Principles of Trauma Informed Care


Physical, emotional, and cultural safety for organizations, staff, and clients is the key to trauma-informed practice.  This is especially true for trauma survivors who often feel unsafe because many have experienced abuse of power in important relationships and may currently be in unsafe living situations.

Things to consider:

  • Adapting the physical space to be less threatening or more welcoming
  • Sufficient space for comfort and privacy
  • Screening magazines, posters and other reading materials that may be triggering (such as the promotion of violence or sexually explicit materials)
  • Promote inclusivity and accessibility in posters and artwork that represents communities such as 2SLGBTQ+, Indigenous groups, Immigrant and Refugee groups
  • For Staff, safety includes opportunities for education and supervision. Policies and activities that support Staff self care. See the Vicarious Trauma Tab for more information.

Trustworthiness and Transparency

Building trust is foundational to being trauma-informed. Operations and decisions are conducted with transparency thus allowing for the building of trust through respectful, compassionate, genuine and authentic relationships.

Things to consider:

  • Practicing informed consent
  • Demonstrating predictable expectations
  • Providing clear information about services and having well-defined roles as well as clear boundaries
  • Being as transparent, consistent, and predictable as possible

Peer Support

This refers to actively pursuing the participation and involvement of service users and their peers in the planning, implementation and evaluation of services.  Not only does this create enhance services but it allows the empowerment of trauma survivors in their healing and growth.

Things to consider:

  • Advisory boards which provide regular feedback
  • Focus groups
  • Self help groups
  • Meaningful opportunities for peers including employability

Collaboration and Mutuality

It is important to be aware of the inherent power imbalance in the client-service provider relationship and do your best to flatten the hierarchy. Interpersonal trauma needs to be healed in a context in which the interpersonal relationships are the opposite of traumatizing. A collaborative approach that is non-directive and non-hierarchical gives people their voice back fostering active participation in their own care.

Things to consider:

  • Doing with and not doing to
  • Making time for questions and concerns and inviting follow up
  • Collaborating across sectors whenever possible
  • Writing key pieces of information down for client to take away

Empowerment, Voice, and Choice

This principle starts with the recognition of current strengths and skills that a client brings and how those tools helped them to survive their trauma. This includes acknowledging that seeking help takes courage and strength.  A trauma informed organization focuses on building on existing strengths, skills, and tools with the goal of expanding these resources that encourages further positive development. The ultimate goal of this model is to expand a person’s resources and support network.

Things to consider:

  • Acknowledge that the client is the expert in their lives
  • Framing coping behaviours as ways of adapting and surviving
  • Identifying strengths and establishing goals collaboratively
  • Providing information and choices along the way

Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

Actively moving past cultural stereotypes and biases (e.g. based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion, gender identity, geography, etc.); offers, access to gender responsive services; leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections; incorporates policies, protocols, and processes that are responsive to the racial, ethnic and cultural needs of individuals served; and recognizes and addresses historical trauma.

  • Understanding what trauma as well as what healing means to the client within their cultural context
  • Being aware and actively challenging your own internalized stereotypes and biases, cultural, gender and otherwise
  • Advocating on behalf of clients when cultural healing practices or other considerations require accommodation
  • Working through historical distrust

Issues may exist from the past that interfere with effective service provision. Understanding that historical distrust is normal and not personal will help to build a strong relationship. Teaching Western ways as a skill and not as an identity replacement.

Dr Martin Brokenleg, 2008

Adapted from SAMHSA, 2014