What is trauma?

SAMHSA describes trauma with a focus on three key elements.

Individual trauma results from "an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being."

In the context of brain development, trauma is not the event—it is the response to the event. Traumatic stress occurs when an experience impacts the body in a way that alters the stress response system.  


What is trauma-informed care or a trauma-informed approach? 

Trauma-informed care refers to the way a program, organization, or system addresses and serves children and families who may have experienced trauma. Beginning with the question, “What happened to you?” instead of, “What’s wrong with you?” is a key component, along with compassionately relating and responding in a way that acknowledges experiences and their potential impact, with a focus on building resilience. Our goal is to ensure that every organization, program, and system that supports children and families in Mecklenburg County will be trauma-informed and incorporate trauma-informed care into policies, practices and procedures.

According to SAMHSA, a program, organization or system that is trauma-informed implements the four Rs:

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

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

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

  • Seeks to actively resist Re-traumatization

Guiding Principles

There are six guiding principles of trauma-informed care including: safety, trustworthiness and transparency; peer support and mutual self-help; collaboration and mutuality, empowerment voice and choice; cultural, historical and gender issues. For more information, click here.