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Trauma often informs the way that we interact with the world around us. Deep and long-lasting emotional scars can impact the way we view ourselves, each other, and the world. Understanding the role that trauma plays in each of our lives can not only allow us to better understand ourselves but also the kind of help that we need. There’s no “correct” way to heal; however, working through past trauma in recovery can help us to remove mental blocks that we may not have even been aware of.

Understanding Trauma

Before we can fully understand the purpose of trauma-informed care, we must first understand what trauma is. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines “individual trauma as an event or circumstance resulting in physical harm, emotional harm, and/or life-threatening harm.”

Trauma is typically understood as events significant to the individual that leave a lasting emotional or physical scar. Trauma is also personal, meaning that what’s traumatizing to one person may not be to another.

Trauma can come in many different forms. Here are a few examples of common traumatizing events:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): This type of trauma is a broad category that could refer to any number of traumatic events experienced in childhood. This could include abuse, loss, physical injury, and more. 
  • Combat: A common type of trauma seen in veterans, combat and violent experiences leave lasting psychological impacts. Trauma from combat often shares many traits as trauma from violent or abusive upbringings.
  • Death: While death is a natural part of life, certain deaths — especially unexpected ones — can traumatize us. 
  • Domestic violence: Trauma from domestic violence typically manifests itself in other interpersonal relationships. Often, survivors have difficulties with feelings of safety and trust. Domestic violence typically includes both physical and emotional abuse, which can have compound effects. 
  • Emotional abuse: There are various ways in which emotional abuse can take shape. Regardless, emotional abuse can affect the deepest parts of ourselves, resulting in self-doubt and a negative self-image. 

Although trauma is often nuanced and comes in many different forms, it’s still important to approach recovery with trauma in mind. Using a trauma-informed approach can help clients feel heard, seen, and safe throughout recovery. 

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care aims to acknowledge all aspects of a client’s history in order to create a treatment plan that best works for them. Understanding traumatic events that a client may have endured throughout their lives can help professionals uncover what to target. Research has shown that implementing trauma-informed practices in recovery can improve client engagement and prevent relapse. 

The main goals of trauma-informed care are:

  • Considering the impact of trauma on individuals and understanding paths for recovery
  • Recognizing and treating the signs and symptoms of trauma
  • Understanding how trauma informs mental health disorders, such as substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Actively avoiding re-traumatization

Note, however, that one of the main goals of trauma-informed care is not to directly treat the trauma itself. This process would likely require a professional who specializes in treating that specific type of trauma. Rather, trauma-informed care mainly seeks to treat the symptoms of trauma as they relate to issues such as SUDs. It also seeks to avoid re-traumatization of the client. 

Research has shown that trauma is the highest co-occurring mental health disorder with SUDs. In fact, those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are five times more likely to seek help for SUD than the general population. This indicates that recovery centers are more likely to have clients who are struggling with the effects of trauma. Due to this, professionals must be understanding and mindful of the role trauma plays in each client’s journey. 

The 5 Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care follows the five guiding principles:

  1. Safety: Ensuring that the client feels physically and emotionally safe throughout their recovery is one of the most important principles on which trauma-informed care is founded. Staff should be welcoming and approachable, and privacy should be respected at all times. 
  2. Trust: Similarly, the client must feel that they can trust the professionals they are working with. Boundaries must be clearly set by professionals, as well as clarity in the goals of recovery. 
  3. Choice: The more choice a client has in terms of their recovery process, the more likely they are to be engaged. The more engaged a client is in their recovery, the more fruitful their recovery will be.
  4. Collaboration: Likewise, the more opportunities clients are offered to play an active role in their recovery, the more likely they’ll be to partake. 
  5. Empowerment: Focusing on the client’s strengths and empowering them to build on those strengths is crucial. The ultimate goal of recovery is lifelong sobriety outside of a recovery center. To achieve this, clients must have faith in themselves that they can do it on their own.

With these principles in mind, trauma-informed care is able to approach recovery in a way that’s sensitive to a client’s past. Often, people who find themselves in recovery have had a difficult journey to get there. They deserve a safe and welcoming environment based on respect and understanding. In this environment, clients have the freedom and security to explore complicated emotions and grow as individuals. 

Trauma, unfortunately, will play a role in nearly every person’s life. Trauma-informed care operates under the assumption that those in recovery are more likely than not to have had traumatic experiences in their life. By approaching treatment with this in mind, professionals are able to create an environment that’s more welcoming, secure, and safe for those who are already at their most vulnerable. Navigating the symptoms of trauma while avoiding re-traumatization is essential in ensuring that clients feel safe and respected by the team in charge of their recovery. If you or a loved one has a history of trauma and would like to learn more about West Coast Recovery Centers’ trauma-informed approach, call us today at (760) 492-6509.

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