Catholic Charities: A Trauma-Informed Agency


With trauma-informed care, it’s not about asking “What’s wrong with you?”
It’s about asking “What’s happened to you?”

At Catholic Charities, we take a trauma-informed approach in all of the services we offer to be as effective as possible in our treatment of every individual who comes to us for help. We look at each person as a whole, focusing carefully on what may have happened earlier in their life that led them to the coping behaviors they now exhibit.

Whether someone comes to us with mental health issues, has suffered child or domestic abuse, is homeless or in need of food, we assume – without questioning – that trauma is in their background.

Through our holistic approach, we understand that trauma cannot be erased, but rather acknowledge that it has occurred and honor that. We help people address the trauma they have experienced while ensuring that each individual receives appropriate treatment to help them develop the coping skills they need to move forward.

Research has found that childhood trauma (such as living through domestic violence, being sexually and/or physically abused or having a parent who suffered from a mental illness or addiction) can greatly impact a person throughout the course of their lifetime.

The ACE Study

Infographic: The Truth About ACEsThe Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is an ongoing study coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente. It is one of the largest invesitgations every conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and health and well-being later in life.

Findings from the ACE Study suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death, as well as poor quality of life in the United States. Maltreatment in childhood can result in:

  • Impairment to the brain and physiological damage
  • Changes in brain neurobiology
  • Social, emotional and cognitive impairments
  • Adoption of health risk behaviors as coping mechanisms (such as, eating disorders, smoking, substance abuse, self-harm, etc.)

What Is Trauma?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma results from an event, series of events or set of circumstances that is experienced by and individual as overwhelming or life-changing and that has profound effects on the individual’s psychological development or well-being, often involving a physiological, social and/or spiritual impact.

Trauma is the experience of violence and victimization that includes (but is not limited to):

  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Severe neglect
  • Loss
  • Domestic violence
  • The witnessing of violence, terrorism or disasters

Trauma can either be acute – meaning it involves a one-time experience (such as a natural disaster or car accident) – or complex involving prolonged or multiple traumatic events.

Trauma is individualized. It is not the objective facts of an event that determines whether that event is traumatic, it is the way in which each individual internalizes the emotional experience of the event.

The Impact of Trauma

Trauma is disabling. It can impact a person’s feelings, thinking and functioning. The consequences of trauma include:

  • Over-control
  • Self-blame
  • Passivity
  • Expecting and eliciting of negative reactions from others
  • Addictive behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Impaired attachments
  • Interpersonal skill deficits

Trauma is often overlooked because behavioral responses to trauma resemble common disruptive behaviors. Stress manifestations are different by age, stage and expression. Unfortunately, it’s also common for clinicians to not recognize the connection between the symptoms and behaviors. This is why taking a trauma-informed approach to every person who receives our services is so important.

It’s imperative to understand that trauma:

  • Is pervasive
  • Has a broad and diverse impact
  • Has a life-shaping impact
  • Affects how people approach services
  • Affects how we approach each other

Organizations and individuals providing care can also unintentionally re-traumatize those who have been impacted, so we recognize the importance that all staff have an understanding of trauma and are mindful in their interactions with those who walk through our doors.

Above all, it’s important to note that healing is possible.

A Trauma Informed Agency

As providers of care, we automatically presume the people we see have a history of trauma. By being a trauma-informed agency, we also recognize the effects that second-hand trauma and adverse experiences have on us as providers (and on our colleagues).

Every part of our organization and all staff is impacted by this approach – from our most experienced clinician to the person answering our phones. We have made significant efforts in assessing and modifying our approach and make ongoing efforts to provide training and incorporate awareness in everything we do. It’s essential for our agency as a whole to understand how trauma impacts the life of those who seek our help as well as those who work alongside of us.
A trauma-informed approached to care involves:

  • Building trusting relationships with the individuals we help and our co-workers
  • Telling people what we are going to do before doing it
  • Seeing trauma responses as adaptations rather than manipulations
  • Teaching and supporting individuals to learn way to manage emotions

In a trauma-informed environment, people are treated:

  • With respect and dignity
  • With a recognition that the function of behavior, even negative behavior, is an attempt to deal with the consequences of trauma and adversity
  • With power/control minimized – the approach is about problem solving, not placing blame
  • With language being person-first (“You are not a victim, you are someone who was victimized.”)

We value dignity and respect for each individual, incorporating a holistic approach with an understanding that each person is seen in their totality, not just their behavior of the moment. We recognize that everyone deals with stress, but understand people can react differently to the same stress.

Need Help? Call 1-800-360-7711
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