What is Trauma Informed Care?

by Anni Lampert, HELP of Door County Advocate and Coordinator of Community Coordinated Response Team

Trauma is defined as an event that harms or threatens to harm you physically or emotionally in a way that overwhelms your ability to respond.

Tammy Sternard

There’s bad stuff that happens and then there’s trauma. What’s the difference? The difference is multifaceted and includes how horrible you find the thing that happened, how often it happens and the circumstances in which it happens.  

Is it a one time event or a habitual way of life? Was it an accident or caused by something or someone you know and trust? The more trauma there is, the greater its impact. The more you trust or love the cause of the trauma, the deeper its harm.

As remarkably adaptive creatures, we humans are often able to overcome traumatic events. The presence of solid connections to family and community are the strongest shields to the potential devastation trauma can inflict. But sometimes circumstances conspire to weaken our shields or perhaps our shields get damaged or completely disappear. That’s when trauma can take the greatest toll.

Here in Door County there are many dedicated professionals serving people dealing with trauma. The Coordinated Community Response Team members gather to learn about how each of our organizations operates as we seek more knowledge about how to work together for the best possible outcomes for those we serve.

Cori McFarlane, deputy director of the Door County Department of Human Services puts it this way:  “At the Door County Department of Human Services we have been on a journey to become a more Trauma Informed Care organization in the past 2½ years. We have been educating staff and community partners about the prevalence and impact of trauma, transforming our physical spaces and taking concrete steps to address secondary traumatic stress in our staff. We focus on the importance of universal precautions – approaching every personal interaction as though the other person may have experienced trauma – because we know a very high percentage of those coming to Human Services have experienced trauma as children and/or are currently experiencing trauma.

Creating an environment of physical and emotional sanctuary where they can make trusting connections, regain some sense of control, is critically important to their healing.”

Lt. Tammy Sternard of the Door County Sheriff’s Department, Jail Division, describes being trauma informed:  “We understand there are higher rates of trauma histories among those in jail as well as increased potential for both new and re-traumatization within correctional facilities. The correctional environment is full of unavoidable triggers such as pat-downs and strip searches, frequent discipline from authority figures and restricted movement. These can increase trauma-related behaviors and symptoms that can be difficult for jail staff to manage. When trauma-informed principles are introduced, staff can play a major role in minimizing triggers, stabilizing offenders, reducing critical incidents, de-escalating situations and avoiding restraint and seclusion that may repeat aspects of past abuse. Specific trauma treatment interventions may assist with the resolution of substance abuse issues, domestic violence and recidivism.”

Lisa Mraz, coordinator of the Victim/Witness Assistance Program in the District Attorney’s office, puts it this way:  “My comments deal with the person who works with traumatized people, which is secondary trauma. It is easy to get caught in the grip of anxiety, irritability or overwhelming sadness. By shutting out those feelings, it is easy to sink into emotional numbness that can easily be carried into our personal lives. We need to learn to bring ourselves back into a place of balance where we can be more effective in our work, more present with our families and – more importantly – be at peace with ourselves. We need to feel good about our lives. In order to do this we need to learn to share with those we can trust, listen to music, take breaks, laugh more, pay compliments, enjoy hobbies, take vacations and to look at the big picture to help us keep our work in perspective.”

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.


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