trauma informed counseling approach

I strive to be trauma aware—to understand the dynamics and impact of trauma on the lives of individuals, families, and communities. I value providing trauma-informed care and a trauma-sensitive therapeutic environment. I look through a lens that sees a relationship between trauma, substance abuse, and mental illness.

As a trauma-informed therapist, I understand effective work is done through the framework “perception is more important than reality.” Trauma-informed professionals universally agree that personal perception, not the facts of an experience, creates posttraumatic consequences. In therapy, I will gather information about the trauma my client has experienced to understand contextual variables, but in no way am I ever fact-checking. I am mostly focused on my client’s thoughts, emotions, sensations, behaviors, and perceptions of the event.

Many trauma survivors experience judgment and self-blame. Often, society will harshly judge trauma survivors by their behavior in a crisis. People will shame victims that collapsed into submission because they didn’t fight back “enough” or try “harder” to escape. Then, that judgment is generalized into a belief about who the survivor is.  These types of judgment and generalizations perpetuate a survivor’s pain. The survivor’s narrative of “it’s my fault” gets louder, and no consideration is given to the body’s evolutionary survival response, immobilization through the dorsal vagal shutdown.

Definition of Trauma

“Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physi­cally or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the in­dividual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being” (SAMHSA, 2012, p. 2).


Trauma-focused therapies vary in their approaches and objectives. Therapeutic approaches may be present-focused, past-focused, or a combination of the two. A combined approach may be concurrent or sequential.

  • Present-focused approaches pri­marily address current coping skills, psychoeducation, and manag­ing symptoms for better functioning.
  • Past-focused approaches primarily focus on telling the trauma story to understand the impact of the trauma on how the person functions today, experienc­ing emotions that were too overwhelming to experience in the past, and helping clients more effectively cope in the present with their traumatic experiences.
  • Clients participating in present-focused approaches may reveal some of their stories; past-focused approaches em­phasize how understanding the past influences current behavior, emotion, and thinking, thereby helping clients cope more effectively with traumatic experiences in the present.

We will tailor your therapy to meet your individual needs. The nature of the trauma, your specific needs, your current environmental factors, and current stability will help us determine the approach that is best suited for you.

Facts about Trauma

  1. Trauma does not discriminate. It can affect people of every race, ethnicity, age, sexual ori­entation, gender, psychosocial background, and geographic region.
  2. Trauma can occur at any age or developmental stage, and often, events that occur outside expected life stages are perceived as traumatic (e.g., a child dying before a parent, cancer as a teen, job loss before retirement).
  3. Trauma can affect individuals, families, groups, communities, specific cultures, and generations.
  4. Trauma can involve a single event, numerous or repeated events, or sustained/chronic experiences.
  5. Trauma overwhelms the brain and ignites a survival response (fight, flight, freeze, dissociate).
  6. Trauma leaves us with a sense of fear, vulnerability, and helplessness.
  7. Trauma is typically unex­pected.
  8. Trauma can be directly experienced or can be witnessed. It can also result from feeling threatened, or if we learned about someone else’s trauma.
  9. Trauma can be human-induced (e.g. war, terrorism, sexual abuse, or vio­lence) or it may be the product of nature (e.g., flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes).
  10. Trauma can affect us in significant ways even if we do not meet the diagnostic criteria for trauma-related disorders.
  11. Trauma is not defined by an event, but more so the individual’s experience of the event. For example, two peo­ple may be exposed to the same event or series of events but experience and interpret these events in vastly different ways. Various biopsychosocial and cultural factors influence an individual’s immediate response and long­ term reactions to trauma.
  12. Trauma itself can create significant distress, but often, the losses associated with trauma and subsequent responses to the traumatic event have more far-reaching effects.


Dana, D. (2019). The polyvagal theory in therapy: engaging the rhythm of regulation. W W Norton and Company.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 57. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4801. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.