Trauma-informed care and practice is becoming a familiar part of medical and therapeutic settings. It’s also becoming a more common focus in communications. However, there has been limited guidance on trauma-informed research in academic or social research settings. Rebecca Moran and Sophie Ridley from Curtin University are working to fix this.Two men talking

Why is trauma-informed practice important?

Many people live with the effects of past and ongoing trauma. But we don’t always think of the possibility that someone we meet or speak to may have experienced trauma. This means we are less likely to recognise it. We won’t always know everything about a person’s history or experiences and so we need to be sensitive, respectful, empathetic and validating. This is especially the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, which can increase the effects of stress.

Trauma-informed research

Researchers looking at sensitive topics, or working with people who have experienced violence, abuse, injustice or oppression, can come across many of the same challenges as people working with trauma survivors in health and social services. A trauma-informed service is based on the idea that no one should experience additional trauma when seeking help and support.

As qualitative researchers in the areas of child sexual abuse and mental health, Moran and Ridley knew that many of the people taking part in their research had been affected by trauma. They wanted to make sure that they ran their research in ways that didn’t contribute to their participant’s trauma. Keeping in mind what they knew about the way the affects of trauma can change and vary for each person, the researchers needed their approach to be flexible and collaborative.

Using resources like Blue Knot Foundation’s trauma-informed practice guidelines, Moran and Ridley developed a template as practical guide for researchers to check ow trauma-informed their research practice is.

Their template includes five key areas:

  • safety – with prompt questions like ‘Have you asked the participant if they have any concerns about safety?’
  • trustworthiness – with prompt questions like ‘Have you talked about communication preferences and needs with participants?’
  • empowerment, choice, collaboration and control – with prompt questions like ‘Are there opportunities for the participant to have some control throughout their participation?’
  • critical reflection – with prompt questions like ‘What are your prejudices, biases, preferences, and alliances?’
  • dignity promotion – with prompt questions like ‘Are you sensitive to the political context of your research and the participant’s life and history?’.

In order to create trauma-informed services communities should be equipped with resources to improve their sensitivity and understanding. It is important to make people we are dealing with feel safe, even if we are not sure they have trauma.

More information

You can read more about Moran and Ridley’s process for developing the template, and download the full template, on the New Voices in Social Work Research website.

You can also find more information about trauma-informed care and practice and the explanation we used above on the Blue Knot Foundation website.