By Nina Henry
Bonnie attended our weekly Covid support group on Zoom, as she had done faithfully for nearly a year. Though many of her peers in the group had a history of mental health challenges, this was not true for Bonnie. One day, in the middle of our group’s check-in, Bonnie blurted out, “I had a panic attack...or at least I think that’s what I had.” Bonnie went on to explain that this had happened more than once and, before the isolation and stress of the pandemic, she had never experienced anything like this. Was this a trauma response? While this was not certain, it was important to ensure Bonnie was sent for treatment that would be sensitive to her needs. I remember thinking that Bonnie would need Trauma-informed care.
Trauma-informed care (TIC) has become a bit of a buzzword; when researching mental health or substance use treatment for clients, many programs describe their services as trauma-informed care. Some services may fall short of the term’s true meaning.
The formal definition, offered in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administrations Treatment Improvement Protocol # 57 (SAMHSA TIP #57), states: TIC is a strengths-based service delivery approach “that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment” (Hopper, Bassuk, & Olivet, 2010, p.82)
Key steps in offering trauma-informed care (TIC) include meeting client needs in a safe, collaborative, and compassionate manner; preventing treatment practices that retraumatize people with histories of trauma; building on the strengths and resilience of clients in the context of their environments and communities; and endorsing trauma-informed principles in agencies through support, consultation, and supervision of staff (SAMHSA – TIP #57, page 3).
As an Addiction Specialist and Mental Health Educator, it is reassuring to know that JCFS Chicago has integrated many of these practices into its treatment approach.
It is important, as we emerge from the pandemic (fingers crossed), that mental health and substance use treatment providers determine whether the needs of trauma-affected clients are being met. The goal is to offer treatment services that are sensitive to trauma-affected clients, while also recognizing we could cause trauma if we were not mindful of proper practices and procedures.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In keeping with the spirit of this designation, we want to think about integrating these practices into our day-to-day interactions. We may consider using these concepts to help friends, family, colleagues, and fellow citizens. It is possible they are reeling from all the uncertainty and isolation. Trauma may appear in dogged double mask-wearing, isolative behaviors, and irritability. Be mindful of rifts the pandemic may cause: many people have reported they struggle to maintain good relations with family members who have a different take on the best way to approach the pandemic, often disagreeing on political lines. Be aware that many people have experienced heartbreaking loss or have even seen violence because of Covid. Take the principles of trauma-informed care and try to apply them to your daily life: Be thoughtful and empathetic to the people around you, and they will eventually respond in kind.