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Assessment and Intervention in Trauma-focused Social Work Practice

Thanks to the nature of their jobs helping people navigate intense obstacles such as addiction and mental health issues, social workers are familiar with how a person’s traumatic experiences can lead to challenges for both the individual and their family unit. In turn, social work professionals are increasingly using tenets of trauma-informed care to validate the feelings of their clients and help them better navigate the challenges in front of them.

Graduates of the Arkansas State University (A-State) online Master of Social Work (MSW) program learn how to create environments where people feel comfortable sharing their traumatic experiences. From there, social workers can develop intervention plans that help their clients move toward long-term healing that will lead to better stress management in their daily lives.

Essential Elements of Trauma-informed Practice

According to Psychology Today, with the rise of social media trends encouraging users to share traumatic experiences, trauma has become less stigmatized. This expanded scope of interest can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, as people outside of the mental health and social work fields don’t know what trauma encompasses. Trauma refers to the broad psychological and neurobiological effects of an event, or series of events, that produce feelings of overwhelming stress, fear or horror.

Trauma is often separated into two categories: single-incident trauma and complex trauma. Single-incident trauma refers to the impact of a specific event that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Complex trauma results from a series of experiences that cause severe stress during a child’s developmental years. These incidents, spread across a number of months or years, could include watching a parent struggle with substance abuse or domestic violence, or experiencing emotional and physical abuse within the home.

When social workers take on a trauma-informed approach, they understand that all people have potentially experienced trauma regardless of gender, racial identity, income status or other traits. They strive to apply five key components of trauma-informed care: physical and emotional safety, trust, choice, collaboration and empowerment.

Each element requires professionals withhold judgment and recognize the impact of trauma on emotional regulation and coping mechanisms. It also requires that social workers demonstrate sensitivity to how gender, sexuality, ethnicity and other factors influence a person’s decisions as they attempt to manage the results of their traumatic experience.

Integrating Trauma-informed Care

According to Community Care, social workers should practice these strategies with openness and honesty about the cause of a social work agency referral, how the steps of the process work and potential outcomes. Being clear about what the social worker can and cannot do for the client helps establish the trust necessary to navigate challenging situations filled with stressors.

Practitioners also have the opportunity — and, some researchers say, a responsibility — to give individuals choices as they seek social services. For example, clients should know what information is being collected about them and how it could be shared with different agencies. At all stages of the process, individuals should be fully aware of their options and feel empowered to figure out the next steps.

Effective trauma-informed practice treats the client as an equal working with the social worker to achieve a common goal. Rather than outright asking someone to relive a traumatic experience to learn more about the client, a social worker might focus on what the client wants from this meeting and their support options. By solving the immediate problems through a collaborative approach, practitioners are clearing a path for the client to dig into the underlying causes of their actions later.

Develop Trauma-informed Assessment Skills With Arkansas State University

As part of A-State’s online MSW program, students complete the Trauma Focused Practice course to better understand current bio-ecological, evidence-based research and practices for approaching trauma in the social work field.

The coursework allows students to enhance their assessment and intervention skills and implement these strategies in their future careers as clinical social workers, victim advocates and social work supervisors.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online Master of Social Work program.

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