Trauma-informed care benefits both clients and staff

Emily Farley News & Notes

Trauma-informed care is more than just a different approach to behavioral and mental health care.

It is a totally new way of doing things.

“Trauma-informed care is a concept, a way of thinking that informs actions,” said Julia Gaughan, who serves as the point person for this agency-wide effort at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. “It is a cultural shift with how we all work together as an agency and how we work with the people we serve.”

Trauma-informed care grew out of a Kaiser Permanente and Centers for Disease Control study in 1997 that showed that childhood trauma, or ACES (adverse childhood experiences), could lead to a lifetime of health and social problems.

For anyone who has experienced trauma, the effects can be lasting. And they can impact every area of a person’s life.

“Trauma can be things like abuse and neglect, but also things like witnessing violence in the home or other sorts of home interruptions, or having untreated mental illness,” Gaughan said. “You can see across-the-board health concerns when a person has had adverse childhood experiences. There can be lifelong impacts from these experiences, even on the length of one’s life.”

Gaughan heads up a trauma-informed care work group at Bert Nash called PART (The Bert Nash Purpose and Resiliency Team), which consists of 28 people from every department at the Center. She is also involved in forming a trauma-informed care work group from other partners in the community. All with the goal of implementing and applying trauma-informed care practices in the workplace as well as in the treatment of clients.

“The idea is that we are using these evidence-based practices and research to help us evolve our systems into safe and supportive environments for every person who needs behavioral health care in our community as well as our own staff,” Gaughan said.

“PART is a vital piece of work for the fact that it integrates these trauma-informed concepts within our organization as well as the community we serve,” said Abigail Davis, peer support specialist and member of the PART work group. “This allows all persons involved, whether staff or client, to be more in tune with ourselves and our needs individually and as a whole.”

According to the National Council on Behavioral Health, an estimated 60 percent of adults experience trauma at least once in their lives. More than 60 percent of youth age 17 and younger have been exposed to crime, violence and abuse either directly or indirectly.

Twenty-six percent of children will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn 4, and four of every 10 children say they experienced a physical assault during the past year, with one in 10 receiving an assault-related injury.

Trauma-informed care focuses on the whole person, including past trauma and how that affects a person’s behaviors, and “informs” the treatment plan. Beyond client treatment, trauma-informed care encompasses every facet of an agency’s culture.

“Trauma-informed care doesn’t just mean what we’re doing with clients, but it means what we’re doing in terms of our relationships with colleagues and how we function as an organization,” Gaughan said.

Stephen O’Neill, Bert Nash Child and Family Services director, said, “For me, trauma-informed care isn’t just the recognition that something bad has happened, it is the possibilities that come with knowing that by re-working our systems and re-thinking our approaches we can create environments that promote resiliency. So, that when those traumatic events happen, we are individually and collectively better equipped to work through them. In its most simple form, trauma-informed care says, ‘I see you, I hear you and you see me, and hear me.’”

Bert Nash is one of 19 organizations participating in a learning community through the National Council on Behavioral Health that focuses on trauma-informed care tools and skills and the impact of trauma on the people the Center serves.

“Bert Nash has been providing trauma-informed care practices in therapy and in therapeutic environments for some time agency-wide,” Gaughan said. “Because we are participating in this group through the National Council, we receive additional coaching and learning materials. This is building and expanding on what Bert Nash has been doing and looking at things from a very holistic perspective.”

The practice of trauma-informed care is comprehensive in that it benefits both clients and staff alike.

“It’s looking at things from the ground up, what do people experience on the phone when they call the Center, what do they experience in the waiting rooms, in an office, in a group therapy room, in all those environments,” Gaughan said. “But it’s also looking at how we support each other as staff, so that we minimize burnout and increase the positive work environment and make it a safe place for people to both ask for and receive what they need to be doing their jobs.”