As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause distress, behavioral health providers are becoming more sensitive to the needs of more individuals who have been impacted by negative experiences. Through a new focus on trauma, clinicians are more effectively helping clients heal from these ordeals.
Prior to the pandemic, the National Council on Mental Wellbeing reported that 70 percent of adults had experienced a traumatic event, while the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration noted that more than two-thirds of children had experienced at least one traumatic event by age 16. Recent studies show that anxiety, stress, depression, and substance use greatly increased as people found ways to cope with pandemic-related disruptions.
“Trauma is more common than we might think, especially when you consider how we have all felt the past couple years,” said Rosecrance Harrison Campus Unit Coordinator Sandra Knezevic. “It is a sensitive topic, but talking about it is important to understanding. By recognizing how difficult things can impact our perception of the world and selves, we provide new opportunities for growth.”
Rosecrance clinicians are adapting to this reality by incorporating trauma-informed care into treatment programs. This holistic framework adds an extra layer of empathy and awareness to interactions. By being more aware of a range of life experiences, therapists are able to go the extra mile to put clients at ease and smooth the recovery journey’s beginning steps.
“The most important question is to ask ‘what happened to you?’” said Rosecrance Community Relations Coordinator Dr. Marcie Phillis, who researched trauma and resilience. “Our ability to show compassion and awareness that someone has gone through things we may never understand will give them the space to heal.”
In practice, it looks like mobile crisis team staff changing the way they ask assessment questions to better understand an individual’s situation. It may also be watching how clients respond to experiential therapies, as those are known to help release trauma stored within the body.
In addition, trauma-informed therapy changes the client-clinician relationship. If a client is showing emotion, a natural response may be to move to the client and put a hand on the shoulder. Instead, the therapist would ask for permission before moving across the room or offering physical touch.
The perspective recognizes that anything that disrupts a feeling of safety and routine can be traumatic. For example, a divorce, being bullied as a child, social isolation during the pandemic, and food insecurity are a few of many traumatic experiences that may have lasting effects, as well as severe injuries, sexual abuse, or the stresses faced by emergency service workers. Because people have different coping skills and personalities, trauma will affect each individual differently.
It also encourages resiliency allowing trauma survivors to share their stories the way they want to express them. Over time, clients are encouraged to to take pride in obstacles they have overcome and the skills they have to face future life challenges.
“It takes a lot of strength to get through traumatic experiences,” said Dave Kellerhals, Rosecrance Central Illinois Director of Mental Health Services. “It’s important that clients give themselves credit for getting through those times and being here to tell the story. That is how healing ultimately happens.”