What do we Mean When we Say Trauma-Informed Care?

Written by Alexis Farugia, MSW

According to the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care (ITTIC), trauma-informed care refers to the practice of understanding and making active consideration of the pervasive nature of trauma by “promoting environments that foster healing instead of engaging in practices that can re-traumatize" [1].

To examine what this “actually means,” we can consider trauma- its definition, complexities, and effects as something experienced by more people than not in some form. Additionally, we must consider the organizational culture of trauma and how the human service and healthcare industries must place an intentional emphasis on “understanding, respecting, and appropriately responding to the effects of trauma at all levels” [1].

Oftentimes in these unique industries providers and staff will be exposed to the signs and symptoms of trauma that can affect the daily functioning of individuals in their care. It is important to understand what trauma is under a person-centered lens instead of focusing on diagnosis; “what is wrong with this person?” turns into “what has happened to this person?” [2]. This concept will lead to the respect of an individual, their history, their goals, and their treatment. Remaining mindful that we are interfacing with human beings with thoughts, feelings, ambitions, values, culture, and a sense of self that is unique to that individual person, offering empathy and compassion in some of their most challenging times.

Sketch of a brain in black ink tied to a sketch of heart in red ink.

The way in which we respond appropriately means that we as professionals seek to form therapeutic partnerships with individuals while avoiding the environments and situations that could lead to re-traumatization; a literal or symbolic resemblance of an individual’s trauma or traumatic event [2].

When an individual experiences trauma- no matter the history or severity- it often changes that individual’s sense of self and their perception of the world, its safety, and the trustworthiness of the people in it [3]. This can make it especially challenging for the individual to engage in care services effectively [4].

The intention of trauma-informed care is not simply to treat the direct symptoms of any physical, sexual and emotional abuse that happened but also to provide a thorough system of accessible support in an individual’s community [4].

Systems that follow a trauma-informed approach follow the Five Guiding Principles of trauma-informed care: safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment. These principles will be discussed in more detail in future posts.


[1] Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care. (2015). What is trauma-informed care? Buffalo: ITTIC.

[2] Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care. (2015). Retraumatization. Buffalo: ITTIC.

[3] Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care. (2015). A trauma-informed care approach. Buffalo: ITTIC.

[4] Harris, M. & Fallot, R. D. (2001). Using trauma theory to design service systems. New directions for mental health services. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Published August 31, 2022