The Vital Importance of Being Trauma-Informed

behavior change communicaiton psychology May 07, 2024
Three people's hands clasped together in a comforting and supportive gesture, symbolizing empathy, support, and care. [Image description provided by ChatGPT]

It was one of those perfect spring days—70 degrees, the sun shining, and birds chirping; winter was retreating. And there I was, inside with fifty high school students for a media literacy workshop...right after lunch, no less. You can imagine the scene: the room was buzzing with that post-lunch sleepiness, and honestly, everyone, including me, would rather have been outside soaking up the sun.

Despite the odds, we were doing okay. I managed to keep the kids somewhat engaged, rolling with the punches and handling the occasional sarcastic comment. I was getting ready to play a clip from a popular medical drama—one that most of the class had often rewatched. This particular scene had some first responder action, EMTs rushing off to save the day—usually a hit with the adolescent crowd.

But today, as I hit play, I noticed one of the quieter students reacting a bit off. She started sighing louder than usual, which, at first, I chalked up to boredom and annoyance. But as the clip rolled on, her sighs turned into something that felt more like distress. Without making a fuss, she packed up her stuff and headed for the door.

The classroom teacher, obviously thrown by this, hurried after the student, looking worried. The school administrator who was overseeing the workshop wasn't too thrilled either. She was counting on this workshop to spark some deep discussions, not send students walking out.

However, I quickly caught the teacher before she could leave the room. "Hey, maybe she's not just being disruptive," I suggested. "It could be self-preservation."


The Necessity of Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma often feels like a buzzword to express any type of frustration. However, the reality is that navigating the relentless waves of post-pandemic health, social injustice, political instability, and environmental catastrophes has become our new normal. Anxiety and depression rates have soared. Additionally, it is estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, with around 6% of the population likely to suffer from PTSD at some point[1]. Buzzword or not, trauma is very present.

Trauma and distress encompass a spectrum of experiences, including adverse childhood events, economic instability, political division, racism, bias, domestic violence, harassment, and sexual assault. With new challenges emerging daily and conflicts from any corner of the world potentially impacting everyone, trauma-informed approaches are vital for creating spaces of safety, trust, and empowerment [2].

Understanding that trauma can manifest in various ways is crucial. Situations that may seem innocuous can trigger adverse reactions in those who have experienced trauma. These reactions might be misunderstood as disrespectful or disengaging behavior without the lens of trauma awareness. Here are a few examples across different settings:

In Education

Consider a student who frequently rests his head on his desk during morning classes. A trauma-informed teacher might recognize this behavior as a potential sign of distress, possibly due to exposure to nightly gunfire in his neighborhood. By understanding the root cause, the teacher can adapt her teaching methods—perhaps by providing quiet time or additional support—helping the student engage more effectively and feel safer in the classroom environment.

In Healthcare

A pediatric nurse might observe a young patient acting quiet and withdrawn in the lead-up to surgery. In adopting a trauma-informed approach, the nurse takes extra time to gently discuss the procedure with the patient and his family, addressing their fears and answering questions. This careful and compassionate communication can significantly enhance the patient’s sense of trust and emotional comfort, easing the stress of the medical experience.

In Entertainment

Directors and producers can integrate trauma-informed practices by being mindful of the psychological impact their content might have on audiences. This includes providing trigger warnings before scenes that could evoke distress and offering resources for support. Such considerations help in creating a safer viewing experience and show respect for the emotional well-being of viewers, especially those with trauma histories.

In the Workplace

Managers can create a trauma-informed work environment by being attentive to employees’ non-verbal cues or changes in performance that may suggest stress or trauma. Implementing flexible policies, such as offering mental health days or support for counseling and training staff to recognize and respond to trauma signs sensitively, helps employees manage stress and maintain their well-being.

In Marketing

Marketers can apply trauma-informed principles by designing advertising campaigns considering potential emotional triggers. Avoiding overly sensational content and ensuring that advertisements respect the psychological well-being of a diverse audience can foster a respectful and empathetic brand image. Thoughtful marketing practices like these not only prevent distress among consumers but also enhance brand loyalty and trust by showing that the company cares about the community’s mental health.


Implementing Trauma-Informed Practices

Trauma-informed responses are approaches and techniques designed to engage people with empathy, understanding, and respect, mainly when there’s a likelihood that they have experienced trauma. These fundamental responses2 can be adapted across various settings to create supportive and healing environments. Here’s a rundown of these essential tools:

  • Prioritize Safety: Ensure that both the environment and interactions are physically and emotionally safe, which includes maintaining privacy, confidentiality and creating a space where individuals feel secure to express themselves without judgment.
  • Establish Trust: Build trust through consistent, clear communications and transparency about what one can expect regarding procedures or interactions. Reliability and keeping promises are crucial for fostering trust.

