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Trauma Informed Leadership: An Approach for Healthcare


In the field of addiction treatment and psychotherapy there has been a recent emphasis on Trauma Informed Treatment.


The Trauma Informed (TI) approach refers to an awareness and tolerance of the psychological traumas that underlie substance abuse and mental health issues. It shifts the focus from a diagnostic label to a Trauma Informed sensitivity. This approach supports an understanding that addictions or emotional issues may be a response to an emotional trauma.


Understanding the Trauma Informed approach and applying it to healthcare leadership could improve interpersonal relationships, lead to better outcomes, and offer a positive perspective when facing difficult decisions.


According to SAMHSA’s concept of a trauma-informed approach, “A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;

  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;

  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and

  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

A trauma-informed approach can be implemented in any type of service setting or organization and is distinct from trauma-specific interventions or treatments that are designed specifically to address the consequences of trauma and to facilitate healing. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


Therapists have found the Trauma Informed approach a helpful reminder that the people they are treating may be struggling with emotional scars or deeply felt emotional trauma.


Trauma Informed Leadership in Healthcare

When I bring these psychology paradigms into the healthcare management world I see things differently. I see conflict between departments and between people differently. I see them from a trauma informed perspective and it helps me find empathy and compassion. From this platform, I know I am in a much more stable position to be helpful.


Trauma Informed Leadership is a way of understating or appreciating there is an emotional world of experiences rumbling around beneath the surface.


When emotional responses are triggered in the workplace, each person responds according to the extent of their emotional scars, traumas and emotional strengths.


Some appear stoic and detached from emotions during conflict, which could be a very helpful defense for them. Others had difficulty regulating their affect and they become emotionally flooded and have difficulty negotiating their thoughts and feelings well.


Trauma Informed Leadership recognizes and honors the emotional scars that people may struggle with. It can help the leader have empathy and compassion for their employees, both powerful emotions themselves for a leader to have.


It’s my thesis that when employees experience empathy, understanding and compassion from the leadership team they will feel safe, respected and recognized.


Imagine the powerful impact that this mindset would have on the moral of the staff. The Trauma Informed approach can be more fulfilling for the leadership and employees.

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David Tweedy, Ph.D., MHA, is Vice President of Senior Medical Associates, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and a specialist in Patient Care Excellence. You can reach him at dt@seniormedicalassociates.com.

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This article was originally published by USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy, Executive Master of Health Administration Online.

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