Is Trauma-Informed Therapy a "Buzz Phrase?"
Updated: Sep 25
Understanding the nuances between Trauma-Informed therapy and Trauma-Responsive therapy in trauma treatment
In the world of mental health, understanding and addressing trauma has become a critical aspect of providing effective, compassionate, and relational care. A term that regularly floats around in the therapeutic world is "trauma-informed." With mental health making a greater presence in pop culture today with the help of platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram, Threads, etc. even clients are seeking "trauma-informed" therapists by name. Normalization and affirmation of what has been such a taboo topic is a beautiful thing, and it creates an opportunity for providers
specializing in trauma work to speak to what makes them truly experts in the field. Being a trauma-responsive therapist requires specific approaches to walking alongside clients on their healing journey
What is Trauma-Informed Therapy?
Trauma-informed therapy is a foundational framework that underpins various therapeutic modalities. It involves creating awareness and honoring the widespread impact of trauma on individuals the communities that they live in. The central focus is on understanding how trauma affects the brain, body and spirit of those who have experienced it. Key pieces of being a trauma-informed therapist include building and maintaining a safe and supportive environment that promotes empowerment, respect, and collaboration between the therapist and the client.
Safety. It is essential in trauma-informed care that physical and emotional safety are at the forefront of the therapeutic relationship. Trauma-informed therapists understand that clients bring their deepest pain points to the therapy chair, and that in and of itself can feel like one of the most unsafe things that they've ever done.
Trust. Trauma-informed therapists understand the necessity in demonstrating reliability, consistency, commitment and acceptance inside the therapeutic relationship. Without trust, clients may struggle significantly to truly feel that they have a soft place to land when they are doing some of the most challenging work of their lives.
Choice. Recognition of the importance and empowerment of clients making their own choices is crucial. Trauma-informed therapists collaborate with clients and put emphasis on working together through the journey rather than zeroing in on the therapist's own opinions and their own expectations of the process.
Building Awareness. In trauma-informed therapy, therapists place emphasis on working with their clients to build awareness around their triggers (or points of activation) in order to gain a greater sense of control. Clients are supported in learning regulation techniques and coping strategies for moving through those experiences in a way that keeps them in the driver's seat of their life.
Cultural Consciousness. Trauma-informed therapists respect and honor the impact of culture, ethnicity, backgrounds and ancestral roots on their clients' experiences. Cultural competence is highly important, and they avidly seek to avoid re-traumatization through cultural insensitivity.
Trauma-informed therapy is rooted in deeply important and essential principles and this is likely one reason for it's increased popularity and use of the phrase in the everyday world. For clients who experience the complex ebbs and flows, rollercoasters, and deep peaks and plunges of the traumatized brain and body, the expertise and commitment of a trauma-responsive therapist can become a fundamental component of the client's courageous endeavor.
What is Trauma-Responsive Therapy?
Trauma-responsive therapy takes all the principles mentioned above of trauma-informed care a step further by actively integrating trauma-specific methods into the therapeutic process. Therapists specializing in trauma-responsive approaches honor that deeply painful experiences affect individuals differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to healing. Trauma-responsive therapists tailor their processes to meet the unique needs and desires of each client, considering their backgrounds and histories, skills for regulating their brains and bodies, and the strengths that they bring to the world.
Customized Care. Trauma-responsive therapists employ techniques and treatment methods that are specifically designed to address the client's unique adverse experiences. These may include trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), expressive art therapy, brainspotting, or internal family systems (IFS), among others.
Sensory Regulation. In therapeutic settings that are trauma-responsive, therapists may incorporate techniques to regulate the sensory experiences of clients who are often over or under aroused due to their traumatic experiences. These techniques help clients feel more grounded and present in the therapy process.
Trauma Integration. Therapists specializing in trauma-responsive therapy know that the avoidance of adverse experiences only leads to it's growth. Understanding that turning away from the difficulty is a normal part of what it means to be human, they'll meet clients where they are to gently guide them to process these painful moments and re-integrate the newly processed events into the lives to foster resilience and greater peace.
Building Tools. Goals of specialists includebuilding adaptive coping skills and regulation techniques to help clients manage trauma-related symptoms and stressors within their every day lives, that are often keeping them from living lives that they love.
Ongoing Assessment and Collaboration. Therapists are continually evaluating the clients' progress and adjust methods as needed to meet clients' evolving wants and needs.
Trauma-informed settings and trauma-responsive settings share the foundational understanding of trauma's impact and the importance of creating a safe and respectful therapeutic environment. While trauma-informed therapy sets the groundwork for compassionate and attuned care, trauma-responsive therapy takes it further by offering customized approaches that directly target the roots of client experiences. Both are invaluable in providing the support our clients need on their journeys of healing, recovery, acceptance, and exploration. By recognizing the differences between trauma-informed and trauma-responsive care, mental health professionals can better tailor their approaches and provide more effective and empathetic care to those in need and clients can find therapists that truly meet their needs and support them on the tracks that they are looking to be on.
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