by Emily Hurst
High percentages of individuals who are experiencing homelessness have experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime. Trauma can be in the form of childhood neglect or abuse, witnessing a violent event, serving in combat, or being part of a group that has experienced historical trauma. The trauma can be a one-time event or recurring over a period of time. With historical trauma, it can impact a community of people and involve a historical loss of culture. Experiencing homelessness itself can be a trauma. The effects of this trauma can pose significant barriers to individuals effectively accessing services and obtaining permanent housing.
What are the effects of trauma?
Individuals who have experienced trauma display a wide range of emotional and behavioral responses. They might avoid specific reminders of the event or experience intrusive thoughts, nightmares or flashbacks. They might experience hyperarousal symptoms such as hypervigilance, anger and irritability. It can negatively affect mood and cognition resulting in depressive symptoms and difficulty with memory and focus. In addition to emotional symptoms, it can affect normal biological functioning and result in chronic physical health problems. It can negatively impact attachment in children and leave lasting effects related to personal relationships. Untreated, the effects of trauma make functioning difficult and can result in serious consequences for the individual and community.
Treatment for trauma
There are various treatment modalities for those who have experienced trauma. The components of trauma treatment often include psychoeducation around the neurobiology of trauma, processing of trauma-related thoughts and feelings, and identifying and managing somatic responses to trauma triggers.
What does it mean to have trauma-informed systems?
Being trauma informed means having an awareness of what the effects of trauma are and how they might manifest in your work with the individual. It means anticipating and responding to the needs of individuals with an understanding that what they are experiencing now might be the result of past trauma. Trauma informed care emphasizes the strengths of individuals and encourages strategies that offer opportunities for consumers to rebuild control. Paramount to trauma informed care is a focus on policies and procedures that not only address the impacts of trauma, but also avoid re-traumatizing those using the services.
The effects of trauma can be devastating and long-lasting; however, it is important to come to our work with individuals who have experienced trauma with a sense of hope. Hope that their body and mind has the capacity to heal itself, and that the systems that serve them will be there as a partner in the healing process.