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Trauma Informed Practice

Trauma-Informed Practice is a strengths-based approach, which seeks to understand and respond to the impact of trauma on people’s lives. The approach emphasises physical, psychological, and emotional safety for everyone and aims to empower individuals to re-establish control of their lives.

Trauma-informed practice recognises the prevalence of trauma and its impact on the emotional, psychological and social wellbeing of people. Awareness of trauma has progressed over the last 20 years, incorporating knowledge from attachment, child development and cognitive memory. Frameworks of practice have changed from purely bio-medical (medicine and psychiatry) and/or purely psychoanalytical (psychology) models to include the psycho-social (trauma-informed) and a recovery focus (recovery-oriented). 

In a social work context, children, young people and their family members may be living with the legacy effects of overwhelming stress (trauma). Despite the large numbers of people affected, many of us don’t automatically think of the possibility that someone we meet, speak with or support may have experienced trauma. This makes us less likely to recognise it. Keeping the possibility of trauma and the sensitivities and vulnerabilities of people who may be trauma survivors in our assessment focus is therefore the first step towards trauma informed practice.

Having a basic understanding of how stress can affect an individual is important. Knowing this will make us less likely to fuel other people’s stress levels. This means paying attention to ‘how’ we engage with other people, as well as to ‘what’ we do. It also means thinking about what may have happened to someone, rather than judging what is ‘wrong’ with them. 

We should not underestimate the capacity of positive interactions, even routine interactions, to be therapeutic and validating. Positive experiences of relationships are central to trauma recovery, whilst negative experiences in relationships can exacerbate emotional and psychological impacts.

What are trauma-informed services?

Trauma often affects the way people approach potentially helpful relationships. This is because many survivors feel unsafe, lack trust or live with anxiety. Becoming trauma-informed is about supporting people to feel safe enough in their interactions with services to build trust, and to help people overcome any barriers to an effective helping relationship.

Becoming trauma-informed is not an end state, but a process. The journey to becoming a trauma-informed service can be conceptualised within 4 stages

Trauma aware: Staff understand trauma, its effects and survivor adaptations.

Trauma sensitive: The agency integrates some concepts of a trauma-informed approach into operational ethos

Trauma responsive: Individuals and the agency recognise and respond to trauma, enabling changes in behaviour and strengthening resilience and protective factors.

Trauma-informed: The culture of the whole system, including all work practices and settings reflects a trauma-informed approach.

Plymouth has recently become a Trauma Informed City, with a number of overarching objectives:

  • To review and reflect upon the emerging evidence regarding trauma informed approaches & Adverse Childhood Experiences, and continue to define an approach that envisions Plymouth as a Trauma Informed city.
  • To promote the Trauma Informed Plymouth approach (Envisioning Plymouth as a Trauma Informed City), within city communities, agencies and partnership systems.
  • To promote the Plymouth Trauma Lens as a consistent, universal and transformational narrative for a trauma informed city, that aspires to be courageously prevention focused.
  • To work alongside & support communities, agencies, and partnership systems in becoming trauma aware and trauma responsive.
  • To promote a system level response to the Trauma Informed approach and to support system change as a critical friend.
  • To target three key service areas across the partnerships, namely school exclusions, criminal justice and mental health diagnosis.

Plymouth’s Trauma-Informed Network is made up of more than 70 professionals, from a number of different agencies including; Devon and Cornwall Police, city schools, Barnardos, NSPCC, Harbour, Devon CCG and Plymouth City Council, all with all with insight of how trauma can affect people. The network will start to look at a system wide approach to tackling the effects of trauma by:

  • preventing traumas occurring in the first place
  • promoting protective factors for all children
  • recognising the behaviours that may be the result of trauma and intervening appropriately
  • helping adults who are already suffering adverse consequences

Further Reading and Resources

Shemmings, D (2019) Applying Trauma Informed Work in Direct Practice, CC Inform

Young Minds (2018) Adversity and Trauma Informed Practice: A guide for professionals working on the front line