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Using Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health

News Release

The impact of a traumatic event in a person’s life can have long lasting effects. The effects may be buried in a person’s subconscious only to arise once triggered by an experience which reminds them of the trauma. Depending on the person’s emotional stability, a trigger can be a passing experience, or it may initiate more serious symptoms. After experiencing a traumatic event, a person may suffer ongoing effects for years. Clinicians have always known traumatic experiences affect our emotional health, but in the last 30 years studies have shown we can experience profound negative effects on both our mental and physical health. The good news is, with proper treatment health can be restored.

Today, in most inpatient settings, clinicians use a trauma-informed care approach to treatment, taking into account each patient's medical and psychiatric history. Below, we discuss the concept of trauma and define trauma-informed care. Next, we detail the guiding principles of trauma-informed care some psychiatric hospitals use during the patient journey. We then share how people who face mental health challenges can access the treatment they need.

What is trauma?

According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is "an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster." Trauma can also occur from emotional abuse, near-death experiences, and historical trauma from race-related issues. As a result of trauma, people may experience:

  • Anxiety
  • A lack of trust with others
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships
  • Headaches and nausea

Traumatic experiences are quite common, and trauma affects people across racial, gender-based, and socioeconomic categories. According to research on trauma collected by the CDC, approximately:

  • One in five women is the victim of rape.
  • One in 71 men is the victim of rape.
  • One in four women is the victim of domestic violence.
  • One in four children is the victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

When a person has a history of trauma, they can experience episodes of re-traumatization. Re-traumatization occurs when an individual recalls his past trauma – usually because of triggering stimuli – and experiences the painful feelings associated with the event again. When people experience re-traumatization, they can experience heightened anxiety and fear, and they are often unable to continue with their current tasks.

What is trauma-informed care?

Trauma-informed care is a treatment approach that recognizes the pervasiveness of trauma and the effect that trauma can have on patients. Central to trauma-informed care in behavioral healthcare is the realization that in past treatment, certain components may trigger traumatic episodes.

Trauma-informed practices seek to avoid re-traumatization episodes by making patients feel safe and comfortable throughout their treatment journeys. Examples of trauma-informed care include:

  • Clinicians explaining each step of the treatment process. By explaining each step, clinicians can build trust with each patient and ensure that patients feel in control of the treatment process.
  • Clinicians allowing the patient to invite trusted family or friends into the treatment or exam rooms. Due to their past traumatic episodes, patients may fear being alone, particularly with a stranger. Having a loved one present can help patients feel safe.
  • Clinicians asking patients if there is anything they can do to make the treatment experience more comfortable. Traumatic episodes often involve power-imbalances, and victims of trauma may have issues with self-advocacy. By actively working to improve each patient's experience, clinicians can help ensure that each patient feels welcome.

As mentioned, the goal of trauma-informed care is reducing each patient's risk of re-traumatization. When patients experience re-traumatization, they may pause or permanently stop their treatment programs. With trauma-informed care, behavioral health hospitals minimize the risk of re-traumatization and help patients achieve optimal treatment outcomes.

Guiding principles of trauma-informed care

In addition to the above examples, a trauma-informed approach in a hospital's culture will positively impact all clinical and non-clinical patient interactions. One should not think of trauma-informed care as a defined set of actions and responses. Instead, trauma-informed care is a treatment philosophy that can apply to a wide range of scenarios.

Behavioral health teams can adhere to a trauma-informed care approach across all patient interactions by following five guiding principles. The five guiding principles of trauma-informed care include:

  • Safety - When a person experiences trauma, they often also experience a lack of safety. To avoid re-traumatization episodes, behavioral health teams need to make sure that patients feel both physically and emotionally safe. Teams can make patients feel safe by listening and acknowledging patients concerns in a compassionate and respectful way throughout the treatment process.
  • Choice - Behavioral health teams must also ensure that each patient knows they have a choice regarding treatment. Traumatic events often involve the person not having a choice, and similar scenarios can result in re-traumatization. Behavioral health teams ensure that patients know they have a choice by clearly explaining a patient's options and rights.
  • Collaboration - Trauma often involves power-imbalances between an abuser and a victim. To avoid re-traumatization, behavioral health teams must foster a collaborative relationship between providers and patients. Teams can do this by involving patients in the planning and review processes of their treatment program.
  • Trustworthiness - In many cases of trauma, an individual experiences a violation of trust. Accordingly, to avoid re-traumatization, behavioral health teams need to develop a trusting and respectful relationship with each patient. Teams can do this by establishing clear roles and responsibilities for each party before starting a treatment program.
  • Empowerment - During trauma, a person may not receive affirmation regarding his thoughts and feelings and may doubt his ability to enact change in his life. Teams can help avoid re-traumatization by building on each patient's strengths and empowering patients to take control of their behavioral health journeys.

By following the above guiding principles of trauma-informed care, teams can adhere to trauma-informed care best practices during clinical and non-clinical interactions. When trauma-informed care becomes integrated within the company's culture, patients who have a history of trauma are more likely to receive the care they need and achieve optimal treatment outcomes.

Santa Rosa Behavioral Health Hospital and accessing trauma-informed care

Santa Rosa Behavioral Health Hospital serves the Northern California region from the Central Coast, Central Valley all the way north to the Oregon border. As a leader in mental health treatment in Sonoma County, the hospital staff serve on committees dedicated to improving the quality of care for mental health patients. We recognize the impact that trauma can have on a patient's behavioral health, and we work to embed a trauma-informed care approach across all our treatment programs. We train both clinical and non-clinical staff in trauma-informed care practices, and trauma-informed care is deeply rooted in Santa Rosa Hospital's culture.

At our 95-bed behavioral health hospital, we provide a range of customizable treatment programs. We offer inpatient behavioral health programs for adults, and we also offer inpatient treatment for adolescents. For patients who do not need around-the-clock care, we offer outpatient programs that allow the patient to stay at home each night. Our outpatient programs include partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).

To get started at Santa Rosa Behavioral Health Hospital, your first step is to contact our team. You can reach our team anytime at (877) 717-0085. On the phone, a staff member can help answer any questions you may have about our treatment programs. Additionally, we can schedule you or a loved one for a free mental health assessment. With the mental health assessment results, our team can better understand the patient's unique behavioral-health needs.