What does it mean to be “Trauma Informed?”

Trauma Informed Response and Care

Trauma Informed Response and Care is the current standard of practice in order to provide quality, compassion based services.

However,  running an agency or organization that is actually and regularly “Trauma Informed” is very difficult because there are
so many different aspects of the practice.

One of the key elements to being “Trauma Informed”, is to understand the bodies biological and neurological response to trauma.

WHY Trauma Informed?
Trauma and the Brain
How childhood trauma affects health
across a lifetime 
Understanding PTSD’s Effects on Brain,
Body, and Emotions
The Paradox of Trauma Informed Care

On Interviews:

Here at Strand² Squared LLC,  we focus on trauma informed interview methodology, specifically Certified FETI,  because we believe having access to “Justice and Voice” are essential to the healing process after a traumatic experience:

-The way we choose to talk to someone matters

We believe:
Trauma informed interviews are not simply

  • The use of open-ended questions
  • Being nice and/or simply building rapport

Trauma informed interviews include:

  • Must be conducted in a “soft interview room” or neutral location wherein the participant feels physically and emotionally safe
  • Accurate understanding the neuroscience of trauma and memory
  • Applying the principles of neuroscience of trauma and memory in the intervention and interview processes
  • Ensuring the interview methodology does not conflict or contradict with the principles of neuroscience and memory
  • The interviewer should go in with the agenda of just gathering the evidence in the interviewees mind-  just the experience according to the interviewee- whatever that evidence might be, NOT with a hypothesis or idea of what happened.
  • Understanding the impact of trauma on decision-making, behavior and consequence
  • Understanding the impact of tonic immobility, collapsed immobility, dissociation and other common impacts of trauma
  • The focus of a trauma-informed interview must be the demonstration of genuine empathy
  • There is a focus of obtaining sensory information, impact, implicit/explicit memories, central details vice peripheral details
  • There is a focus on brain-based cues such as “tell me more” and use of sensory questions
  • Should also collect information about context of the experience – before, during and afterward
  • The Interviewee should do 90% of the talking
  • Must be recorded to the greatest extent possible to accurately record and properly document psychophysiological evidence
  • Start be taking each and every report of crime serious including sexual assault and rape.  For example, there has been a well-established practice in the investigation of unattended deaths.   Investigators are instructed to treat all unattended deaths as a homicide until proven otherwise.   This does not make the investigators bias, it just makes them thorough by examining the most serious possibility first to ensure a detailed and complete investigation. We ask for the same serious attitude for each and every report of sexual assault or rape as well.
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Trauma Informed Interviews avoid:

  • Asking “Who/What/Where/When/Why/How” questions
  • Interviewers should not talk more than 10% of the interview
  • Focusing on a narrative or sequence of events or constructing a timeline
  • Going in and confirming an existing hypothesis
  • Utilizing credibility assessments
  • Judging inconstancy  or additional memories as “lies”
  • Telling the person “it is not their fault”
  • Telling the person “tell the truth”
  • Building rapport as it may come off as “small talk” or “unauthentic”
  • Conducting the interview in a interrogation room
  • Re-traumatizing the victim through actions, improper questions, victim blaming, slut shaming or demeanor
  • Judging victim behaviors or actions
  • Focusing primarily on peripheral details and the primary use of who, what, where, why, when and how type questions.  Victims don’t remember what we think they should remember-  we have to figure out what they remember.
  • In-depth interviews following acute trauma – we advocate waiting until after 1-2 sleep cycles.

Strand² Squared LLC only endorses Certified FETI as a “trauma Informed” interview methodology.   We are working diligently to review research on other methodologies and practices to continue to improve our collective response to individuals who have experienced high stress and trauma.

The vast majority of current interview techniques and protocols pre-date our current understanding of neuroscience, the impact of high stress and traumas effect on memory.

Most interview techniques and protocols require a narrative in a sequential or logical way. There is also a heavy reliance on “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where” type questions.  We also believe there is a misunderstanding by many professionals that “being nice” or by having a focus primarily on open-ended questions will make the response “trauma informed”.  Being nice and utilization of open-ended questions are a good start but do not fully qualify the approach as trauma informed.

We are very interested in doing the right thing and using methodologies that are best for professionals responding to people who have experienced high stress and trauma. If you have an interview technique or protocol that is both rooted in neuroscience and trauma informed – we would like to hear about it!

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A trauma-informed approach can be implemented in any type of service setting or organization is distinct from trauma-specific interventions or treatments that are designed specifically to address the consequences of trauma and to facilitate healing.

According to SAMHSA’s  (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)  concept of a trauma-informed approach, A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
    (We believe that most everyone has a history of trauma)
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.

SAMHSA’s Six Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach
A trauma-informed approach reflects adherence to six key principles rather than a prescribed set of practices or procedures. These principles may be generalizable across multiple types of settings, although terminology and application may be setting- or sector-specific:


Trustworthiness and Transparency

Peer support

Collaboration and mutuality

Empowerment, voice and choice

Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues    (Intersectionality)             


NOTE:  Here is a tool to get you started-  that said,  we are currently working on bringing all of the TIC tools together and updating.

This tools says to use “motivational interviewing”,  we do not believe motivational interviewing is trauma informed because it is not rooted in the neuroscience.  It also is manipulative in nature because its intention is to motivate someone to do something that they don’t want to do.

We included this tool here because it is a good checklist that really gives  a tangible “how to be TIRC”

Is your agency Trauma Informed? Click HERE

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Award winning short film:

Do you want to know more about the Nuts and Bolts of Trauma informed Response and Care?

Let us support you or your agency with
training or with consultation.
Email: myrastrand@russellstrand.com