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  • Trauma-informed care: Enhancing patient safety through understanding mental health histories

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    Trauma-informed care is an approach that emphasises understanding patients' past trauma to provide better and more effective care. In this article, Greg Goushian, Chief Executive Officer at Recovery Beach, looks at the principles and benefits of trauma-informed care, outlining how patient safety can be advanced through understanding mental health histories.


    Understanding trauma-informed care

    Trauma-informed care (TIC) is an approach used by healthcare providers to engage with patients. It's based on the idea that past trauma can significantly impact an individual’s health and wellbeing. It's about recognising the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledging the role trauma may play in an individual's life, including their interactions with healthcare systems. This approach is designed to create a framework that considers the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery.

    Trauma can result from various events, including physical or sexual abuse, neglect, the sudden loss of a loved one, experiencing or witnessing violence and more. The effects of these events can last well beyond their immediate aftermath, affecting many aspects of a person’s life, health and behaviour.

    The principles of trauma-informed care

    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) outlines several key principles of trauma-informed care that are essential for enhancing patient safety through understanding mental health histories. These principles are:

    • Safety: Ensuring that both physical and emotional safety are prioritised for patients.
    • Trustworthiness and transparency: Operating in a transparent manner that fosters trust between healthcare providers and patients.
    • Peer support: Encouraging connections among people with similar experiences can promote healing and increase empathy and understanding.
    • Collaboration and mutuality: Recognising that healing happens in relationships and in the meaningful sharing of power and decision-making.
    • Empowerment: Highlighting patients' strengths and experiences to foster their empowerment.
    • Cultural, historical and gender issues: Acknowledging the role these factors play in an individual’s trauma experience and response.

    Benefits of trauma-informed care

    Enhanced patient safety

    One of the primary benefits of trauma-informed care is enhanced patient safety through understanding mental health histories. By understanding a patient’s history of trauma, healthcare providers can avoid re-traumatisation—situations that might trigger past trauma—thereby creating a safer, more supportive space for healing. Patients feel more secure and are likely to be more engaged in their treatment plans.

    Improved health outcomes

    Trauma-informed care focuses on physical health and addresses mental health, leading to more comprehensive healthcare delivery. This approach can significantly improve various health outcomes, as it supports the whole person, considering their emotional, mental and physical needs. By integrating strategies that address trauma, healthcare providers can reduce the incidence of chronic illnesses related to prolonged stress and trauma, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes and enhance the effectiveness of treatment for mental health disorders.

    Stronger patient-provider relationships

    When healthcare providers practice trauma-informed care, they create a more empathetic healthcare environment. Understanding the root causes of behaviours and symptoms can lead to more patience, better communication and stronger therapeutic relationships. This deeper understanding builds trust and respect, which are foundational for effective therapy and treatment adherence. It also empowers patients to participate more actively in their care, which can lead to more personalised and effective treatment plans.

    Implementing trauma-informed care

    Education and training

    Proper training is essential for healthcare providers to effectively implement trauma-informed care. This training should include recognising signs of trauma, applying trauma-informed principles in all areas of patient care and understanding how to communicate with patients who have experienced trauma. In addition, ongoing education and skill-building opportunities can deepen healthcare providers' understanding of trauma and its effects, enabling them to tailor their approach to each patient's unique needs and experiences.

    Policy and environment changes

    Adopting trauma-informed policies requires changes at all levels of an organisation. This might include revising patient intake procedures, enhancing staff support programs and modifying the physical environment to make it more calming and supportive. Embedding trauma-informed principles into organisational culture also involves leadership commitment and collaboration across departments to ensure that policies and practices align with trauma-informed values and goals.

    Challenges in implementing trauma-informed care

    Despite its benefits, implementing trauma-informed care presents challenges. These include training resource constraints, resistance to change within established medical systems and the need for ongoing staff support. Overcoming these challenges is crucial for creating a healthcare environment that cultivates healing and safety for all patients, especially those affected by trauma. However, by addressing these challenges proactively and fostering a culture of collaboration and learning, healthcare organisations can create environments prioritising every individual's wellbeing and dignity.

    Enhance patient safety through understanding mental health histories

    Trauma-informed care is an approach that enhances patient safety through understanding mental health histories and integrating knowledge about trauma into all aspects of patient care. It requires a commitment to continuous learning and adaptation from healthcare providers but offers significant benefits. Embracing this approach enables healthcare systems to provide truly supportive and effective care where all patients feel safe, understood and respected.

    About the Author

    Greg Goushian is the Chief Executive Officer at Recovery Beach, a US drug and alcohol rehab centre renowned for providing compassionate care on the journey to lasting sobriety. Greg brings his results-orientated executive leadership style to the recovery centre with a long-standing track record in behavioural health start-ups, large-scale business development and mergers and acquisitions. He aims to share his knowledge to help others achieve lasting recovery and improve their lives.

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