What do we mean by “trauma-informed” practice?

Not everyone needs to know everything about trauma, but everyone needs to know something.
~ Project manager, community training initiative

Service providers who work with women in a range of contexts can play an important role in supporting women who have experienced trauma. Service providers who work from a "trauma-informed" perspective are not necessarily specialists in providing treatment for trauma; instead, they recognize the effects of trauma and are able to alter their practices to provide appropriate support for women. “Trauma-Informed Care is a strengths-based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.” 1
Trauma-informed practices can include a range of practice and program adaptations 2 such as:

  • supporting women in understanding the connections between their experience of trauma and their current strategies for coping (both adaptive and maladaptive);
  • ensuring women have choices and control about their service use and treatment options;
  • using collaborative ways of determining needs and plans and handling distress; every attempt is made to share power, decrease hierarchy and build trust;
  • adapting screening and intake procedures so that women are not required to disclose trauma before they are ready, nor have to repeatedly re-tell their stories;
  • recognize the range of emotional responses and symptoms that women may experience and view these as symptoms or adaptations to difficult life experiences rather than problem behaviours; and,
  • facilitate the learning of coping strategies, healing and empowerment.

Trauma-specific practice – what is the difference?

Trauma-specific services are often differentiated from "trauma-informed" practices. Trauma-specific services more directly address the need for healing from traumatic life experiences and facilitate trauma recovery through counselling and other clinical interventions. Seeking Safety 3 and Beyond Trauma4 are two evidence-based program examples that take an integrated approach to treatment for women with both trauma and substance use concerns. They have elements of trauma-informed practices as well as trauma-specific interventions. A recent Canadian study identified how substance use treatment for Aboriginal women needs to integrate recognition of trauma, as well as direct healing supports for both trauma and substance use concerns 5.

  1. Hopper, E.K., Bassuk, E.L. & Olivet, J. (2010). Shelter from the storm: Trauma-informed care in homelessness services settings, The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, 3, 80-100.
  2. Harris, M. & Fallot, R.D. (2001). Using trauma theory to design service systems (San Francisco, CA US, Jossey-Bass).
  3. Najavits, L.M. (2002). Seeking Safety: A treatment manual for PSTD and substance abuse (New York, The Guilford Press).
  4. Covington, S. (2003). Beyond trauma: A healing journey for women (Center City, Minnesota, Hazeldon).
  5. Dell, C.A. & Clark, S. (2009). The role of the treatment provider in Aboriginal women's healing from illicit drug abuse Available from:


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