Trauma-Informed Care


In recent years, trauma-informed care has been a front and center topic in healthcare. Trauma-informed care “is an approach that aims to engage people with histories of trauma, recognize the presence of trauma symptoms, and acknowledge the role that trauma has played in their lives.” 

At heart, this means that I, as a nurse, need to recognize that some of the symptoms I see in a patient are a result of their story. As I tell health and human service workers all the time: “The symptoms are in the story.”

I think all Christians need to attend a workshop on trauma-informed care. Because as we interact with people, whether they believe our truth claims or not, we need to get a better understanding of what lies beyond the surface.

We need to better understand the story behind the cynicism. We need to have greater empathy for the narrative behind the fear, the resentment, the inability to get involved, the anger toward authority of any kind.

We need to practice trauma-informed care. Specifically, as more and more attention is finally being drawn toward the refugee crisis, and sites like We Welcome Refugees pop up like daisies, (or sometimes dandelions) in a summer lawn, we cannot go into this work blindly, unaware of the trauma sustained by refugees and displaced people. 

One way to be ready is to learn how to give trauma-informed care. So how do we practice trauma-informed care? 

On the surface, it’s simple. Get to know the person behind the symptoms. Find out their story. Everyone has a story. If we practice active listening, we can better get to the heart of the story.

But beyond knowing the story, what do we do? It is completely unrealistic to think we can know everyone’s story. It is beyond our ability to be able to spend the kind of time it takes to get to the heart of why a person reacts the way they do.

SAMHSA – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers these characteristics of organizations that have a “trauma-informed” approach. These organizations: 

  1. Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seek to actively resist re-traumatization.*

These six principles guide the approach: 

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

On a practical level, what does this mean?

For starters, using these principles, a church or refugee organization can develop their own models of care for refugees and others who they long to reach. A church or faith organization needs to recognize signs of post traumatic stress disorder, and know how to direct the person and family for counseling. A church needs to see this as a mutual work, not a hierarchy. The refugee family is NOT below the other families in the church. The refugee family is NOT to be an object of pity. Rather, they should be seen as full partners in the settlement process.  Organizations must understand the need for cultural competency and, within trauma-informed care, seek to care for the person in culturally responsive ways.

There is so much more to say on these topics, and I will write more in the coming days, but let us not enter blindly. Let us enter with humility and determination. We are not Saviours, we are partners in this process. 

It may sound easy on the surface to open your heart and home to refugees, but ask anyone, anyone who has worked in the field for a long time and they will tell you about burnout. They will tell you about how you can’t meet the needs of everybody. They will tell you about their clinic, how after you give out 30 numbers to 30 patients, you have to turn people away. They will tell you about waking every day, begging “Lord Have Mercy.”

Because the problem is so big. Because that is the reality.

Blogger’s Note: Would that these principles of trauma-informed care be used on everybody that enters the doors of our churches. Just as packages that contain breakable items declare in bold letters: “Fragile! Handle with Care!” so do many people wear invisible signs: “Fragile! Handle me carefully.”

Here is an excellent article The Resilient Refugee, written by an ATCK and expat writing friend. Anoter great article What the Migrant Crisis Says About Us is written by a thoughtful writer and researcher who I was privileged to meet in February at the Families in Global Transition Conference.

*These principles are taken directly from SAMHSA

4 thoughts on “Trauma-Informed Care

  1. If we can find ways for our society to reduce the number of families with inadequate financial, emotional and psychological resources we will no longer generate so much misery.
    Trauma I formed societies might be the way to go.
    Early intervention with families seems to help, unfortunately the pay off comes several years later so highly effective and cost saving programmes like Sure start or Head start get cut to save money now.
    $1 spent now would probable save $250 later and much preventable suffering.


  2. Marilyn, this approach is sound and practical and should become a part of our being so much that we engage all fellow pilgrims with love, compassion, openness, and the love of our Lord flowing through us.


  3. Just a superb post. Thank you, thank you for this timely, well-thought-out explanation, especially in the areas of partnering and cultural competency. As a former hospital chaplain, and as a current pastor with a heart firmly planted in pastoral care, this trauma-informed approach is what I strive for in just about every conversation, every interaction I have.

    Truly, I ought to walk through life with open heart, open hands and open mind. (Would Jesus do any less?)


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