I have never really felt comfortable with the term “trauma-informed.” It seems passive and too open to interpretation. Anyone can pick up a book, read an article, or even a blog post and become informed about trauma. At its most basic, it implies some knowledge of what trauma is and what it does. It can also be expanded to be a philosophical underpinning of the work that we do to assist victim/survivors of domestic and sexual violence, an understanding that the effects of trauma are because of what was done to a person rather than there being something wrong with her/him. However, what we really want to be is “trauma-responsive.” This moves our programs from the basic understanding of trauma to not only having knowledge of the effects of trauma, but also incorporating activities, policies, and interactions that value the experience of the survivor, assist in finding ways to mitigate the impact of trauma, and reduce the possibility of triggering or re-victimizing.
In order to have a definition of trauma-informed services that addresses the needs of domestic violence survivors, the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health created the following working definition of “trauma-informed” that moves beyond passive knowledge to a genuine active response.
”A trauma-informed program, organization, system, or community is one that has undergone a transformation in awareness about the traumatic effects of abuse and violence and incorporates that understanding into every aspect of its practice or program. In such settings, understanding about trauma is reflected in the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of individuals as well as in organizational structures such as policies, procedures, language, and supports for staff. This includes attending to culturally specific experiences of trauma and providing culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate services. Any person, system, or setting can be trauma-informed. A DV program that is trauma-informed recognizes that survivors, staff, and others they interact with may be affected by trauma they have experienced at some point in their lives. Central to this perspective is viewing trauma-related responses from the vantage point of “what happened to you” rather than “what’s wrong with you,” recognizing these responses as survival strategies, and focusing on survivors’ individual and collective strengths. Trauma-informed programs are welcoming and inclusive and based on principles of respect, dignity, inclusiveness, trustworthiness, empowerment, choice, connection, and hope. They are designed to attend to both physical and emotional safety, to avoid retraumatizing those who seek assistance, to support healing and recovery, and to facilitate meaningful participation of survivors in the design, implementation, and evaluation of services. Supervision and support for staff to safely reflect on and attend to their own responses and to learn and grow from their experiences is another critical aspect of trauma-informed work.” (Training the Trainers Curriculum, NCDVTMH, 2011)
If your program meets this definition, then it is meeting the needs of survivors in a more active, responsive way.