A New Approach to Handling the Unavoidable Trauma of Life

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO


Trauma is an unavoidable part of life. The critical issue is how to address it in such a way that its potential lingering effects are mitigated. The stories of the children, youth, and families we serve are filled with many instances of trauma. The removal from home and whatever triggered that disruption, living with the risk of harm, unable to feel safe, multiple moves, absence of familiar elements like school and community events — all of these are sources of trauma.

What we have learned over four years of practicing trauma- informed care at Hillsides is that our ability to be sensitive to traumatic events is important to treat the client effectively. An example might be something as simple as making sure that rooms and hallways are well lit. Often during the summer, staff sometimes shut off lights to keep places cool, but for a child who associates dark places with harm, a walk down a poorly lit hallway can be traumatizing.

Sometimes we focus so much on a client’s behavior that we fail to ask what triggered the behavior. Asking the question “Why?” often reveals the reason for a reaction or specific behavior and creates a moment to address the root cause of a disorder, helping to determine a way to provide some relief. As important, incorporating this kind of an approach to treatment helps the client appreciate our awareness and commitment to creating lasting change.

Aside from the benefits that trauma-informed care has for clients, we have also made a commitment to bring this approach to our interaction with staff who, in dealing with the traumas clients experience, often find themselves reliving traumas themselves. An organization must remain sensitive to staff-related traumas and provide support for employees for caregivers to remain effective.

Becoming a trauma-informed care organization has transformed Hillsides and made us more effective in fulfilling our mission.

I want to encourage as many people as possible to become familiar with these three words that carry such an impact. A 60 Minutes segment on treating trauma featuring Oprah Winfrey that will be broadcasted this Sunday, March 11 at 7:00 p.m. should provide some thought-provoking information and hopefully help us all to lessen the impact of trauma and create supportive communities of hope.

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