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Trauma Informed Care: What we can learn from the Camden Coalition and other leaders

Julia Friedland

Trauma can be detrimental to one’s emotional and physical health and can affect an individual’s everyday life. Tasks such as going to the doctor can be nearly impossible to do, as medical settings and authority figures often are intimidating to those with trauma. Everyone copes with trauma differently. Upon meeting with a patient, it usually isn’t obvious to the provider if the patient has trauma, and this topic isn’t generally something individuals are forthcoming in speaking about. It’s also difficult to predict how each person with trauma will react to a medical environment and medical procedures, as they could be retraumatized during this process.

Patients with complex health and social needs may often exhibit symptoms associated with trauma. The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers is tackling this issue by encouraging and utilizing the trauma informed care approach with their patients. According to Trauma Informed Oregon, trauma informed care is a commitment to avoid repeating traumatic experiences that terrify, overwhelm, and violate the individual, and, in whatever way possible, to restore a sense of safety, power, and self-worth.

By providing trauma informed care, organizations can help individuals with complex needs regain their wellness and self-sufficiency. This approach encourages providers to understand and acknowledge that many of their patients have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, and it is the provider’s responsibility to learn about each patient’s unique situation and take steps to avoid re-traumatization. In a Q&A with The Center for Health Care Strategies, Dr. Sandra Bloom comments on how trauma impacts healthcare organizations: “To really address issues related to trauma, systems needs to be interconnected and everyone needs to see themselves as part of that interactive, interconnected system of care that includes welfare, education, criminal justice, health care, etc.”

Graphic by the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care, University at Buffalo

Here are 5 Principles of Trauma Informed Care

  1. Safety: The patient should feel safe both physically and emotionally.
  2. Support: The patient should feel supported and comforted. Relationship building is something that can allow for this to happen. 
  3. Collaboration: Partner with the patient to come to mutual decisions about their care. 
  4. Trustworthiness: Establish trust by maintaining open communication.
  5. Empowerment and choice: Assure the patient of their strength and how he/she has a say in their healthcare. 

Providers can incorporate trauma-informed care in their interactions with patients in the following ways:

Assess the patient

Providers should get to know the patient and gently ask probing questions to find out if the patient has a distressing past. Inform the patient about any procedures or exams that are planned for the appointment and determine what parts of the routine visit should be modified to avoid re-traumatizing the patient. 

Provide support 

If the patient does have a traumatic past, providers should show they care by actively listening and verbalizing that he or she wants to help the patient. Build a relationship with the patient and exhibit compassion and empathy. Make the patient feel safe and ease their concerns by explaining all aspects of the appointment: what’s happening, why, and what’s going to happen next.

Work together
Providers should team up with the patient to work with their wants and needs, and adjust their care approach accordingly so the patient can receive the necessary medical care without being re-traumatized. 

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