{Guest post} Why be Trauma-Informed in Health Education?

Shante' Speed is a public health education student at North Carolina Central University: "I have been interning with Ms. Elizabeth Johnson to better improve my own knowledge of how past abuse affects the health and wellness of women. I will be graduating in December as an entry-level health educator." 


What does it mean to be trauma-informed? Someone who is trauma-informed is able to: realize the impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery, recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma, respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and seek to actively resist re-traumatization (http://www.samhsa.gov).


Over the course of this semester I have learned that trauma and abuse is a widespread health concern that affects both women and men from all races, ethnicities and age groups. In fact, approximately one half (50%) of all individuals will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime (http://www.apa.org). In the United States, an estimated 19.3% of women and 1.7% of men have been raped during their lifetimes (www.cdc.gov). Due to these numbers being so high, and possibly higher among other populations, it is vital for health educators to be trauma-informed.

Public health education is about working with individuals and communities to improve their health. Being trauma-informed aligns with almost all of the roles and responsibilities of a health educator. An example of this would be: when planning, implementing or administering health education strategies, interventions and/or programs, specifically ones affected by abuse or trauma such as: teen pregnancy prevention or breastfeeding education. Being trauma-informed is also important when conducting research related to health education and/or when acting as a resource person in the community. As a health educator one of our jobs is to accurately refer individuals to relevant organizations or agencies for assistance in improving their health and how can we do this effectively if we are unaware that past abuse affects physical health.

The hesitation on the part of some professionals that I have heard from is that they are concerned with extra work being created. But becoming trauma-informed does not have to involve overwhelming changes in their daily tasks. Often times being trauma-informed can save time. Being trauma-informed can be as simple as asking better open-ended questions, avoiding the use of generalizations or assumptions, or simply allowing clients to choose their own language to share their identify or name.

I feel that it would be useful for all health educators to take a trauma-informed training of some kind, whether it is a class or one day training seminar. Even as a current health education student, I was unaware of how common trauma and abuse are and of the fact that it affects physical health, long after the incident(s) have occurred. A trauma-informed approach consists of fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and seeking to actively resist re-traumatization. This is a difficult goal to reach if we are missing the basic knowledge of trauma and abuse.