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Trauma Informed Care – What it Means and Why It Is Important

Trauma informed care or TIC is a critical part the substance abuse and mental health treatment process. While there’s no dedicated section of the Florida Certification Board curriculum for TIC, our understanding of trauma and how it relates to behavioral health care issues is always evolving. As we understand more about trauma and its effects, it is clear that substance abuse and associated trauma is a significant part of our jobs.

Trauma is an event or series of events that make a significant psychological impact or impression on person that may not only change their behavior, but can often lead to serious follow-on consequences. As a society, we are still not comfortable talking about most common forms of trauma including childhood abuse, sexual abuse and rape…even posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD. In fact, our brains are very adept at compartmentalizing trauma – This is often why we see trauma survivors minimize or even deny the existence of their trauma and its effects. In fact, trauma is a leading cause of substance abuse and mental illness. It is a vicious cycle however as the behavioral issues can put the client in a position to experience more trauma and the added trauma can worsen behavioral issues.

A counselor’s job, as part of the larger trauma informed care program, is several fold:

  • First, counselors must create a supportive and safe environment that allows the client to explore their trauma, its effects and how they intend to overcome it. Treating substance abuse or mental health issues without addressing the underlying trauma issues is a recipe for ineffective treatment and reduces the likelihood of long term positive results.
  • Second, once the trauma has been identified, counselors have a responsibility to address it in a compassionate and empathetic way. There are instances, for example, when trauma is minimized or dismissed by the counselor, that can actually worsen the traumatic event and allows the client to relive it. This is called re-traumatization.
  • Finally, counselors must work with their clients to implement long term strategies to address trauma, identify risk factors and assist clients in avoiding traumatic events in the future.

Trauma informed care is a process that requires buy-in from the counselor, the client and the facility as a whole. Everyone participating in the treatment process must understand the concept that trauma exists in the client population and special care must be taken and special policies created to address it appropriately. Combined with an effective substance abuse and mental health program, trauma informed care can improve long-term results.

The Academy for Addiction Professionals is proud to offer continuing education in trauma informed care. TIC is also an integral part of addiction counselor certification in Georgia.