3 Things You Need to Know About Trauma Informed Curricula

It is well-known that trauma and addiction are closely linked. Years of clinical research have demonstrated that many individuals who struggle with addiction report exposure to trauma during the course of their lives. It is not uncommon for those dealing with addictions to have experienced any of the following: prolonged physical, emotional or sexual abuse during childhood, adolescence and/or adulthood; profound neglect; long-term exposure to violence, war or terrorism; and the chronic long-term health problems associated with these things.

Even though the link between addiction and trauma is well known and well documented, the use of trauma-informed curricula in addiction recovery is relatively new to the field. But ongoing studies -- as well as the recent availability of reliable, evidence-based curricula for men and women -- are showing that this approach to addiction recovery has wide-ranging benefits.

help-puzzle-What is unique about this kind of care? And how can a trauma-informed curriculum help people achieve sustained recovery? Here are three characteristics that a trauma-informed curriculum brings to individuals seeking help with addiction (and to the organizations and health workers who are facilitating that recovery):

1.) Trauma-informed care is based on years of rigorous research, theory and clinical practice. It offers a clear, thorough understanding of the many complex ways that trauma affects individuals over a lifetime -- psychologically, biologically and even neurologically. A trauma-informed recovery curriculum designed around this research and understanding acknowledges that addiction does not occur in a vacuum, but is accompanied by many interconnected relational, familial and cultural factors.

2.) Research shows that trauma alters brain chemistry and profoundly shapes the way people experience and interact with the world. A trauma-informed care system acknowledges that certain interventions, actions and language can re-traumatize an individual and trains facilitators and staff members how to avoid these things. For example, aggressive posturing can cause a participant to instinctively re-live violence experienced at the hand of an abuser. By contrast, curricula that understand the experience of trauma seek to engage participants in ways that create a safe, supportive environment and that minimize the chance of re-traumatization. When a service recipient knows first and foremost that she is in a safe place, she will be much more likely to be open to treatment options. A trauma-informed curriculum is collaborative, inclusive and intentionally aware of the experience of the addict. It does not focus on the question, What’s wrong with you? Rather, it asks, What has happened to you?

3.) A trauma-informed curriculum addresses aspects of the full human experience: emotional, physical, intellectual, cultural, spiritual, sexual and relational. Rather than assuming a one-size-fits-all treatment program, it takes into account the unique challenges that come with things like personal histories, gender expectations, generational addiction and abuse, and the ongoing journey of making peace with our pasts and ourselves. This holistic approach to treatment provides an opportunity for deeper self-awareness and allows those seeking recovery to identify triggers that can result in relapse. It also creates the possibility not just for recovery from addiction, but for true healing and movement towards a genuine wholeness.

Studies show that, beyond simply being a unique approach to recovery, using a trauma-informed curriculum in addiction recovery programs produces concrete results for both participants and staff members. Staff morale goes up and turnover rates decrease, as do incidents of injury and violence in treatment centers. Those seeking recovery are more likely to adhere to treatment programs, and sustained recovery rates increase.

Curious about what a trauma informed curriculum could do for you or your organization? Click here to learn more about Helping Men Recover, the first gender-responsive and trauma-informed curriculum designed specifically to meet men’s unique issues and needs.

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin, M.A., has worked in the mental health and addictions field for over a decade. He is author of A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps and co-author of the groundbreaking curriculum Helping Men Recover, which looks comprehensively and holistically at men’s needs and issues in recovery.

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