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Trauma Informed Organizations

It’s wonderful to see how many people are learning about Trauma-Informed Care in order to provide services that are responsive to the needs of their clients. There is a growing awareness that we need to take care of ourselves, too, in order to continue to provide quality services (and to become more resilient in our own lives). Trauma-Informed Care is an essential training for anyone who works in Human Services.

Beyond that, more people are realizing that it is not enough for an individual staff person to be trauma-informed, or to have trauma-informed supervision (which is essential, as well). Given the prevalence of trauma in our society and in Human Services in particular, our organizations must also practice a trauma-informed approach to support and promote resilience for all through a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing.

A Trauma-Informed Organizational Approach

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) provides guidelines that can be implemented in any type of service setting or organization. It is a general approach that is distinct from trauma-specific interventions or treatments that are designed to address the consequences of trauma.

A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  • Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  • Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.

How does your organization practice these guidelines? Are there changes you would like to make?


SAMHSA defines resilience as “the ability to bounce back or rise above adversity as an individual, family, community, or provider. Well beyond individual characteristics of hardiness, resilience includes the process of using available resources to negotiate hardship and/or the consequences of adverse events.”

Note that this definition of resilience is not limited to individuals or families. In order to create and sustain the resources needed for people to negotiate hardships and adverse events, our organizations and our community as a whole need to become resilient.

The effects of trauma are mitigated by awareness, perception, physical action, and other resiliency factors. How does your organization promote these factors?

Six Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach

Services and supports that are trauma-informed build on individual and family engagement, empowerment, and collaboration. A trauma-informed approach reflects six key principles rather than a prescribed set of practices or procedures. These principles may be generalizable across multiple types of settings, although each setting will have specific ways of applying them. We encourage you to take a moment to reflect on how they are demonstrated in your organization:

Safety – Throughout the organization, staff and the people they serve feel physically and psychologically safe.

Trustworthiness and transparency – Organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency and the goal of building and maintaining trust among staff, clients, and family members of those receiving services.

Peer support and mutual self-help – These are integral to the organizational and service delivery approach and are understood as a key vehicle for building trust, establishing safety, and empowerment.

Collaboration and mutuality – There is true partnering and leveling of power differences between staff and clients and among organizational staff from direct care staff to administrators. There is recognition that healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making. The organization recognizes that everyone has a role to play in a trauma-informed approach. One does not have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.

Empowerment, voice, and choice – Throughout the organization and among the clients served, individuals’ strengths are recognized, built on, and validated and new skills developed as necessary. The organization aims to strengthen the staff’s, clients’, and family members’ experience of choice and recognize that every person’s experience is unique and requires an individualized approach. This includes a belief in resilience and in the ability of individuals, organizations, and communities to heal and promote recovery from trauma. This builds on what clients, staff, and communities have to offer, rather than responding to perceived deficits.

Cultural, historical, and gender issues – The organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases (e.g., based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, geography), offers gender responsive services, leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections, and recognizes and addresses historical trauma.

Safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment. How does your organization promote and sustain these trauma-informed approaches with your clients and with your staff?

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