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  • Writer's pictureAli Howarth

Trauma Informed Practice

Updated: Aug 20, 2022

The key goals of trauma informed practice is to avoid re-traumatisation of people who have experienced trauma, and to understand their responses and behaviours as coping strategies born of trauma. The question to ask is not “What is wrong with them? but rather “What has happened to them?” Within trauma informed practice there is also a strong message of hope and optimism that recovery pathways are possible.

Being trauma informed is not accomplished by any single technique or checklist. It requires an ongoing understanding and mindfulness of trauma impacts, caring awareness, sensitivity and even a cultural change at an organisational level. Ideally trauma informed practice extends to the entire organisation and organisational culture as a whole. A trauma informed organisation will look at issues of client and staff safety in their policies, protocols and staff engagement practices. It’s about a culture of non-violence, learning and collaboration; while integrating knowledge of trauma into policies, procedures and practices.

5 PRINCIPLES OF TRAUMA INFORMED PRACTICE Trauma informed practice is a strengths-based framework, meaning that we focus on an individual’s strengths: their personal strengths plus social and community networks, and not on their individual deficits. It is pinned to the inherent dignity, worth and basic human rights of everyone accessing or working within the organisation.

In most models there are 5 core principles to Trauma informed practice: safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment. To these we must also add respect for diversity. Cultural competence is inherent to the 5 key principles because understanding cultural diversity helps us to respect each person’s life in the context of their experiences and cultural background. It is also worthwhile bearing in mind the impacts of intergenerational trauma and colonisation as major impacts for Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In a trauma informed service people are seen as unique individuals who are managing under extremely distressing circumstances, and reacting very normally to abnormal situations. The focus is shifted from “What is wrong with this person” to “What has happened to this person.”

WHAT IS RE-TRAUMATISATION? One of the most important principles of trauma informed practice is to actively avoid re-traumatising your clients and workers.

Being part of a trauma informed service, or working in a trauma informed way, does not mean that you as a people leader have to treat the potential trauma your staff or clients might be holding. It is more about placing an awareness on the impact trauma can have, and understanding how common trauma is among the people that you support (both clients and staff); how challenging it can be for someone impacted by trauma to establish a safe connection with you; and how important it is to allow the person their agency. In this context, agency is about collaborating with the client or staff member and drawing upon their knowledge on how best to support them.

It is important to recognise that while an organisation may be supportive and even structured in a trauma informed way the vast majority of clients won't necessarily identify with the word trauma or even know what it means. Trauma informed practice is best practice for your staff and for everyone who may use your service.

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