When Being Trauma-Informed Is Not Enough

When Being Trauma-Informed Is Not Enough
April 29, 2019 Echo

Trauma-informed care is the new gold standard. For the last several years, Echo has been providing professional development in trauma-informed care but we’re beginning to notice a worrying aspect of the new push to train staff and transform systems. Some human service professionals are seeing ‘trauma-informed care’ as another skill to add to their resume or a box to check off on a grant proposal. But if the information stays with the professionals and is not used to empower survivors, then haven’t we missed the point?

This has led us to conclude that as important as it is for service professionals to learn about trauma and resilience it is even more important that this information gets directly into the hands of survivors.

SURVIVOR EMPOWERMENT starts when we learn:

  • How trauma has impacted our brain and nervous system and how to reverse those changes
  • The quirks and tics in our behavior are not because we are crazy, broken or irreconcilably different but that these are normal responses to abnormal circumstances
  • What is abnormal is the pain, betrayal and shame of abuse
  • There is hope presented by neuroplasticity, the ability to regulate our emotions, form new mental habits and release trauma stored in our bodies, and when we rediscover trust through safe, stable nurturing relationships
  • How purpose and meaning contributes to post-traumatic growth
  • Advocating for ourselves releases us from silence, shame, and the lack of power and control we experienced during the trauma and continues to cast us as victims

The irony is that many service professionals are survivors themselves.


Once we remove the ‘us’ and ‘them’ of trauma survivor vs. service professional we can talk more honestly about how ubiquitous trauma is in the human experience, how it shapes our behavior and our institutions, our whole society.

We need survivor wisdom and perspective to shape a trauma-informed world. If you are a service professional who is lucky enough not to have experienced a lot of trauma in your life please make space for those who can talk from direct experience.
SURVIVOR WISDOM means that  we can use our stories to bring the science to life and illustrate for survivors, supporters and service professionals alike how trauma and resilience shows up in our daily lives. It means we have compassion and insight that has been acquired at great cost and is not available in a book.

SURVIVOR PERSPECTIVE says we are not the sum of our deficits, we are actually incredibly brave, adaptive people. By very definition we are resilient or WE WOULD NOT BE HERE. By ‘othering’ us, you add to the shame and stigma. Even the term trauma-informed ‘care’ suggests professionals have the resources to help us and we have none. If professionals advocate for us instead of empowering us and elevating our voices, understand that once again we suffer the loss of power and control we experienced during trauma.

At Echo, our focus is on empowering survivors. After all, if it is not putting survivors’ interests first then what is the point of being trauma-informed?


“No one can ‘treat’ a war, or abuse, rape, molestation, or any other horrendous event, for that matter; what has happened cannot be undone. But what can be dealt with are the imprints of the trauma on body, mind, and soul: the crushing sensations in your chest that you label as anxiety or depression; the fear of losing control; always being on alert for danger or rejection; the self-loathing; the nightmares and flashbacks; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and from engaging fully in what you are doing; being unable to fully open your heart to another human being.
Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.”


–Bessel Van Der Kolk,The Body Keeps the Score