Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is an approach that has emerged to work with those who have gone through difficult or traumatizing situations. Through this approach, it is important to create an environment focused on an individual’s comfort.
The goal of TIC is for participants to feel safe and secure. Author Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., says it well in his book The Body Keeps the Score. Dr. van der Kolk explains how feeling safe with other people is the most important aspect of mental health. He describes that when disasters strike, the most powerful weapon against stress and trauma is social support oriented towards people and being able to experience the visceral feeling of security, such as calming the body down, finding rhythmic breath, and relaxing or not stiffening your arms and legs.
At PV, it is important for our staff to understand TIC and seek to implement programs and support participants through a trauma-informed lens. Learning about this framework is an ongoing process and it is important to note that TIC is not exclusive to social service programs. It can also benefit the ways in which we interact with people in our everyday lives.
Here are some of the ways PV works to implements a trauma-informed approach:
- Voluntary participation
In each workshop or meeting, participants are invited to share their opinion with others or answer questions within the group space, however this is never posed as a requirement. The freedom to decide if one wants to talk about a topic is always respected.
- Emphasis on consent
We do not assume that someone is comfortable being touched, hugged, etc. We always respect the personal space of each person and recognize that a simple touch on the shoulder may not be so “simple” for someone who has a history of trauma. This is challenging as it is common in Salvadoran culture to be very close to others or have physical contact with people you just met.
Consistent, predictable hours and practices are important to us. In all meetings, whether with the entrepreneurs, families or staff, we establish an agenda and follow it as closely as possible. This allows those present to know what to expect and have peace of mind. There is a greater sense of security and less room for surprises.
- Intentional and transparent processes
We seek to explain our programs and processes with full transparency to our participants. For example, when starting new activities or supporting an entrepreneur in developing a business plan, we try to outline clear steps and include deadlines for each unit. Also, we start from the most basic parts of a plan and then more to the more complicated, to not overwhelm the participant.
We encourage participants to make their own decisions. We understand that being in control helps create a state of tranquility. Making decisions is part of it. TIC proposes not to advise and rather to encourage them to make decisions about their lives or their businesses. Staff remind participants every time they can that they are the ones who know their situation best and therefore who should make the decisions.
- Participative decision-making
Staff request feedback from participants and utilize it. We believe that our participant’s reflections are important and should be taken into account. Thus, during and after each activity, participants evaluate and comment on what they liked and what could be improved. Staff incorporates that feedback into future decisions to create a cycle of participative decision-making.
Although some of these may seem obvious, in practice, they require a discipline of self-awareness among staff members. In the end, TIC can become a lifestyle and can occur naturally in all spheres of those who practice it.
Finally, let’s remember that in Trauma-Informed Care where the goal is to feel safe, we learn to trust our own judgment and regain control through decision-making. With this goal in mind, trauma-informed care does not judge, criticize, or advise. Someone using a TIC approach accompanies the person by generating conditions so that he/she/they can find their own identity.