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The 7 Most Important Aspects of Trauma Sensitivity Training

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Full implementation of a trauma-informed approach typically takes three years to accomplish, but many organizations are looking for more manageable solutions that require fewer resources.

If you want to implement trauma-informed practices but aren’t ready for full implementation, here are some of the most important aspects of trauma sensitivity training that you can share with your team.

Developing a One-Page Resource for Trauma Sensitivity Training

Recently a colleague asked for my input on their anti-bias DEI training program. They will have one page on trauma sensitivity in their training workbook and briefly mention it during the live training sessions.

With such a limited amount of time and resources to share information about trauma sensitivity, they asked, “What are the most important things to include?”

Keeping in mind that this training program was developed for the hospitality industry, where both employee and guest safety are the focus, I’ve boiled down the seven most important aspects of trauma sensitivity training. And now, I’m sharing them with you.

1 - Encourage open & honest communication

In a professional setting, it’s common for people to keep their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings to themselves. But, this isn’t the best solution to move forward or promote a safe and healthy professional environment.

Instead, we must work to create a culture that not only accepts—but also encourages and celebrates—open and honest communication.

Confrontation is stressful by nature, and for those who have experienced trauma, confrontation can trigger a trauma response where the body decides it must be avoided since it signals danger. Other times, people might feel like their voice isn’t important or that they won’t be listened to if they speak up.

So, we must take active steps to ensure employees and guests know that their voice matters.

For teams who struggle to hold positive, safe, honest conversations (especially regarding issues and conflict), nonviolent communication, which focuses on active listening, can prove a useful strategy.

2 - Move from a hierarchical to a flat system

Most structures we encounter are built on a hierarchical model, where people are organized into a pyramid structure with a few influential people on top and the majority of people with little to no power at the bottom.

Although you shouldn’t do away with certain roles within your company—after all, leadership is not inherently bad—it is important to move towards a flat system, where every individual is valued on the same level.

In practice, that means a receptionist should receive the same level of respect as the company's CEO. Employees who work directly with guests, like massage therapists or facilitators, should receive the same treatment as those who work in the background, like custodial workers.

Unhealthy power dynamics are common in traumatic experiences, and trauma-sensitive workplaces should actively push for a flat system.

3 - Be intentional about safety

Of course, every workplace wants to be safe—but how many of them have intentional conversations about safety? Trauma-sensitive organizations:

· educate their team on the various types of safety

· encourage individuals to create personalized safety plans

Being intentional about safety and actively seeking to avoid harm can go a long way. Teams also need to know what to do when someone is harmed.

4 - Create space for everyone

This concept aligns with our previous ones of honest communication and a flat system, but it needs to be said. If your organization is not actively working to create space at your table for everyone, then not everyone feels welcome at your table.

We exist and operate in a world where people who are different are often excluded. By accepting and celebrating diversity, you can make room for people who deserve to have their voices heard.

You can create space for everyone by spreading awareness about, including representation of, and respecting different identities. Consider if your organization welcoming to people of different:

· races

· ethnicities

· cultures

· sexual orientations

· abilities, mental and physical

· socio-economic statuses

· genders

· ages

5 - Establish trauma-informed norms & values

A trauma-sensitive organization embodies trauma-informed norms and values in its company culture. These values include SAMHSA’s 6 Guiding Principles and the Sanctuary 7 Commitments.

SAMHSA’s 6 Guiding Principles

  • Safety

  • Trustworthiness & Transparency

  • Peer Support

  • Collaboration & Mutuality

  • Empowerment, Voice & Change

  • Cultural, Historical, & Gender Issues

Sanctuary 7 Commitments

  • Nonviolence

  • Emotional Intelligence

  • Social Learning

  • Open Communication

  • Social Responsibility

  • Democracy

  • Growth & Change

You can learn more about these trauma-informed values in my free Guide to Trauma-Informed Implementation.

6 - Ritualize discussion with trauma-informed practices

It’s painfully common for organizations to experience training, stick with what they learned for a few weeks or even months, and then fall back into old patterns. However, the goal of trauma sensitivity training is lasting change that improves the well-being of employees, clients, and the organization as a whole.

To ensure a lasting impact, organizations much ritualize discussion with trauma-informed practices. That means continuing to use trauma-informed language, consistently learning new trauma-informed practices, and creating a discussion routine that leans heavily on trauma-informed values.

By having a structure to follow, discussions can run smoothly and result in healing and solution-orientated mindsets. One such practice is All Hands Meetings, where the entire team meets to discuss incidents, find solutions, enact change, and plan for the future.

7 - Normalize talking about emotions professionally

Finally—and this is a big one—trauma-sensitive organizations must normalize talking about emotions in a professional setting.

How many of us are honest when greeted with the question, “How are you?” Usually, we reply the way we think we should and move on about the day. Why? Because we’re taught that it’s not okay to talk about our feelings at work.

But whether we talk about them or not, our feelings impact our professional life.

Discussing our emotions in a professional setting and in a professional way can eliminate the stigma behind them. We can learn and model that we don’t need to feel shameful because we feel lonely or frustrated or depressed. We can demonstrate it’s okay to seek support at work.

Final Thoughts: Create a Trauma-Sensitive Organization

These seven aspects of trauma sensitivity are some of the key components to creating a trauma-informed organization—but there’s much to learn.

Do you want to implement a trauma-informed approach and become more sensitive to the needs of those you work with and serve? Enlist in our second cohort of the Trauma-Informed Masterclass, which begins at the end of August (discounted group rates available).

Reserve your seat now, before the class fills up!

1 Comment

Irene Macabante
Irene Macabante
Jul 13, 2022

Thank you Shenandoah! :) Super informative and helpful!


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