Recognizing that trauma is a common occurrence and that it can affect anyone is part of the ‘trauma-informed’ approach. TIC involves providing the right services, whatever they may be, to individuals who’ve experienced trauma. TIC purposely tries to create a safe environment to prevent accidentally retraumatizing anyone. TIC understands that past traumatic experiences influence how you react to current safety threats. Instead of asking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ TIC asks, ‘What happened to you? 


TIC isn’t a treatment; it’s an approach. On the other hand, Trauma-Focused Care focuses on treating trauma directly. It involves understanding, processing, and dealing with traumatic exposures and experiences. Options for trauma-focused care include therapies like EMDR, IFS, and other evidence-based treatments, like those provided at Rising Tides. Trauma-focused care addresses trauma head-on. 


Trauma-Informed Care starts with awareness of the four R’s: realization, recognition, response, and resisting traumatization. These R’s highlight that trauma can impact everyone, including clients and therapists. Realization means understanding that trauma is widespread. Recognition involves being able to identify signs of trauma in ourselves and others. Response refers to how you respond to others who may have experienced trauma. Resisting traumatization means examining the way you work to ensure nobody is potentially triggered or experiences unintended negative effects. 


-Holly Inniss, RSW, (MSW-Student).  

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