Learn the basic differences between trauma specific services and trauma informed care in Module 3: Trauma Specific, Trauma Sensitive, Trauma Informed. Complete the 15 minute module by watching the videos, reviewing the additional resources, and going over the suggested questions. When you feel ready, take the content quiz and then fill out the completion certificate! If you have questions reach out to us at modules@traumainformedoregon.org.

Video: Trauma Specific, Trauma Sensitive, and Trauma Informed

Watch this video to learn about the difference between trauma specific treatment, trauma sensitive, and trauma informed care. Dr. Mandy Davis, Director of TIO, and Ana Hristić, Education & Training Coordinator, will guide you through these important concepts in this 8 minute video.

Hi, I’m Mandy Davis, the Director of Trauma Informed Oregon, and this is Module 3, Trauma Specific, Trauma Sensitive, and Trauma Informed Care. Now our agenda today is to find the difference of trauma specific versus trauma informed. This is a really important point we want to make, because it’s often confusing for folks about the difference of these, and there is a distinction we want to make sure you get.

So, we’re going to go over the definition of trauma specific versus trauma sensitive versus trauma informed and talk about how different agencies do these things differently. Now just a quick reminder about how we define trauma informed care.

So, we use a Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Administration definition which says that a program, organization, or system that is trauma informed, and you might remember the four R’s, if number one, you realize the widespread impact of trauma and the potential paths for recovery. If you recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma, toxic stress and adversity, not only those that we serve but in our work force and in our colleagues.

And three, that you respond by changing your procedures and your policies, understanding the impact of trauma and adversity. And then finally, that we resist re-traumatization. And as you know, we’ll continue to talk about resisting re-traumatization, which also means thinking about when we do things that we know activate folks, how do we do them in a way that lessens that activation.

Now this is the important distinction versus trauma specific versus trauma informed. So, when we talk about trauma specific services, what we mean are interventions that are meant for individuals, families, or groups. And the intention is either to reduce any symptomology related to toxic stress, adversity, or trauma. It might be with the intention to promote healing, or post-trauma growth. It might be to provide skills.

They tend to have acronyms like eye motor desensitization reprocessing, cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy, seeking safety. So, they tend to be modules or curriculums people get trained in or certified in. People think of them as therapeutic psycho-education or psycho-empowerment. So, these are kinds of therapeutic services, which is what trauma specific services are.

Now this is important, because we need those to be available for survivors. But that’s different than trauma informed care. So, you can provide trauma specific services. Another kind of layer is being what’s called trauma sensitive. And that’s what you likely will be after going through these modules. Which means that you become now aware of the impact of trauma and how you might see behavior a little differently as a result of that knowledge.

So, you may see somebody in your lobby who’s pacing back and forth and instead of immediately assuming that maybe they’re using substances or that they’re dangerous, you might think first, I wonder if they don’t feel safe in this space. I wonder if the space hasn’t been safe for them kind of in the past in their life.

So that’s trauma sensitive, being aware, but not quite doing anything about it yet. And then we have trauma informed care, which is about changing your policy and practice, changing how your organization or your system functions, knowing something about, using the knowledge we have about the impact of trauma. So thinking about how you do intakes.

What are your vacation policies for staff or wellness days? Do staff have wellness rooms so they can practice regulation and be present on the job? Or of the intake questions you have. How do people access your services? What does it look like for them to be able to access your services and come into that?

So, I want to just stop and kind of talk about why it’s important to make this distinction. So, what we believe at Trauma Informed Oregon is that everyone should be trauma informed. So, all organizations and systems should be striving for trauma informed care. And the reason why is, we really believe it’s a critical ingredient for folks who have experienced trauma, adversity, and toxic stress to be able to access your system.

And remember, we really think of it as an engagement tool. So, you may have great practices in your agency or system, but people aren’t getting to them because their stress response system is being activated in your parking lot, or in your lobby, because it’s too loud and too crowded, or because of the first question that’s asked of them when they come into your spaces.

So, we’re going to change those things, so people could actually access your services and be engaged in what you have to offer. Now we believe everyone should be trauma informed, but not everyone should do trauma specific services. So, some of you will because that’s your job and that’s what you’re asked to do, and some of you will refer out or you’ll contract in to have those services provided.

So, for example, a housing entity, someone who provides housing, is going to strive to be trauma informed. And they’re going to look at their eviction protocols, they’re going to look at their parking lot, their lighting, the sound in their buildings. Do people have a right to move units if they need to?

So, they’re going to be trauma informed. What they’re not going to do is a trauma specific service. Now they may contract for someone to come in to do a trauma specific service onsite. And they want to develop partnerships where they can refer out for that as needed. Now a couple other things that are important to know is that, what I want you to be thinking about is that, being trauma informed again, we think is critical for survivors and for those who’ve experienced toxic stress and adversity to access your services.

But as you start to learn about what it means, I think you will also come to find out that regardless of your history of trauma, that you would value those things also. So, when we talk about it, we’re going to be asking you to think about things like safety, trustworthiness, predictability, consistency, having voice and choice.

And so, we think being a trauma informed organization will speak to anyone who is accessing your services, but is a critical ingredient for those who have experienced systemic oppression, trauma, adversity, and toxic stress. So, as you continue on in this learning a couple of things I just want you to start to think about is, do you provide trauma specific services?

Do you need to? And if you don’t, do you refer out to those? Are there enough of those in your community for people to access? Do folks in your community have access to culturally responsive and linguistically appropriate trauma specific services? And then, I also want you to be thinking about is your organization trauma informed?

Because again, remember, you may already be doing trauma informed practices, you just don’t call them trauma informed. So what are you currently doing? Where are the areas for improvement? And potentially what are the barriers that your organization that you or your system is going to have as you strive to be trauma informed?

Content Review

The difference between trauma informed and trauma specific is often confused. So, let’s do a quick review of what Dr. Mandy Davis discussed. Trauma informed care takes into account knowledge about trauma into all aspects of service delivery. Everything from policy, to procedure, to physical space, and to one’s actual practice.

The secondary gain of such efforts might be the ease of trauma symptoms, but really, the primary purpose of trauma informed care is not treatment, it’s engagement. Trauma specific treatment, on the other hand, directly addresses the impact of trauma on individuals’ life and facilitates trauma recovery. There are many different modalities of treatment including in the hands of culturally specific healers, rituals, or licensed providers.

Now in order to be trauma informed one does not have to actually provide trauma specific service. To be trauma informed, though, an organization will have a collaborative relationship with community resources that are skilled and accessible and culturally responsive in the treatment of trauma and adversity. One grounding assumption of trauma informed care is that every interaction with a trauma survivor has the opportunity to activate, re-traumatize, or heal.

So, trauma informed care is critical for survivors and frankly welcomed by those without trauma history. The last time I took my car for an emissions test was a great example of what I would call trauma informed. Though of course, they do not provide trauma specific service. They were predictable, transparent, and allowed me to choose if I stayed in the car.

I felt valued as an individual, had the power of choice, and felt safe both physically and emotionally. These are all components of trauma informed care.

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Voices from the Community

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources that we’ve compiled that you can use to further your learning:

Suggested Questions for Consideration and/or Discussion

After you view the video content for this module, we invite you to use the set of questions found below for personal reflection, or to guide a group discussion. If you use these questions in a group, we encourage you to also create group agreements pertaining to confidentiality, group dynamics and expectations, and opportunities for follow-up.