The Importance of Trauma-Informed Care in Addiction Treatment | All Points North

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The Importance of Trauma-Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

As scientists and clinicians have grown to understand the widespread impact of trauma, finding new ways of helping clients overcome their trauma has become of paramount importance in mental health treatment.

Trauma-informed care has quickly risen to prominence as an essential component of this comprehensive treatment model and plays an important role in addiction treatment.

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care isn’t a specific treatment method or therapeutic approach — instead, it’s an organizational-wide effort to ensure that everyone in the treatment facility understands the effects of trauma and how it can influence care.

By taking this wide approach, trauma-informed care helps people dealing with the effects of trauma to better engage with addiction and mental health treatment. It facilitates effective mental health treatment and recognizes that trauma can affect people’s ability to engage with and participate in care at every level.

Essentially, trauma-informed care is a process of removing the barriers many people face in getting treatment.

Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

This broad purpose of trauma-informed care is helped by a few key principles. These principles guide not only your therapist, clinicians, or medical providers but also support staff, admissions professionals, and administrators.

There are several key principles of trauma-informed care.

Emphasizing Client Choice

The first principle of effective trauma-informed care is a dedication to empowering clients in their choice of treatment. People who are living with the effects of trauma typically have a deep understanding of how their trauma affects them — and what will and won’t be helpful in their path to recovery.

Of course, not everyone who seeks treatment has an understanding of the different treatment options available. At a trauma-informed care facility, clients who come to receive addiction or mental health treatment will find extensive support from their treatment team in helping determine the methods that work best for them.

By placing client choice at the forefront, clients not only become more empowered in their treatment decisions but can find themselves more engaged and supported in getting the help they need.

Building Client Empowerment

Client choice leads directly to the next principle of effective trauma-informed care — building client empowerment.

People who have experienced or are experiencing the effects of trauma can often feel as though power, control, and autonomy have been taken away from them. Restoring this sense of control is critical to creating positive mental health outcomes.

Fostering client empowerment is about much more than just allowing clients to play a role in their choice of treatment. It can include empowering clients in areas such as:

  • Treatment goal setting
  • Decision making
  • Developing their own coping skills
  • Helping develop their own treatment plans
  • Providing feedback to providers
  • Encouraging clients to advocate for themselves

This flexibility and emphasis on client choice is critical to helping people restore their sense of autonomy, strength, and resilience.

Ensuring Client Safety

Trauma-informed care places a heavy emphasis on ensuring client safety. Specifically, an organization that adheres to the principles of trauma-informed care takes specific measures to prevent and avoid the possibility of retraumatization or exposure to triggering or difficult emotional events.

When people have lived through traumatic experiences, safety is of paramount importance while progressing in their mental health goals. Triggering events or exposure to reminders of trauma can cause people to backtrack in their mental health journey rather than continue moving forward into recovery.

Even if an event isn’t specifically retraumatizing, clients who sense a lack of safety can feel as though they need to keep their guard up at all times. In addiction treatment, where emotional vulnerability and restoring healthy coping skills are key goals, this can impede people from getting the help they need.

Fostering Client-Provider Collaboration

There is no universal, singular experience of trauma that can be applied to all the clients in an addiction treatment center. Everyone who has lived through traumatic experiences has a unique set of challenges and symptoms that can interfere with their path to recovery.

As such, client-provider collaboration plays a pivotal role in implementing effective trauma-informed care. Each client is the expert in their own challenges with trauma, addiction, mental health concerns, and their intersections.

By recognizing the unique and individualized challenges clients face, clinicians and mental health teams understand that collaborating with clients is the surest path to recovery.

Securing Trust

All of the principles outlined above contribute to this fundamental principle — securing the trust of clients. As a client, it is vital for you to trust that your team of mental health professionals is there to help, recognize the challenges and symptoms you may face, and work on your side on the path to recovery.

A trauma-informed care team works diligently to build this trust through having a deep understanding of the effects of trauma and how it can impact care. It prevents breaches of trust through misunderstanding, retraumatization, or introducing clients to spaces that don’t inspire safety and empowerment.

Trauma-Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

In addiction treatment, trauma-informed care can improve your ability to engage in substance use treatment and achieve a lasting recovery. Critically, trauma-informed care isn’t just used to help people working toward trauma recovery but can enhance the treatment of substance use disorders as well.

Exposure to traumatic events in childhood, adulthood, or in the middle of an addiction are all exceptionally common in people seeking recovery from substance use disorders. Many will go on to develop disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, or depression as a result.

