What is Trauma-Informed Practice?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma-informed interventions specifically address the consequences of trauma in the individual and recognize the interrelation between trauma and symptoms of trauma. A comprehensive view of neurological, biological, psychological and social effects of trauma and violence ultimately informs intervention. Here is what SAMHSA specifically has to say about trauma informed practice:


Trauma-informed programs and services represent the “new generation” of transformed mental health and allied human services organizations and programs who serve people with histories of violence and trauma. Trauma survivors and consumers in these programs and services are likely to have histories of physical and sexual abuse and other types of trauma-inducing experiences, and this often leads to mental health and other types of co-occurring disorders such as health problems, substance abuse problems, eating disorders, HIV/AIDS issues, and contact with the criminal justice system. When a human service program takes the step to become trauma-informed, every part of its organization, management, and service delivery system is assessed and potentially modified to include a basic understanding of how trauma impacts the life of an individual seeking services. Trauma-informed organizations, programs, and services are based on an understanding of the vulnerabilities or triggers of trauma survivors that traditional service delivery approaches may exacerbate, so that these services and programs can be more supportive and avoid re-traumatization (SAMHSA).


Trauma-informed practice integrates neuroscience and neurodevelopment, somatic approaches, mindfulness practices, and resilience enhancement. In general, a trauma informed approach takes into consideration, but is not limited to, the following:

1) how the mind and body respond to traumatic events;

2) recognition that symptoms are adaptive coping strategies rather than pathology;

3) emphasis on cultural sensitivity and empowerment;

4) helping to move individuals from being not only survivors, but ultimately to becoming “thrivers” through skill building, support networks, and resilience enhancement (Malchiodi, 2011).



Foa, E., Keane, T., Friedman, M., & Cohen, J. (2009). Effective treatment for PTSD: Practice guidelines from the International Society for Trauma Stress Studies. New York: Guilford Press.

Malchiodi, C. (2011). Trauma informed art therapy with sexually abused children. In Paris Goodyear-Brown (Ed.), Handbook of Child Sexual Abuse: Prevention, Assessment, and Treatment. New York: Wiley.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2010). Trauma informed care. Retrieved September 12, 2010 from http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma.asp.


SAMHSA's National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC) is a technical assistance center dedicated to building awareness of trauma-informed care and promoting the implementation of trauma-informed practices in programs and services. See http://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/. 


National Child Traumatic Stress Network has information on creating trauma-informed systems and wealth of downloadable information. See http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/creating-trauma-informed-systems


Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Service Providers, also known as the “Trauma Guide,” was created to address the psychological and mental health needs of women veterans. The guide is also a compilation of best practices aimed at improving effectiveness in engaging female veterans. Written for service providers, the guide offers observational knowledge and concrete guidelines for modifying practices with the goal of increasing re-entry outcomes. See http://www.dol.gov/wb/trauma/. 


National Trauma Consortium raises public awareness about the prevalence of trauma and its wide-ranging impact on people’s lives. See http://www.nationaltraumaconsortium.org/.

The Sanctuary Model® represents a theory-based, trauma-informed, evidence-supported, whole culture approach that has a clear and structured methodology for creating or changing an organizational culture. See http://www.sanctuaryweb.com/sanctuary-model.php.


Culturally-Sensitive Trauma-Informed Care refers to the capacity for health care professionals to effectually provide trauma-informed assessment and intervention that acknowledges, respects, and integrates patients' and families' cultural values, beliefs, and practices. "culture" extends beyond the identification of a child and family's race and ethnicity to include other variables such as faith/religion, sexual orientation, region of residence, and level of acculturation, and closely related factors such as socioeconomic status and literacy level. See http://www.healthcaretoolbox.org/index.php/cultural-considerations/culturally-censitive-trauma-informed-care.


National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health has a tip sheet page with a variety of informative topics. See http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/publications-products/creating-trauma-informed-services-tipsheet-series-for-advocates/.


Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is a treatment for children that involves having the child create a book of the trauma memory, in which each page of the book represents one significant part of the event. It is based on the idea that drawing helps to hold the child's interest, while going only a page at a time breaks down the memory into small parts, so that facing it is more tolerable.