On Being Trauma-Informed Part I: What Trauma-Informed Practice Really Is

coach mental health trauma trauma coach trauma coaching Aug 05, 2022

The Orenda Project’s Blog: The Bright Spot

On Being Trauma-Informed Part I: What Trauma-Informed Practice Really Is


So, what does being trauma-informed actually mean?

Whether you are a physician, a massage therapist, a trauma coach, a yoga teacher or a mental health care provider, approaching your work through a trauma-informed lens can truly shift how you approach your work.

It can also change the way clients experience you and your business.

In recent years as the wave of trauma awareness has taken hold, I have also noticed an uptick in the phrase “trauma-informed” being casually thrown around. Often times this occurs without a full grasp of the spirit behind what it looks like to be trauma-informed in practice.

Overusing or misusing the phrase will ultimately lead to its’ demise, thus I was hoping to clear a few things up here.

Let’s get right to it. Here are some of the basics on being trauma-informed:

The assumption of positive intention. Most people and many businesses are really trying to do what they think is best.

Assuming all people have experienced trauma or adversity of some kind. Trauma is normal.

Clear and consistent boundaries that are applied equally and fairly. Trauma coaches, therapists, or any other kind of provider that have clearly defined processes empowers people (not just survivors of trauma) to make informed choices based on how any given person or entity operates.

Problems arise with too much flexibility.

Blurred lines ruin relationships.

Too many “yeses” lead to fatigue. Fatigue can lead to a permanent “no” and clients end up getting left behind.

It is important to recognize limitations and remain within them.

The way we say “no” does matter, however. Do so with kindness, compassion, and with a conversation whenever possible. 

Some flexibility. Yes, I know, I just said this can be a problem. We still need to make room for human issues. We don’t want to reshape the world for each individual, but we do want to recognize the humanity in all people.  Flexibility that remains within the overarching structure of a business or personal relationship can be a good thing as long as you don’t bend too much.

Awareness of trauma triggers. If you are anyone in the helping profession, having awareness of what your client’s triggers are can help avoid inadvertent activation of traumatic memories. Notice I said “awareness of” and not “avoidance of.”  Avoidance of things related to past trauma is one of the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  The more we avoid in our environment, the harder it becomes to be in it.

Remember, a trauma trigger can be anything. A smell, a time of day, a time of year, a person, a place. Anything.

So no, we do not want to rid the world of trauma triggers on behalf of our clients or people in our lives. We are then just telling them “I don’t think you can handle it.”

With awareness of triggers, we can inform our clients of possible triggers in the environment or in processes so they can prepare themselves. 

Empowerment is the opposite of a traumatic experience. Being trauma-informed means that we empower those who have suffered to continue to grow. Opportunity to practice living alongside triggers is part of that process. I like to do say “do with, not for” in terms of helping.

We don’t want to blaze trails for our clients, because we have then stolen the opportunity from them to do it themselves.

A side note… being “upset” does not mean being “triggered.” Being triggered means that something in the here and now pulled someone into the past to the extent that it distorts their ability to assess the present accurately. 

Get permission. Before you touch someone, ask if it is okay to do so. When you enter a room, knock first and ask if it’s okay to enter. Get permission to offer whatever it is you offer. You get the gist. 

Inform your clients and customers about what to expect. Be clear about the process, what kind of outcome to expect, how much time or money they might expend, time constraints, and communication. Assume every person you are serving has never experienced your type of service or interaction before and be thorough in your descriptions. 

Apologize. If you make a mistake, say you’re sorry. Denial of error or of the trauma story all together is a key feature of many traumatic experiences.

So in sum, here are some of the ingredients of trauma-informed practice for trauma coaches, counselors, yoga teachers, massage therapists, teachers, physicians, or anyone, actually.

This article has not captured the breadth of how to be a trauma-informed person, but it’s a start.

A trauma-informed world is ultimately a kinder world.

The good news is that it doesn’t cost any money. It really doesn’t take much time. And ultimately, it feels good to do good.

Stay tuned for Part II: On Being Trauma-Informed Part II: What Trauma-Informed Practice Is Not

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