  •  Empowerment: Validate individuals’ feelings and experiences and support their autonomy. Offering choices and control over decisions can significantly restore a sense of empowerment that trauma might have diminished.

  •  Collaboration: Engage people in their own healing process or decisions that affect them, making them feel valued and included rather than just passive recipients of services or instructions.

  •  Cultural Humility: Approach each individual with a mindset open to learning about their cultural background and personal history. Recognize and actively challenge any power imbalances that arise from cultural, racial, or gender biases.

  •  Recognize Signs of Trauma: Be vigilant about the signs and symptoms of trauma, which can vary widely among individuals. These may include emotional distress, avoidance behavior, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or withdrawal.

  •  Avoid Triggers: Minimize potential triggers that might retraumatize the person. This involves awareness of sensory triggers, like loud noises or bright lights, and emotional or situational triggers.

  •  Provide Predictability: Trauma can render the world unpredictable and unsafe. Offering a routine or predictable schedule can help alleviate anxiety and create a sense of security.

  •  Responsive Communication: Adopt communication styles that are open, supportive, and non-confrontational. Actively listen and respond to both verbal and non-verbal cues to demonstrate understanding and engagement.

  •  Promote Resilience and Recovery: Encourage resilience by highlighting strengths and past successes. Focus on strategies that support coping and recovery, emphasizing an individual’s potential for healing.


These trauma-informed responses, originally developed and endorsed by psychology and social work experts, aim to enhance the ability of organizations and individuals to provide supportive and empathetic care. Implementing these practices enhances trust, increases engagement, improves outcomes, and promotes greater professional satisfaction. However, successfully adopting such practices isn’t without its challenges, including organizational resistance and the need for specialized training. These obstacles require committed leadership and a cultural shift toward empathy to overcome.

Adopting trauma-informed practices is not merely a beneficial strategy—it’s a necessary shift in how organizations and individuals approach all interactions, particularly in environments that provide care or support. By fostering an understanding of trauma and its impacts, we can create spaces that not only prevent retraumatization but also promote healing and resilience. As we continue to face societal challenges—from public health crises to social injustices—embracing trauma-informed principles is crucial. These practices empower us to build stronger, more supportive communities that can thrive in adversity.


Insights into Action💡

Crafting a Trauma-Informed Sensory-Based ToolKit

During my clinical therapy days, I developed a trauma-informed toolkit designed to aid not only individuals in managing their stress and triggers but also to assist caregivers and others in providing support. This kit is a collection of sensory items tailored to soothe and ground individuals during moments of distress, offering a practical way to apply trauma-informed care principles in everyday life. Whether for personal use or as a resource in professional settings, this toolkit empowers users to actively engage in self-care and supports others in their journey towards healing and resilience.

Components of a Trauma-Informed Sensory-Based Self-Care Kit:

  • Journal and Pens: Writing can be a therapeutic activity, offering a private space to express emotions and thoughts that might be too difficult to verbalize.
  • Stuffed Animal: A soft, tactile object like a stuffed animal can be incredibly comforting. A cuddly toy’s texture and physical presence can help soothe anxiety and offer a sense of security and comfort.

  •  AirPods or Headphones: Whether listening to calming music, engaging podcasts, or soothing nature sounds, headphones can help you disconnect from overstimulating environments and focus on calming auditory input.

  •  Curated Playlist of Songs, Podcasts, or TV Shows: Have a downloaded playlist of songs, podcasts, or TV shows that can be a comforting distraction and help shift focus during high-stress periods.

  •  Essential Oils and Scented Items: Essential oils like lavender or peppermint can be calming and dabbed on pulse points, or scented sprays can be used on bedding or clothing.

  •  Personal Photos and Positive Notes: Visual reminders of loved ones and positive affirmations can boost your mood and remind you of your support network.

  •  Fidget Toys and Grounding Objects: Items like Rubik’s cubes, stress balls, or smooth stones can physically distract from anxiety, helping to center your thoughts.

  •  Comfort Items like Silly Putty or Playdough: These are great for sensory play and can be calming and grounding.

  •  Books and Coloring Supplies: Reading or coloring can divert your mind from distressing thoughts and provide a peaceful escape.

  •  Comforting Beverages and Snacks: Herbal teas or favorite snacks can be soothing and offer a familiar routine.

  •  Practical Items: Include tissues, an eye mask, and perhaps even cozy socks or a soft blanket to provide physical comfort.

1 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). How common is PTSD in adults? Retrieved [date you accessed the information], from
2 Butler, Lisa D., Filomena M. Critelli, and Elaine S. Rinfrette. "Trauma-informed care and mental health." Directions in Psychiatry 31.3 (2011): 197-212.