Working With Families Through Trauma-Informed Care and Treatment

When dealing with issues of mental health, the potential to lose focus on the whole picture becomes very possible. This especially happens when the individual struggling with their mental health self-identifies as their diagnosis rather than their personhood. When it comes to individuals dealing with trauma, they are sometimes seen only in relation to that trauma and not as the fully whole people that they are. This is where trauma-informed care and treatment can be so valuable. 

Trauma-informed treatment is crucial in that it investigates the whole picture, backstory, and future goals of an individual. When this fuller picture comes into view, it offers greater insight into how the trauma specifically affects the individual and how it can best be combated. Also, this form of treatment is not possible if not inclusive to loved ones. That means that the family should also be intimately involved in this type of informed care.

What Exactly Is Trauma-Informed Care?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Trauma-informed care acknowledges the need to understand a patient’s life experiences in order to deliver effective care and has the potential to improve patient engagement, treatment adherence, health outcomes, and provider and staff wellness.” Ultimately, trauma-informed treatment aims to see the person as much as it sees the illness.

Trauma-informed treatment also focuses on the environment as well as the client. It is critical that the recovery center and the people who work there understand the history and needs of each individual so as to not do or say something that may be retraumatizing.

This also applies to the inclusion of the family. Because trauma can be so deeply ingrained and historically personal, the family must be integrated into the treatment. This helps the family understand what their loved one is experiencing, while also offering them tools and techniques by which to best assist them in their recovery.

The Importance of the Family in Trauma-Informed Care

It is important to remember that issues of mental health do not just affect the individual that is struggling. These issues often spill over onto the people that are closest to them. For many, this is often the family. On that note, it is important to point out that the term “family” does not strictly have to apply to the biological. “The family,” in this case, simply means close loved ones that both affect and are affected by the individual in their day-to-day lives.

In trauma-informed treatment, the family becomes involved in the recovery because their loved one’s trauma cannot be separated from their overall lives. This includes their daily interactions with their family. Trauma can permeate every part of an individual’s life, which is why they must learn to manage their trauma in all aspects of it.

Mental illness is often referred to as a “family disease.” This is not because everyone has a specific illness. It just means that mental illness can affect the entire family through the behaviors of one. This is why treating the whole family matters. If the family is still unwell after the individual recovers, there is a much greater chance of relapse and/or re-traumatization.

Why the Whole Story Matters

Just as no one is their worst moment, no one is their “worst” illness either. This includes mental illness. Even if two individuals have the same diagnosis, they do not have the same story getting there. Also, even if two people have endured similar trauma, they will not have the same narrative either. In trauma-informed treatment, those stories are where the real recovery can begin.

When a person is struggling with trauma, it does not just remain an isolated issue. It affects all aspects of life, including work, family, and social interactions. By getting to know the whole story, both the mental health professional and the individual can begin to see the effects of trauma on specific aspects of life and work on it in a more focused and measured way.