Unmasking “Trauma-Informed” Healthcare: A Critical Perspective

by Dr Helen M Stallman

The world of healthcare is buzzing with the idea of being “trauma-informed,” but it raises a crucial question: Should healthcare providers hyper-focus on this aspect at the expense of a more holistic approach? While recognising the significance of understanding the impact of traumatic experiences, we need to be careful not to let it overshadow the broader, all-encompassing approach that comprehensive healthcare demands.

Being knowledgeable about the effects, particularly of interpersonal trauma, is undeniably vital. Understanding how trauma can impact a person’s developmental competencies is fundamental, especially given the links to health and wellbeing. However, we must tread carefully to avoid making it the sole focus, potentially neglecting the many other responsibilities that healthcare providers bear or making assumptions about one person based on generalities.

Holistic healthcare goes beyond past experiences. It requires healthcare providers to grasp the complexities of the human body and human experience as interconnected systems where health and well-being are intricately linked. This understanding extends to the influence of the social environment on health outcomes.

Healthcare providers must also comprehend the intricate relationship between distress and coping strategies. This involves not just identifying the root causes of illness and distress but also deciphering the mechanisms that enable individuals to navigate their challenges effectively.

Importantly, there is no one-size-fits-all experience, response, or long-term effect of traumatic experiences or events. Healthcare should focus on a person’s current state and functioning. Effective healthcare hinges on recognising current the developmental competency problems that may have resulted from trauma. That is problems with healthy identity, emotional and behavioural regulation, interpersonal skills and problem-solving skills. This comprehensive understanding is the key to pinpointing the most effective treatments and interventions.

In essence, healthcare providers must avoid tunnel vision. An all-encompassing view ensures that a person’s experience, history, and current state are intricately woven together. Healthcare isn’t one-dimensional; it’s a tapestry of vibrant elements. The strength of a healthcare service lies in the ability to understand the intricate interplay between experiences, health, well-being, biological, and social context, and numerous other factors.

Healthcare, whether physical or psychological, must focus on the needs of consumers today, rather than singling out one experience from their past. At the very least, all healthcare consumers deserve respect, support, and the feeling of being supported, valued, understood, and cared for, not just those who have experienced trauma. Individual assessments that consider the presenting issue, coping, needs and goals, and the biopsychosocial aspects of health and well-being are essential to ensure that each person’s unique needs are met without causing harm.

Key Skills for All Healthcare Professionals

  • Ethical practice: respect, autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence
  • Care Collaborate Connect to support people with acute distress.
  • Continue to ask all healthcare consumers how they feel and what they need.
  • Understand the biopsychosocial strengths and threats to the health and well-being of each consumer.
  • Provide consumer-centred care that meets the needs of each healthcare consumer.

As the concept of being “trauma-informed” gains prominence, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. Healthcare providers need to synthesise a comprehensive understanding of the many factors that shape a person’s health and well-being, rather than take a singular ‘trauma-informed’ approach. By delivering consumer-centred care, healthcare services can orchestrate a symphony that resonates with the complexity and richness of the human experience that goes beyond just trauma-informed care.

Dr Helen Stallman is a leading expert in wellbeing, coping and suicide prevention. Her research has explored the intersection of health and wellbeing, challenging outdated constructs and advocating for an integrated perspective on wellbeing.

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