Understanding and Responding to the Effects of Adverse Experiences Throughout the Lifespan
Twelve Trauma-informed Care virtual patient cases demonstrate the effects of trauma on physical and mental health and ways that healthcare providers can provide appropriate care to trauma survivors.
What is Trauma-Informed Care?
Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being (www.samhsa.gov). Simply put, trauma is the result of an experience which overwhelms one’s ability to cope. Examples of traumatic life experiences include: sexual assault, interpersonal and community violence, military sexual trauma, child abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction, to name just a few. A history of exposure to traumatic events may lead to coping mechanisms such as substance misuse, overeating, and high risk sexual behavior.
Trauma-informed care is an outgrowth of abundant and definitive research findings, such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, which demonstrate that exposure to traumatic events, is highly prevalent in our society. Further there is evidence of a cumulative effect which occurs in a dose-related relationship: the more types of trauma an individual experiences, the greater their risk for negative outcomes. Perhaps of greatest significance is that traumatic exposure in childhood has significant impact on neuro, behavioral, and physiologic development, with potentially long-lasting impact on the individual’s health and overall well-being. Research further demonstrates that this impact can be transmitted intergenerationally. Recognizing this relationship among adversity, health, and well-being, Trauma-Informed Care, takes this information into consideration in the approach to care for all individuals. This universal precaution approach, which is to assume everyone has experienced some form of trauma, is essential given that most patients do not disclose their history of trauma, and likely may not even be aware of the impact it has had on them. The evolution of trauma-informed care and approaches represents policy, program, and practice catching up the science and may represent the greatest public health advance of our time. Knowledge of this science provides better perspective from which to understand behavior as coping mechanism, and how to incorporate trauma-informed approaches in care and services, to promote improved outcomes.
Trauma-informed Care provides a training tool for a broad range of healthcare providers and their staff to learn about the prevalence and impact of trauma and how to integrate the principles of trauma-informed care into clinical practice. By understanding the behavioral, neurological, and health effects of trauma and learning specific communication skills, clinicians can improve their relationships with patients, better engage patients in all aspects of their care, and potentially reduce the risk of their own professional stress and burnout.
70% of adults in the US have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. That’s 223.4 million people.
— The National Council for Behavioral Health