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The Complete Guide to Trauma-Informed Values

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

In the trauma-informed care space, we often reference trauma-informed values. While we can refer to values within the TIC space broadly, there are specific models that we teach our clients, including SAMSHA’s 6 Guiding Principles and the Sanctuary 7 Commitments.

The values outlined in these guides provide structure for organizations new to trauma-informed care, and they’re an essential piece of the work for any trauma-informed leader.

So, we’re going to explore these values in-depth today.

SAMHSA’s 6 Guiding Principles

SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and, as a governmental agency, it outlines many of the standards within the TIC space.

Although I would not say that SAMHSA’s value set is perfect (I take some issues with the language it uses), I would recommend it as a great resource for any trauma-informed leader.

SAMHSA’s 6 Guiding Principles are:

1. Safety

2. Trustworthiness

3. Peer Support

4. Collaboration

5. Empowerment

6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues


Establishing safety is perhaps the most important aspect of trauma sensitivity. Trauma survivors enter fight, flight, or freeze mode when they feel unsafe, and this “trauma brain” state impacts our ability to think or behave as we normally would.

So, creating and ensuring safety for all community members is always a priority in trauma-informed systems.


I would argue that trustworthiness is a part of safety. When we have trust, we have safety in our relationships.

Building trust involves being honest about your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Trustworthiness is built when you are reliable, you do the things you say you will do, and your behavior is predictable.

Trustworthiness is an essential component of healthy relationships.

Peer Support

Peer support refers to relationships built between peers where no power imbalance exists. Support from a mentor, coach, or manager is also encouraged in the trauma-informed model, but peer support helps build meaningful relationships.


Collaboration is the act of working together to create something. People might collaborate on a project at work, and they may collaborate by committing to improving their relationship. When we collaborate, we share the experience of building something new, the challenges that come with it, and the pride in seeing it through.


Empowerment refers to the idea that we have the power to effect change. When someone is empowered, they can clearly see what they do and don’t have the power to change.

We cannot change others, but we can change our attitudes, thoughts, habits, and behaviors. We can affect change by being role models, coaches, and guides—and we are not powerless.

Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

By “cultural, historical, and gender issues,” SAMHSA means that we must acknowledge and celebrate our diversity, as well as the history of trauma behind it.

Being different from the established norms can be a traumatic experience in our society, because others are not always welcoming, understanding, or kind. Many cultures have seen atrocities in their histories, and we must acknowledge that trauma.

Trauma-informed care involves avoiding further harm as well as healing from our trauma, both individually and collectively.

The Sanctuary 7 Commitments

The Sanctuary model was developed by Dr. Sandra Bloom in the 1980s. Her extended body of work forms much of the foundation of trauma-informed care. While most organizations working in the trauma-informed care space will adopt SAMHSA’s trauma-informed values, the Sanctuary 7 Commitments are the second-most popular model.

The Sanctuary 7 Commitments are:

1. Nonviolence

2. Emotional Intelligence

3. Social Learning

4. Open Communication

5. Social Responsibility

6. Democracy

7. Growth and Change


Nonviolence extends beyond the idea of “not being violent.” Nonviolence refers to not harming others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. When we commit to nonviolence, we commit to working through conflict while ensuring safety and encouraging communication.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotionally intelligent people are in touch with their emotions, and they are capable of processing and managing them in a healthy way. When others are around them, it is easy to feel safe, encouraged, capable, and supported.

Rarely are we taught emotional intelligence, whether formally or informally. So, in a trauma-informed space, we are intentional about normalizing emotions and teaching emotional intelligence.

Social Learning

When we think of learning, our mind may turn to formal settings: classrooms or college courses. However, if you are a trauma-informed leader, you are likely a lifelong learner, and much of your learning experience is not formal.

Social learning happens when we learn through our community. For social learning to happen, we must be humble and curious active listeners.

Open Communication

Open and effective communication is essential for healthy relationships and, consequently, healthy teams and organizations. Open communication involves seeking clarity and asking questions rather than making assumptions.

Open communication involves discussing the elephants in the room and having hard conversations in a kind way that harms no one and is beneficial to everyone in the long run.

Social Responsibility

Social responsibility acknowledges that we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. If we are bystanders to unethical behavior, we are part of the problem.

When we are socially responsible, we step up and recognize that we are responsible for the existing group norms. Through social responsibility, we can truly work towards healing and social justice.


In the Sanctuary model, democracy refers to the importance of listening to everyone’s voice, especially those who will be most impacted by a decision. Democracy is about voice and choice, empowerment, and ensuring people are heard.

Growth & Change

Finally, growth and change are inherent parts of the trauma-informed model. When we value growth and change, we acknowledge that where we are right now is not perfect.

There are all ways that we can grow as individuals. If we believe that we have no more growing to do or that we cannot change, then we cannot truly commit ourselves to trauma-informed work.

Modifying existing models to fit your organization

While most organizations will adopt one of these two standard models for trauma-informed values, it is possible to adapt these values to reflect your organization's specific needs and mission.

However, it’s important to remember that not all values can be trauma-informed. For example, if an organization is willing to prioritize its bottom line of making a profit over the lives of the people it employs and impacts, its existing mission will never align with trauma-informed values. In order to implement trauma-informed practices in an organization like this, major reform surrounding the organization’s mission and identity must take place.

Final Thoughts: Learn more during Intentional Conversations

On paper, these trauma-informed values look and sound great. However, they can feel much harder to adopt when you’re doing the work in real-time.

If you have questions about trauma-informed values, a problem that you’re working through, or insight you’d like to share with your community, drop into Intentional Conversations, a free and open trauma-informed space led by an expert facilitator. We’d love to see you there!

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