By taking a trauma-informed approach, not only are clients set up to overcome these co-occurring disorders, but they are also in a better position to build the skills to maintain their recovery from substance use for years to come.

Prevalence of Trauma in Clients With Substance Use Disorders

The majority of people entering substance use treatment have experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime. Some estimates suggest that as many as 75% of people with substance use disorders have lived through at least one traumatic experience.

Not everybody who experiences trauma will go on to develop a trauma-related disorder such as PTSD. However, people seeking treatment for a substance use disorder experience much higher rates of PTSD than the general population.

In one epidemiological study, the lifetime prevalence of PTSD was reported at only 6.4%. Yet, of those with PTSD, 46.4% had a co-occurring substance use disorder. However, of those who have substance use disorders, between 25-34% have a co-occurring diagnosis of PTSD.

This means both people with substance use disorders and people with PTSD are at significantly higher risk of having a co-occurring diagnosis of the other disorder. When this is the case, it is critical to receive care that is trauma-informed and capable of treating both diagnoses simultaneously.

Importance of Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Treating co-occurring disorders is one of the key hallmarks of effective addiction treatment. This is true even if you believe you are only dealing with a single disorder, as substance use can often mask underlying mental health symptoms that only appear once individuals have achieved abstinence.

Several studies have shown the importance of treating co-occurring mental health conditions. When a person treats only a substance use disorder without addressing any co-occurring mental health concerns, they face an increased risk of relapse, lower quality of life, and continuing mental health symptoms after achieving recovery.

Thankfully, co-occurring conditions can be treated through effective dual-diagnosis treatment, which is a style of addiction care that treats both substance use and mental health conditions simultaneously, using an integrated approach of therapies, treatment methods, and individualized treatment plans.

How Trauma-Informed Care Improves Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

By taking a trauma-informed approach, a team of mental health professionals creates a space where people can feel comfortable speaking about their mental health concerns.

Trauma-informed care not only helps prevent people with trauma or PTSD from feeling more comfortable while receiving addiction treatment but also creates a space where people feel safe exploring other co-occurring conditions.

By empowering clients to open up more, building safe environments for talking about mental health, creating collaboration between clients and providers, and ensuring that clients can trust their treatment team to help, a trauma-informed facility fully integrates the treatment of co-occurring mental health conditions into addiction treatment.

How Trauma-Informed Care Integrates Into Addiction Treatment Approaches

Trauma-informed care takes place at every step in your addiction treatment process. A trauma-informed facility doesn’t just train clinical and treatment staff in trauma-informed care. Instead, every professional you interact with will follow these principles.

In a clinical sense, this means clinicians who provide evidence-based addiction treatment are attuned to how trauma can interfere with the treatment process.

For example, a trauma-informed clinician may set ground rules in group therapy to prevent bringing up experiences that may provoke a trauma response, ensuring everyone in the group can stay focused on the work of recovery.

In individual therapy, trauma-informed care may mean your therapist realizes the prevalence and impact of a traumatizing event. They can recognize the symptoms of trauma showing up in session and respond by providing clients with actionable tools to help manage the symptoms they are experiencing.

This extends into your interactions with admissions professionals or administrators as well.

Your intake coordinator, for example, may be able to avoid certain topics of discussion that would trigger a traumatic response, be sensitive to the challenges that so many people face in coming to an addiction treatment facility, and help you find the right services for your specific needs.

The Golden Rule of Trauma-Informed Care

The ultimate goal of trauma-informed care is to change the default response from “What is wrong with this person?” to “What has this person been through?”

By an organization shifting the perspective on the challenges people face, clients can experience a much more compassionate, empathetic, and effective form of addiction and mental health treatment.

Trauma-informed care isn’t a pathway to solving trauma. Instead, it’s a way of removing the challenges and roadblocks people face on the difficult road to recovery. It helps people feel more comfortable seeking out care and feel less worried about potential harms so they can focus on the healing work of substance use recovery.

Start Treatment at a Trauma-Informed Facility

At APN, trauma-informed care is at the heart of our comprehensive addiction treatment approach. From our residential treatment programs to our intensive outpatient program and even our several adjunctive and complementary treatment options, every level of care and each treatment method is guided by the principles of trauma-informed care.

To get started with addiction treatment at APN or find out more about our programs, reach out to our team by filling out a confidential online contact form, chatting with one of our representatives via the live chat function on our website, or calling one of our professionals directly at 855.934.1178.


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