Trauma Informed Language; Language That Heals

Team TICS
June 10, 2024

Language is not merely a medium for communication; it shapes our interactions, influences perceptions, and sets the tone for the environments we create. In the delicate realm of trauma and healing, our choice of words becomes profoundly impactful (Cullen et al., 2023). This blog explores how trauma-informed language can both mend and strengthen individuals who have experienced trauma.

Understanding the nuances of trauma-informed language involves being sensitive to the emotional states of those who have faced trauma and responding in ways that foster safety, trust, and validation. This approach is crucial because certain phrases, even those well-intentioned, can inadvertently trigger trauma responses (Laurent and Hart, 2021). For example, phrases like “It could have been worse” or those starting with “at least” can minimise a person’s experience and exacerbate their distress. For a lighter yet insightful perspective, consider watching a clip by Brené Brown that humorously yet poignantly addresses the significance of empathy over sympathy in our interactions.

Transforming our language involves replacing phrases that may trigger or belittle with ones that validate and support. Instead of telling someone to "stop crying," we might say, "It's okay to cry." Instead of dismissing fear with, "Don’t be scared, there's nothing to be afraid of," we can offer reassurance like, "It’s okay to feel scared. I’m right here with you." These changes make individuals, particularly children, feel understood and safe, providing a supportive framework for them to express and process their emotions (Dolezal & Gibson 2022).

Implementing trauma-informed language also means acknowledging experiences without judgment (Collins, 2023). A simple acknowledgment like "It sounds like this has all been very difficult. You have been very brave sharing it with me. Thank you" can convey understanding and acceptance. Celebrating an individual's strength and resilience and recognising even small progress can be incredibly empowering (Brunzell and Norrish, 2021). It's also vital to shift from a deficit-focused to a challenge-focused narrative; rather than saying, "You have a problem," we could say, "You are facing a challenge." Handling sensitive discussions with care involves creating a safe space, using gentle inquiry, and practicing active listening. To facilitate safer and more open exchanges, we should avoid judgmental "why" questions and focus on "what" and "how" questions.

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution in trauma-informed care, and language is a continually evolving tool that requires our attention, negotiation and refinement. Regular feedback from those we work with is invaluable in this journey. By embracing these practices, you can make a significant impact on the healing process of those affected by trauma. However, even when we integrate this wisdom into our practice, we can still make mistakes, so it is important to be compassionate with ourselves while repairing any ruptures caused in relationships where we've caused upset. Collectively, we can commit to learning and improving together, ensuring our professional practices enrich the lives of those we serve.

If you need any help and support or just a general chat about ‘all things Trauma Informed’, please get in touch with Lyndsay, our Working Together Lead at lyndsay@ticservicesltd.com and our team will support you in your journey.

References

Brunzell, T., & Norrish, J. (2021). Creating trauma-informed, strengths-based classrooms: Teacher strategies for nurturing students' healing, growth, and learning. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Collins, H.K. (2023). When listening is spoken. Current Opinion in Psychology, 47.

Cullen, J., Stein, E., & Vlam, R. (2023). The continuum of victim to survivor: trauma- informed principles and the impact of language. Trauma monthly, 28(5), 922-926.

Dolezal, L., & Gibson, M. (2022). Beyond a trauma-informed approach and towards shame-sensitive practice. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9(1), 1-10.

Laurent, N., & Hart, M. (2021). Building a trauma-informed community of practice. Education for Information, 37(1), 27-32.

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