Trauma-Informed Approach

What is Trauma?

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 and has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual wellbeing.1

A Trauma-Informed Approach is how a program, agency, organization or community:  

  • Thinks about and responds to those who have experienced or may be at risk for experiencing trauma
  • Makes a change in organizational culture

Trauma-Informed Approach 

  • Understand how secondary traumatic stress impacts the workforce
  • Recognize that exposure to trauma is a risk of the job
  • Understand that trauma can influence culture within an organization
  • Secondary traumatic stress accounted for in direct services, programs, policies, procedures, staff development and training, etc.

A Framework for Change: The Four Rs

An organization integrating trauma-informed practices will continuously engage in these four stages of the trauma-informed approach2:


Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understand the potential paths for recovery (and prevention)


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.

In Practice: Applying a Trauma-Informed Approach

There are six principles that are key to organizations working to be trauma-informed3:

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Across the organization, staff and people they serve feel physically and psychologically safe.

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Trustworthiness & Transparency

Organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency and the goal of building and maintaining trust. 

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Peer Support

Individuals with shared experiences are integrated into the organization and viewed as integral to service delivery

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 Collaboration & Mutuality

The organization recognizes power differences between clients and staff, and amongst staff, and work to support shared decision-making. 

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Empowerment, Voice & Choice

The organization recognizes that every person's experience is unique. Client, customer and staff strengths are recognized, validated, and built upon. 

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Cultural, Historical, & Gender Issues

The organization actively works to move past cultural stereotypes and biases, recognizes and addresses historical trauma, and offers culturally responsive services.

A trauma-informed organization uses these six principles to guide decision-making across all areas of operation such as:

  • Leadership & management
  • Drafting new policies
  • Designing physical spaces
  • Designing new programs
  • Community engagement
  • Staff onboarding
  • Workforce development
  • Quality assurance
  • Financial decision-making
  • Evaluation & assessment

1, 2, 3,  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. HHS Publication No.(SMA) 14-4884. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014. SAMHSA's Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach