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Trauma Informed Approaches blog

Integrating Trauma-Informed Approaches: An Overview of Trauma and Its Effects

At EVALCORP, when we collaborate on a program evaluation or needs assessment, we value meeting our clients where they are by understanding what informs their perspective. This initial understanding creates a strong connection from the project start, which in turn supports communication and leads to more meaningful collaboration throughout the project cycle.

Our approach does not end there. In fact, our evaluation consultants meet all community and client stakeholders where they are as well. To ensure that we are engaging with individuals in a responsive way, our consulting team interacts with individuals using elements of trauma-informed approaches, especially with individuals who may have a history of trauma. Trauma-informed approaches acknowledge traumatic experiences of individuals or groups while creating a safe environment, building trust, and supporting them. We will dive into how we conduct evaluations using trauma-informed approaches through a series of blog posts; first, we will define trauma and how it impacts individuals and communities.

Defining Trauma
Trauma is widespread and can affect any individual or group, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, age, gender identity, psychosocial background, or geographic region. There is no singular way of defining trauma, but we can learn from different professional fields’ definitions of trauma and what constitutes a traumatic experience. To illustrate, the most formal definition comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) for diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder:

“The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in the following way(s):

  • Direct exposure
  • Witnessing the trauma
  • Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma
  • Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, medics).”

In contrast, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a broader definition of trauma:

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

The DSM-V emphasizes that a traumatic experience affects physical well-being while the SAMHSA definition also considers social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The definitions highlight the importance of having an agreed-upon definition to reference because slight differences in what is considered trauma impacts how our team collaborates with clients, designs data collection tools, and engages with community stakeholders during the project cycle.

How does trauma affect individuals and communities?
Trauma impacts everyone uniquely: individuals or groups that experience the same potentially traumatic event will not necessarily be impacted in the same way. Importantly, trauma may cause individuals to experience a sense of fear, loss of control or vulnerability; trauma potentially affects their sense of self, sense of others, and beliefs, with effects that can be short-term or long-term. With trauma being tied to individuals’ senses, there is the potential for a stimulus to invoke memories or reactions related to their trauma (i.e., re-traumatizing an individual with a history of trauma).  Understanding how trauma is defined across different fields of work, who may experience potentially traumatic events, and the impact of those experiences are important foundations for understanding the trauma-informed evaluation approach we take at EVALCORP. Tune in for our next blog post, where we will look at trauma-informed care and how it is used to work with individuals with a history of trauma.

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“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.“

– Peter Drucker

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