Trauma-informed care respects the whole person

By Dr. Mary Deutscher, St. Paul’s Hospital Bioethicist


This article originally ran in the January 2018 issue of SaskEthics, an ethics newsletter for Catholic healthcare organizations in Saskatchewan.

 Dr. Mary Deutscher.In December 2017, St. Paul’s Hospital had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of trauma-informed care with a presentation from Knowledge Translation Specialist, Erin Beckwell.

If you are anything like me, you probably read the phrase “trauma-informed care” and immediately thought that the presentation was about trauma care for patients in a busy emergency department.

But trauma-informed care is not focused on individuals as they experience bodily trauma. Rather, this is care that respects that people continue to be affected by traumatic events long after the physical scars have healed.

For example, consider the case of a man who is brought into hospital but begins yelling at his nurses whenever they try to change his dressing. It would be easy to dismiss this man as mean-spirited or ill-mannered person. It is much more difficult to get to the root of why he is responding to his care in such a way.

How would our care change if we knew that he had been confined in an institution in the past? If we were aware of his history as a prisoner of war? If it turned out he had suffered abuse at the hands of a healthcare provider when he was young?

Trauma-informed care challenges us to treat every person we meet as a person with a history that remains part of who they are. This type of care asks the question, “What has happened to this person? Rather than focusing on describing, “What is wrong with this person?”

This holistic approach should be at the centre of all our interactions, but it is even more needed in our healthcare system because institutions often trigger people in ways that they would not experience in the community.

The traumatic event they experienced may be extreme or relatively minor, a single occurrence or a series of events. What matters is that it is significant to the person who no longer feels comfortable when faced with a situation that reminds them of their traumatic event.