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What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma informed care can be employed in many different settings and is basically approaching the treatment of an individual with the understanding that their behaviors and thought processes might be altered by some sort of trauma that they may have experienced. Instead of asking “What’s wrong with you?”, trauma-informed programs ask “What happened to you?”. This perspective gives the program an increased ability to reach and treat the individual. Not only does trauma-informed care focus on seeing the individual’s behavior through a trauma-informed lens, but it is also active in not re-traumatizing the individual as well. 

In order to effectively administer trauma-informed care, the place of treatment needs to understand trauma, and how trauma presents itself, in order to individualize the treatment plan according to their needs. 


What is Trauma?

According to many dictionaries, trauma is defined as a deeply distressing and disturbing experience. Following this definition, a variety of different things can be traumatic, as many different things can cause a lot of distress. It is often believed that trauma can only occur due to “extreme” negative events such as a car accident, physical or sexual abuse, or participating in war. And while these events could be more likely to cause trauma, seemingly less significant events like neglect, surgery, or a broken limb can result in trauma as well. 

It is also often believed that trauma is only caused by one-time events; however, ongoing stressful situations can also contribute to the development of trauma. 

Ongoing situations like the following can be traumatizing as well:

  • An unsafe/unstable environment 
  • Divorce 
  • Long-term illness 
  • Neglect 

Trauma causes emotional distress that can cause a person to act in seemingly abnormal ways. This is in part due to the fact that people that have been traumatized often become emotionally dysregulated and have a hard time getting back in control. Some of the common behaviors seen in people that have been traumatized are: 

  • Abnormal patterns in relationships
  • Inability to regulate emotions/experience outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Withdrawal

Seeing these behaviors does not automatically mean that a person has experienced a  traumatic event; however, these are some indicators that some sort of traumatic experience has occurred in their lives, and that these behaviors need to be looked at through this trauma-informed lens, instead of the behavior merely being corrected. 


Why is it necessary that residential treatment centers employ trauma-informed care?

It is of extreme importance that residential treatment centers understand and implement trauma-informed care in their facility. This is because traumatized individuals need to be seen in that way, as having experienced trauma, in order for treatment to be effective. If a program sees individuals as having something wrong with them, they’re going to miss the mark. However, if the programs see the individuals as having gone through some sort of traumatic experience and that is why they behave and think the way they do, then these programs will have a lot more success in treating the people that come into their care. That is because they will be treating the root of the problem instead of merely treating how the problem presents itself. 

It is also very important that residential treatment centers avoid re-traumatizing the people that come into their care. People that have experienced trauma could be easily re-traumatized if the environment that they come into is not trauma-informed. 

Some things that residential treatment programs should do to make sure their program is trauma-informed are:

  • Looking at the behavior through a trauma-informed lens, to make sure the right approach is taken, as the behavior does need to change, just in the right way.
  • Assigning therapeutic assignments that will help the individual work through their trauma
  • Limiting possible behaviors that could be related to traumatic experiences for certain individuals. For example, yelling, coercing, or isolating the individual.
  • Utilizing empirically-based therapy models that have been shown to be effective for treating trauma.


How does Ashcreek Academy implement Trauma-informed care?

At Ashcreek, we look at our boys’ behavior through this trauma-informed lens. When we see certain behaviors, we ask ourselves what that individual could have gone through to cause them to act and perceive things the way they do. With that understanding, we cater our approach to each individual, according to their needs. 

We have found that as we look for certain behaviors and patterns and as we cater to each individual’s needs, we increase our ability to help them. And that is because we go to them where they are at and lift them up instead of asking them to come to us. 

Because Ashcreek Academy is a Trauma-Informed Residential Treatment Center, our therapists use tools such as Theraplay, which helps re-develop the neural pathways in their brains. This helps take them from acting out of the stem of their brain, where the fight, flight or freeze reactions live. Once they are using the prefrontal cortex, we see them be able to make more logical and thought out decisions. Another trauma informed practice we use is Brainspotting, which is a trauma modality similar to EMDR. It has been proven to improve the way kids reprocess the trauma that happened to them and again move into their prefrontal cortex. We see a lot of progress with traumatized students through our approach. If you have more questions about our approach and if it would work for someone you love, please contact us at [email protected].

Crete Gallagher - Ashcreek residential treatment center staff

Written By: Crete Gallagher, Admissions/Outreach Counselor

For Help Call: (435) 215-0500 Kris Archer- Director of Admissions/ Outreach
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