Being Trauma-informed 

article by VSS staff member Darren Hincks

Being trauma-informed is to give consideration and understanding to the history of trauma and the recognition of trauma responses in people’s lives. A trauma-informed approach prioritizes the physical, psychological and emotional safety of clients and service providers while providing the opportunity for clients to rebuild control and empowerment.

Trauma-informed practice (TICP) was first introduced to address the gap in trauma knowledge found in the mental health and substance addiction services in the United States (Harris & Fallot, 2001) where clients were often retraumatised when accessing services.  The early practice focused on a framework of universal trauma screening, assessment and treatment, while minimising retraumatisation of clients. This approach required educating service providers on the biological, psychological and social effects of trauma.

First major study

The first large-scale implementation and evaluation of a TICP program was the Women, Co-occurring Disorders , and Violence Study  which aimed to deliver more effective services for victims of sexual assault.

Trauma-Informed Practice

A trauma-informed approach is based on 5 core survivor-focused principles: safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment (Fallot & Harris 2009, Kezelman & Stavropoulos 2012) These principles originated from the concept that trauma, especially prolonged sexual abuse during the developmental phase of childhood, has essentially shaped the experience of survivors (Fallot & Harris 2011, Herman 2015).  Trauma-informed care and practice, as such, is not restricted to trauma specific services. It aims to ensure that all service providers  are informed about, and sensitive to, trauma-related issues present in survivors (Jennings 2008)

Trauma-informed practice in action 

(This section is adapted from Fallot & Harris 2011 and Kezelman & Stavropoulos 2012)

Trauma-informed practice has 5 key principles :

  • Safety - Trauma-informed workers support survivors to feel physically and emotionally safe (or safe enough) in their interactions with the service.
     This can mean:
     Provide a comfortable and inviting environment for clients
    Ask the client where they would like to sit
    Establish clear lines of communication.
  • Trustworthiness - For survivors to feel safe there must be a trusting relationship built with all service providers.
·         This can mean:
           Ask the survivor how and when they would like to be contacted.
·          Provide clear information 
·          Professional boundaries are critical but need to be negotiated with the client
·         Take the time to enable the survivor to provide informed consent 
  • Choice - support the survivor to maximise their choices, to enable their recovery and empowerment.
·         Provide clear information about all choices and what these will look like
          Ask about their preferences in receiving support
         Maximise opportunities for the survivor to make their own choices
  • Collaboration - A large focus of trauma-informed practice is collaboration and power sharing with survivors.
       Not "working for” but “working with” survivors (Harris & Fallot 2001)
  • Empowerment - The desired outcome is for survivors of trauma to develop a sense of empowerment and control.

·         Interactions with survivors should focus on recognising and building on their skills and strengths.

·        The survivor's sense of empowerment is more likely to be heightened where they are involved in planning,           implementing and evaluating strategies.

For human and victim services operating under a trauma-informed philosophy, reframing victims as survivors is fundamental to the process of reconstituting and re-empowering individuals that have experienced trauma (Kezelman & Stavropoulos 2012)


Note: Two further articles on Trauma-informed Practice are planned for later editions of Crime Victim e-News - 

"Why is trauma-informed practice important?"

"What are some of the barriers for organisations in implementing trauma-informed practice?"



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