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Importance of trauma informed care in addiction treatment

Discover the importance of trauma informed care and how trauma informed care aids in addiction treatment.

An Overview of Trauma Informed Care

Historically, health care providers and mental health services—especially services directed toward people struggling with poverty, addiction, and other mental health disorders—asked, “What is wrong with you?” Today, trauma-informed care (TIC) shifted the focus to asking, “What happened to you?” 

Approximately 60% of men and 50% of women will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, and twelve million people in the United States have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) each year. This statistic accentuates the value of proper trauma-informed treatment methods.[1]

trauma informed care

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

A trauma-informed approach acknowledges that medical and mental health professionals don’t have a complete picture of a person’s situation. Therefore, TIC changes the outlook to approaching those in need as if they are victims of trauma, not lazy or dishonest.

Put concisely, trauma-informed care is an approach that recognizes the presence of trauma and how it has played a role in a person’s life. Instead of blaming the victim for the difficult position they are in, trauma-informed care actively resists re-traumatizing a person.

The Foundation of Trauma-Informed Care

The Trauma-Informed Care Pyramid tool helps practitioners visualize and practice the trauma-informed care model. Starting from the base, the building blocks that make up the pyramid include: 

  • Patient-centered communication skills
  • Understanding the health effects of trauma
  • Collaboration and understanding your professional role
  • Understanding your own history
  • Screening

Common Models of Trauma Treatmen

Trauma-informed practices include a variety of psychotherapy treatments that specifically address trauma. Five of the most commonly used and well-researched trauma-informed counseling techniques are explained below.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy is a type of trauma-informed therapy frequently used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the depression, anger, and anxiety that can accompany it. It has been researched for more than two decades and found to be empirically valid. For example, one study found that after receiving PE therapy, patients’ PTSD Checklist screening reduced from 87.6% to 46.2%.[2]

PE is based on the same principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy, and it teaches people how to gradually approach their trauma-related feelings and memories and confront their fears.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR therapy was originally developed to help alleviate trauma symptoms. This trauma-informed therapy follows an eight-phase format involving external stimuli to reprocess feelings and beliefs associated with traumatic events.

Seeking Safety

Seeking Safety is a coping-skills therapy that helps individuals protect their emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and physical safety. In groups or one-on-one sessions, clinicians guide clients through twenty-five different treatment topics to accomplish their personal safety goals.

Child-Parent Psychotherapy  

Research shows that two-thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event before the age of sixteen, and more than one in seven children experienced child abuse or neglect in 2019.[3]

Child-parent psychotherapy (CPP) is a trauma-informed counseling technique for children ages five and younger exposed to trauma. It is conducted with the child’s parent or primary caregiver. The goal of CPP is to improve the child-caregiver relationship as a way to restore and protect the child’s mental health.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is a trauma-informed example designed to help young children, adolescents, adults, and families recover from traumatic experiences. The therapy uses traditional family, humanistic, and cognitive therapy techniques along with trauma-sensitive interventions. Clients learn valuable coping strategies that can help them ease and navigate the emotional impact of trauma.

Trauma-Informed Care Principles

Trauma-informed care varies depending on the circumstances but is always aware and empathetic to the possibility that trauma has impacted the patient. A noteworthy component of TIC is the fact that everyone responds and reacts to trauma differently. 

To a healthcare professional, trauma-informed care may look like asking permission before touching a patient or starting a physical examination. Trauma-informed care strives to create a safe, welcoming environment that respects cultural differences and puts clients in control of their own treatment.

Six Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed six principles of trauma-informed care. Social workers, medical personnel, and other public service employees who undergo trauma-informed care training learn SAMHSA’s six principles and use them as a guide for providing appropriate care. These trauma-informed care principles are:[4]

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness
  • Peer support
  • Collaboration
  • Empowerment
  • Humility

No particular technique or checklist ensures mental health professionals will meet the principles of trauma-informed treatment. It takes ongoing attention, personal awareness, and an effort to be sensitive to the needs of others to provide trauma-informed practices successfully.

Importance of Trauma-Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

The impact of trauma on an individual who is seeking addiction treatment can’t be overstressed. Of course, not everyone develops a substance use disorder because they experienced trauma, but it is a common cause. In addition, addiction itself could be considered traumatic, as it can lead to people putting themselves in dangerous situations.

To better understand the value of the trauma-informed care model, people must remember that trauma is an emotional and psychological reaction to an event—not the event itself. As a result, it is possible for two people to experience the same event, but only one becomes traumatized. 

Supporting Victims in Trauma-Informed Car

An addiction center that practices the principles of trauma-informed care recognizes the link between trauma and addiction and provides the appropriate support for trauma victims. When seeking treatment at a rehab that practices the principles of trauma-informed care, clients can expect the following practices to be in place:

  • Involving patients in the treatment process
  • Screening for trauma
  • Creating safe context
  • Restoring power
  • Building self-worth

Trauma-Informed Care Healing

From the initial evaluation to plans for aftercare, every step of the recovery journey in a trauma-informed care rehab program recognizes the potential impact of trauma. Trauma-informed therapy is more than the treatments or interventions that address trauma and seek to heal it. 

By following the principles of TIC, practitioners avoid compounding the consequences of trauma by re-traumatizing those in their care, and that practice is what gives trauma-informed care meaning.

trauma informed therapy   

Trauma-Informed Care and Other Treatment Options for Addiction

Trauma-informed care interventions recognize the survivor’s need to be informed, connected, and respected throughout all stages of their recovery. Several types of therapy, including those listed above, may be combined with traditional, evidence-based addiction treatments, such as family therapy, medication management, and one-on-one therapy. Mindfulness practices that help clients cope with stress and stay present can also be helpful.

Opportunities for Healing at Genesis Recovery

Genesis Recovery is dedicated to the principles of trauma-informed care. We offer many programs with evidence-based therapies, EMDR, cognitive restructuring, and dialectical behavior therapy. We are proud to implement trauma-informed practices at our treatment center because we believe in the value of acknowledging and understanding the impact of trauma.

In addition, we recognize every person’s situation and reaction to trauma are different, so we create personalized treatment plans to ensure each client’s needs are met. If you or someone you know could benefit from a trauma-informed practice, contact us at Genesis Recovery to learn more about our programs and how to get started.


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