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Special Feature Series: Trauma Informed Care, Part 6 – Organizational Principles of a Trauma Informed Care Approach

How can organizations incorporate a trauma informed approach?

In 1992, the US Congress directed SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) to direct their focus to substance abuse and mental health services for Americans in need. SAMHSA’s mandate was to translate research effectively and rapidly into the general health care system.[1]  Canada has lagged behind.

SAMHSA described how programs, organizations or systems can become trauma informed by [2]:

  • Realizing the prevalence of trauma.
  • Recognizing how trauma affects all individuals involved with the program, organization, or system, including its own workforce.
  • Responding by putting this knowledge into policies, procedures, practices, and settings.

A Trauma Informed Practice Guide, developed in BC, points out that two things are helpful [3]:

  • An organizational checklist to support discussion and action on implementation of trauma-informed practice at the program/agency/organization level.
  • Key practice approaches, which draw upon skills and strategies described in the available literature.

Key principles of a trauma informed approach

A trauma informed approach reflects the adoption of underlying principles rather than a specific set of procedures. These principles can be generalized across multiple settings, although language and application may be setting or sector-specific.

Basic principles of a trauma informed approach include:

  1. Safety: throughout the organization, the staff and people they serve feel physically and psychologically safe.
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency: organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency and the goal of building and maintaining trust among staff and clients.
  3. Collaboration and mutuality: there is true partnering and leveling of power difference among organizational staff, from direct care staff to administrators; a recognition that healing happens in relationships.
  4. Empowerment: individuals’ strengths are recognized and validated.
  5. Voice and choice: the organization aims to strengthen the staff, clients’, and family members’ experience of choice.
  6. Peer support and mutual self-help: a key vehicle for building trust, establishing safety, and empowerment.
  7. Resilience and strengths based: a belief in resilience and in the ability of individuals, organizations, and communities to heal and promote recovery from trauma.
  8. Inclusiveness and shared purpose: the organization recognizes that everyone has a role to play in a trauma informed approach; one does not have to be a therapist to be therapeutic.
  9. Cultural, historical, and gender issues: the organization addresses cultural, historical, and gender issues; the organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases (e.g. based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, geography, etc.).
  10. Change process: is conscious, intentional and ongoing; the organization strives to become a learning community, constantly responding to new knowledge and developments.


  1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substance_Abuse_and_Mental_Health_Services_Administration
  2. www.samhsa.gov/traumajustice/traumadefinition/approach.aspx
  3. Trauma Informed Practice Guide, Vancouver, BC, Draft 5, 2012

Stay tuned for the next blog post: Is my organization trauma informed?  Assessments & checklists.