What is Trauma-Informed Care?

The term “trauma-informed” may come up often if you are looking for a new doctor, therapist, or addiction recovery program.  Trauma-informed care is a philosophical approach to medical and psychological treatment, and is beginning to be adopted by many professionals and organizations wishing to provide holistic healing to clients.  Trauma-informed care approaches patients with respect and an understanding of abuse and trauma statistics, and brings as much compassion and empowerment to treatment as possible.

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Types of Trauma

There are various forms of traumatization that can affect how an individual feels and reacts in a medical setting.  One in four children will experience abuse during their childhood. This maltreatment may come in the form of neglect, violence, or sexual assault.  Even for children who are not abused directly, it is possible to become traumatized by witnessing violence in the household. One in four women will experience domestic violence, while one in five will be sexually assaulted.  These startling statistics make it clear that the prevalence of trauma from abuse is far greater than many of us tend to realize. People may also be traumatized through other events such as natural disasters, witnessing the death of a loved one, or having lived through a life-threatening disease.

All these experiences can change the way you interact with the world, especially with medical providers and therapists.  Medical and psychological care tend to be relatively intrusive. Doctors may ask you extremely personal questions or administer uncomfortable and painful procedures.  While these routines may seem of little significance to the care provider, many treatments administered in a professional medical setting can be full of triggers for individuals with trauma.  This is especially true in treatment for addiction, when the chances of a client having experienced trauma is even higher than the general population. People with a history of trauma are more prone to mental health issues as well as substance abuse disorders, so it is especially critical for addiction treatment centers to provide trauma-informed care.

Trauma-Informed Therapy

While the trauma-informed approach to care is often advocated as a tool for medical doctors, it can also change the way in which psychologists treat their patients.  It may seem obvious that a therapist should approach each client with the knowledge of possible past trauma, this is not always the case. For example, if a client goes to therapy to discuss a problematic behavior, such as heavy alcohol use, the therapist might focus on establishing a commitment to stop drinking, without taking the time to uncover the underlying issues.  Many people who fall into addiction are using substances to cope with painful memories and emotions. Without addressing these root causes, there is no way to truly experience recovery.

Trauma-informed care seeks to delve deeper into a patient’s thoughts and behaviors, and then move forward into therapy techniques structured around the patient’s unique past.  Additionally, trauma-informed care encourages therapists to foster healthy self-esteem in clients by suggesting they recognize their own strengths and survival skills in the face of terrible circumstances.  Trauma-informed care also considers the desires and opinions of the client by asking them what they would like to achieve in therapy and how they want their life to look in the future. In addiction recovery, clients seeking trauma-informed therapy should expect a collaborative experience, and to feel empowered to create the change they want in their lives.  

Potential Obstacles

While trauma-informed therapy is considered the best option for anybody with a history of trauma that may be suffering from mental health issues or addiction, there are a few common obstacles in the way of receiving this level of care.  Some people do not wish to directly address their trauma, and may show great resistance in the face of vulnerability. Unfortunately, without emotional processing, trauma tends to have increasingly dire effects over time, especially in terms of mental illness and addiction.  While nobody can be forced to discuss their trauma with a professional, or anyone for that matter, a trauma-informed approach can provide the utmost respect and compassion to the situation, thereby increasing the likelihood of clients choosing to open up about their past.

Additionally, some people don’t believe their experiences qualify as “trauma”.  Any event or situation that made you feel extremely frightened or as if you were in danger can result in trauma.  Trauma creates changes in the brain that effect the way you perceive subsequent situations, as well as how you react emotionally.  Therefore, receiving quality mental health care may be necessary for survivors of trauma to establish a life of health and wellness.  Speaking with a trauma-informed care provider allows the client to feel safe and in control, and grants every individual the power to work through their experiences at their own pace.

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Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
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