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So - what IS trauma informed anyway?

A lot of staff people I know ask that question. There's a lot of talk about policies and understanding ACES, but there doesn't seem to be enough talk about how a person behaves in a trauma informed fashion. Like: "What do I have to do to be trauma informed?"

Part of it is understanding ACES. Part of it is understanding fight, flight, freeze or faun. But . . . how can I avoid eliciting these responses in the people I work with?

When I talk to staff about it, it's kind of like presenting universal precautions when dealing with bloodborne pathogens. You ASSUME that pathogens are present in everyone you work with or when faced with a first aid situation. You take precautions to keep from being exposed to pathogens (whether you are certain the person has a pathogen or not). A trauma informed approach is largely the same. You assume a  trauma history is present, and you take precautions in your approach to an individual to decrease the likelihood of triggering a trauma response.

When I talk to staff - I frame trauma this way: Trauma is a loss of control (over one's own safety or well-being) in the face of overwhelming circumstances. That event (or chronic events) leaves a mark - usually a coping mechanism and emotional response designed to keep a person safe (or at least 'feel' safe) when similar circumstances arise.

EVERY element of help has an element of control to it. If you've ever given someone a hand after they've tripped and fallen, you have at least partial control over their hand. The intention behind the help isn't seen, nor is the outcome of the help to someone having a trauma response to the loss of control resulting from the help. They are (again) experiencing a loss of control - and even if the circumstances may not be as overwhelming as the original issue on the surface . . . the defense is still there.

So - ASKING if they are ok after their fall is necessary. ASKING if they need a hand and respecting their answer is necessary. If they say your help is OK, ASKING how you can best help them up off the ground. Explaining what you're going to do before you do it. Asking for feedback and offering reassurance AS you do it and making sure you follow through with what you said you were going to do is necessary. Checking if they were OK afterward and processing whether your help actually helped. And after that - talking about ways they can avoid falling again or ways they can best pick themselves up should they fall again.

In that short paragraph about helping someone get back up after a fall are all the elements of being trauma informed (safety, choice, collaboration, transparency, trustworthiness and empowerment). It's not rocket science - and that approach applied to whatever profession you are in (medical, corrections, law enforcement, mental health, education, etc.) is the practice we are striving for.

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