Trauma-Informed Care In Behavioral Health Services

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What is Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services

To define trauma-informed care (TIC) in behavioral health services, we must first examine trauma.

Life often feels unpleasant. Even unfair. People that we love hurt us. They betray us. They might abuse us. We lose those we care about. To tragic, seemingly random events. Violence reaches out and touches us. Or those close to us.

Put simply: life can leave marks on us. And many of those marks feel like scars. We use the term trauma to describe these sensations. But trauma doesn’t have a simple definition. Even seasoned researchers find it difficult to describe.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What is trauma?

  • What are some causes of trauma?

  • How does trauma affect people?

  • What is trauma-informed care in behavioral health services?

  • How can I receive trauma-informed care?

What is Trauma?

Nailing down an exact definition of trauma proves a difficult task. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as, “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” The DSM-V lists diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. It refers to trauma as, “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”

The definition of trauma remains in flux. It changes with time. For a comprehensive understanding, consider the work of Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk. His book The Body Keeps The Score provides an excellent framework. In an interview, Dr. Van Der Kolk said that trauma occurred when “something happens to you that is too big for your mind to comprehend.”

Dr. Gabor Maté’s work can also provide further insight into trauma. Particularly how trauma relates to addiction. His book In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts offers incredible insight into both trauma and addiction. In a 2018 lecture, Dr. Maté said, “trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.”

What Are Some Causes of Trauma?

Many of the definitions of trauma include examples of traumatic events. Typically, you’ll see topics like:

  • Combat

  • Domestic violence

  • Childhood abuse

  • Rape

  • Terrorism

We can also include things like accidents, injuries, severe health problems, etc. No comprehensive list of traumatic events exists. Furthermore, trauma doesn’t impact everyone the same way. Two people can go through the exact same experience. One might experience symptoms of trauma. And the other may not. But when trauma does affect people, it tends to produce similar symptoms.

How Does Trauma Affect People?

When you experience stress, 3 areas of your brain activate. These are the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. Your amygdala attaches feelings to your memories of events. It also puts meaning to these experiences. Our brains tend to remember bad experiences better than good ones. This represents part of what the amygdala does.

Your hippocampus stores your memories. It also activates when you learn. It helps you recognize patterns. To try and make sense of them. Your prefrontal cortex (PFC) helps guide your behavior. It influences how you speak and act. It helps you respond to what’s happening in the world around you.

Trauma disrupts these 3 parts of the brain. It can create powerful memories. So powerful that a person feels like they are still experiencing a traumatic event. Reliving it right now. In the present. Sometimes trauma manifests as nightmares. People experiencing trauma might express feeling frozen or stuck.

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

We’ve examined trauma. We’ve learned a bit about how trauma affects people. But you may still have questions. You might wonder why we need trauma-informed care in behavioral health services.

Sometimes people suffer. That’s why they seek help from behavioral health providers. People often experience mental health disorders and substance use disorders (SUD) at the same time. Research calls this comorbidity. Both SUD and mental health disorders have links to trauma.

Sobriety and proper medication can contribute to recovery. But for a person to truly heal, they may need to dig deeper. Trauma-informed care helps with this. Instead of trying to fix a problem, trauma-informed care attempts to help a person.

Elements of Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care (TIC) aims to reduce the likelihood of re-traumatization. It does this by creating an atmosphere of openness. The Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care lists 5 principles of trauma-informed care.

  • Safety

  • Choice

  • Collaboration

  • Trustworthiness

  • Empowerment

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers four assumptions about TIC. It calls them the “Four R’s.” SAMHSA defines trauma as any event that leaves an enduring result on any aspect of a person. They list the Four R’s of trauma-informed care as:

  • Realization about trauma and its impact

  • Recognizing signs of trauma

  • Responding appropriately to trauma

  • Resisting re-traumatization

These principles help guide behavioral health providers. Providers use these principles to create a safe environment for trauma survivors. Without these principles in place, survivors might feel dehumanized. TIC aims to dignify what a person has been through. To treat a person’s experience with respect.

TIC equips behavioral health professionals with sensitivity. It assists them in treating a human being. A person is not a cluster of symptoms. A person isn’t just a disorder either.  They are not addicts. They are flesh and blood human beings. TIC offers a holistic path to healing and recovery.

How Can I Receive Trauma-Informed Care?

You might be a trauma survivor. Or, perhaps you don’t care for that term. You don’t want to feel like you’re labelling yourself.

At Recovery In Tune, we understand that. Our purpose is to listen. Not to label. We have no interest in fitting you into a mold. Rather, we aim to help you address what has happened to you.

Using trauma-informed care best practices, we create a haven for you. Your wellbeing and security are important. You have dignity and worth. Your experiences were real. They matter. And they were not your fault.

If you, or someone that you love, has experienced trauma, don’t wait any longer to seek treatment. If you have questions about trauma-informed care, contact Recovery In Tune now at 1 (844) 7-IN-TUNE.