In the United States, demand for mental health care is higher than ever. To best serve the millions of Americans who benefit from this care, each patient should receive individualized treatment that takes into account their specific conditions and needs. One new patient-centered approach, called trauma-informed care, is becoming more common in healthcare facilities, schools, and agencies across the nation.
What is trauma-informed care?
Trauma-informed care is a strengths-based approach to care that helps health professionals take into account the trauma that their patients may have suffered in the past, and explore how it can inform patient interactions and treatment. It also helps police, first responders, teachers, social workers, and workers at social service agencies, guide care and interact with patients, students or citizens. The majority of patients who require mental health care or care for substance abuse have experienced some level of trauma in their past and organizations such as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) advocate TIC practices. By recognizing the role of trauma in a person’s life, professionals in various professions can provide more effective, patient-centered care to facilitate healing.
TIC is rooted from the deep understanding of the psychological, biological, neurological and social effects of trauma, taking into account factors of trauma such as impact, interpersonal dynamic, and paths to recovery and uses this information in delivery of care. It separates itself from traditional care approaches recognizing that traditional approaches can re-traumatize patients, consumers, and their families. With a person-centered response, it doesn’t simply treat specific symptoms of mental illness, it works to improve a person’s all-around wellness.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has shown a correlation between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and health and social problems as an adult. As the knowledge about the prevalence of ACEs increases, trauma-informed care practices are being put into place in communities’ agencies and systems such as education, social services, health care services, public health, and criminal justice systems.
If health professionals fail to account for their patient’s history of trauma, it can negatively affect the patient’s short- and long-term wellbeing. Trauma affects how each patient sees and interprets the world and has huge impacts on how they feel and the actions they take. It is intrinsically related to mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and anxiety.
In systems without trauma-informed care, patients will likely be subjected to treatments for these conditions that are less effective or inappropriate for them. They may also feel disempowered, especially since they are likely pathologized then treated like every other person with their condition. These one-size-fits-all treatments focus solely on a patient’s diagnosis, failing to take into account how certain treatments or care techniques could re-traumatize patients.
On the other hand, health systems that employ trauma-informed care focus on patient experiences and the role they play in a patient’s health. Patients in these systems are valued and treated as a whole person, a survivor of trauma. Health professionals in these systems take steps to provide care that will benefit the patients and avoid treatment that may cause further trauma.
How does trauma-informed care impact healthcare?
Trauma-informed care can be used in every healthcare setting, not just in mental health care. Providing this type of care requires more than just abiding by a checklist; it requires health professionals to move from being aware of trauma to being well-informed about trauma. This process takes education, training, and time.
When delivering trauma-informed care, professionals will need to screen patients for trauma then be considerate of this trauma while delivering care. It should help people who have experienced trauma feel that they have a voice and have control over their care. They should work to develop a trusting patient-provider relationship to help the patient feel secure.
Clinics and hospitals that use a trauma-informed care approach may see that it benefits staff as well as patients. For example, mental health professionals who work in systems without trauma-informed care often suffer from low morale and are more likely to quit or be fired. Health professionals who use trauma-informed care may feel more fulfilled and secure in their knowledge that they are providing quality care. They may also understand how to employ self-care techniques when they experience trauma at work.
Trauma-informed care will continue to positively impact healthcare delivery in hospitals as well as other systems where it is adopted. By treating patients as individuals and acknowledging their personal histories, professionals in all care settings can provide more effective, compassionate treatment.