Trauma-Informed Therapy: How It Works & Why It’s Important

By Shubhangi Gupta, Psychologist at Untangle

May 27, 2024

Trauma-informed therapy is a framework that understands the deep and pervasive impact that experiencing trauma has on a person’s life and their emotional and physical well-being. It recognizes that most individuals have been exposed to trauma at some point in their lives, and thus aims at creating a therapy space of safety, agency, and healing for all clients.

The focus is on creating a compassionate understanding of what has happened to a person rather than trying to figure out what is wrong with them.   

By creating a safe space for open discussion of past wounds, therapists help clients process painful memories to change narratives and create authentic perceptions rooted in self-love.  

Clients are considered collaborators in their healing journey. The goal is for clients to regain personal agency and self-efficacy instead of staying stuck in feelings of helplessness and a lack of control. Processing trauma through empathetic therapy focused on safety, trust, and autonomy allows client’s space to heal and build new patterns of relating to the world.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma refers to an internal response to an event or experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing, and lies outside our capacity to cope with. Reflecting its Greek origins as being the word for “wound” or “injury”, experiencing trauma also leaves long-standing  psychological wounds and impacts our emotions, thoughts, relationships, and even alters the functioning of our brain and body.    

Experiencing trauma overwhelms our nervous system and sends it into feeling like we are constantly in danger. It creates a state of absolute helplessness and loss of control, and becomes imprinted on our mind, brain, and body as memories filled with fear. When those memories get triggered, they hijack our emotions by making us suddenly re-feel all the same terror and pain from the past all over again.

Traditionally, trauma was thought of as major life altering events like war, natural disasters, violence and abuse, and others. However, with increased research, the understanding of trauma has expanded to include highly distressing events that affect individuals on a personal level like bullying and harassment, the loss of significant relationships, the death of a pet, etc. 

Research has also shown that traumatic events, especially those originating in childhood, create significant impacts on the physical health, coping, and emotional well-being of individuals that persist into adulthood. These events include experiencing abuse or neglect during childhood, witnessing domestic violence, having a family member be addicted to substances, and others. Sometimes, even witnessing or hearing about the fear, pain, and terror others have experienced can significantly impact us and result in the transfer of vicarious trauma.  

When traumatic memories intrude and disrupt life functioning, trauma therapy offers a path to processing them safely. During psychotherapy, clinicians work on creating a safe space for people to be able to acknowledge buried wounds so the brain can finally make sense of them.

6 Key Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

In the realm of mental health, understanding and implementing trauma-informed care principles are essential for providing effective and empathetic support to individuals who have experienced trauma. These principles aim to establish a safe, supportive, and empowering environment for healing. 

Safety First

The primary focus of trauma informed care is creating a physically and emotionally secure therapeutic space. Maintaining confidentiality, respecting boundaries, and ensuring predictability and consistency helps survivors regain a sense of control and trust. Therapists also prioritize stabilizing clients before deeper trauma processing. 

Trustworthiness and Transparency

Building trust through reliability, clear communication, and transparency regarding therapy goals and limitations is essential. Trust forms the bedrock allowing clients to feel safe examining painful memories. Therapists earn trust through dependability, honesty, and commitment to clients’ wellbeing.

Empowerment and Choice

To counteract the powerlessness felt by trauma survivors, trauma informed therapists aim at building autonomy by providing choices in treatment approaches, respecting clients’ pacing, and enabling them to actively participate in determining their care.  

Collaboration and mutuality 

Trauma informed therapists invite their clients into the therapy space as collaborators and there is a focus on levelling the power differences that might exist in the organisation and systems of their care. Collaborative relationships help build agency and safety for the clients.   

Cultural Sensitivity

Acknowledging how cultural backgrounds shape trauma experiences and responses is crucial. Therapists avoid assumptions and respect differences in trauma triggers, coping methods, family dynamics, gender roles, etc. across cultures. Adjusting interventions to align with a client’s values and cultural identities establishes safety.

Peer Support

Trauma informed therapists recognize that a lot of the healing from trauma happens through meaningful and safe relationships. Integrating the mutuality, warmth, and compassion of peer support becomes essential in the client’s healing journey.

These collective principles guide trauma-informed therapy, equipping providers to empathetically facilitate clients reclaiming life on their own terms after trauma. The approach understands recovery as empowerment.

Why Is Trauma-Informed Therapy Important?

There are several benefits that make trauma-informed care crucial. It helps in: 

  • Being mindful of triggers and thereby actively avoiding retraumatization during the therapy process that can make the situation and distress worse.  
  • Understanding trauma responses like disassociation, emotional numbness or hypervigilance allows therapists to normalize symptoms and rebuild emotional regulation skills.
  • Providing physical and emotional safety allows trauma processing to feel less overwhelming and clients feel like they can build resilience.
  • It empowers clients to feel like they have control and agency over their treatment and in turn their lives.  

Trauma-informed care represents a crucial paradigm shift in healthcare and mental health services, recognizing the pervasive impact of trauma on individuals’ lives. As trauma is processed in safe therapeutic spaces, a capacity for growth, resilience, emotional well-being, and coping is fostered. By integrating trauma-sensitive practices, fostering safety, trust, empowerment, and resilience, clients are met with compassion, dignity, and the support they need to navigate their healing journeys successfully.

At Untangle, we believe that everybody deserves access to quality mental health services. Our trained psychotherapists are trauma-informed practitioners and are committed to providing you with the support you need across both in-person and online sessions. Take the first step and schedule a call with our team today.