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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Trauma-Informed Care: A Necessary Paradigm Shift

May 25, 2017 08:10AM ● By Melanie G. Snyder

An organization is choosing new seats for their waiting room. While modular units with two or three chairs joined together would save space and money, they select individual chairs that can be moved, allowing space between them.

A teacher notices one student looks upset and constantly checks her cell phone, despite a rule prohibiting phone use during class. The teacher has the rest of the class start working on an assignment, then invites the student to the “Safe Zone” set up at the back of the classroom, and quietly says, “You seem distracted and upset. I’m concerned about you. Help me understand what’s going on for you.”

A manager starts every staff meeting with a few minutes of mindful, deep breathing before launching into the agenda, and ends each meeting by sharing a “Self-Care Tip of the Day” to help employees reduce stress.    

These are examples of being “trauma-informed”—a phrase that’s getting a lot of press. So what does it mean?

Trauma-informed organizations recognize the widespread impact of traumatic experiences in people’s lives, pay attention to potential signs and symptoms of trauma and respond in ways that promote healing and resilience, and avoid re-traumatizing people.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.”

Anyone, of any age, race, gender, socioeconomic status or background can experience trauma. The adverse impacts of trauma can affect every aspect of one’s life. The good news is, people can and do heal from even the most severe and pervasive forms of trauma. Trauma-informed organizations can go a long way toward helping people to heal and develop resilience.

Any type of organization can become “trauma-informed”—including schools, human services agencies, healthcare providers, businesses and governmental agencies. The process of becoming a trauma-informed organization usually begins by training all staff about trauma, its impacts and resilience. Then, the organization typically conducts an assessment of their organizational culture, policies, procedures, physical space and programs to identify ways to integrate knowledge about trauma into everything they do.

For example, organizations that serve clients who may have experienced trauma create physical spaces that are safe and welcoming, ensure that organizational policies and programs promote trust and transparency, empower clients in a spirit of collaboration and mutuality, give clients “voice and choice” and are sensitive to cultural, historical and gender issues.

In schools, students who have experienced trauma may exhibit disruptive behaviors, be withdrawn, have learning or attention problems, or seem unable to regulate their emotions. Trauma-informed schools use teaching and disciplinary approaches that recognize the potential role of trauma in student behavior, promote student accountability while avoiding re-traumatizing students and teach skills that develop resilience.

In a workplace, employees who have experienced trauma may have difficulty with productivity, focus or interpersonal relationships. Trauma-informed workplaces pay attention to working conditions, address potential vicarious and secondary trauma for employees and encourage and support employee wellness and self-care.

Melanie G. Snyder is the author of Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity, and has given a TEDx talk titled “Breaking Out of Prison Thinking”. She is available to provide training about trauma, ACEs, resilience, vicarious trauma and self-care, and related topics. Contact Melanie at 717-572-2110 or email her at [email protected]. See her blog at

For more information about the principles of trauma-informed care, download the guide from SAMHSA at

For an overview of trauma, especially childhood trauma, and its impacts, watch the TED talk by pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris at at

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