Trauma-Informed Care: A Necessary Skill for Career Professionals
As career practitioners, we work with clients daily, yet we may never know what these individuals have experienced in the past. Trauma can evolve from a distressing event—a job restructuring, injury, the loss of a loved one, an accident, or even a transition from one country to another. A trauma-informed care approach is necessary for safe and supportive crisis intervention and service delivery. It acknowledges that a client has experienced some form of trauma in their life.
What is Trauma?
Trauma involves the event, experience, and effect. Trauma is an emotional response to an event such as violence, abuse, or a natural disaster. When a person experiences a traumatic event, how they experience it impacts the long-term, adverse effects. After the event, responses such as shock and denial are typical. More longer-term reactions can result in flashbacks, strained relationships, or even physical symptoms, such as headaches or fatigue.
Trauma Can Affect Our Whole Being
Trauma can shape our whole being, including our sense of safety and connectedness with the world. Trauma occurs when our internal and external resources are not sufficient for coping.
There are different types of traumas, including:
- Acute – results from one distressing event that affects the person’s well-being and life; for example, an accident, assault, or natural disaster.
- Chronic – when someone is exposed to multiple, long-term, and lingering traumatic events over an extended timeframe; for example, illness, abuse, bullying, violence, etc.
- Complex – a result of exposure to various traumatic events or experiences within a relationship, which can affect the person’s overall health, relationships, and work performance; for example, domestic violence.
- Vicarious or secondary trauma/compassion fatigue – occurs to someone when they hear about first-hand trauma that has been experienced by someone else; for example, professionals who work with traumatized clients may find their own mental health is affected over time.
The Power of Alchemy for Transformation
We can carry trauma in our body that becomes stored as a cellular memory. While we cannot control what happens to us, our physical responses can be translated into positive energy that frees us from the emotion. This is called the power of alchemy. Using mindfulness, we can choose to release the past emotion associated with the trauma and put it into perspective.
“Encouraging our clients to listen to what their bodies are communicating can help them make decisions and take action. We all have other wisdom to tap into – it’s within our bodies. Ask the client to tune in to what their heart or intuition has been quietly guiding them toward so that they get used to listening to the wisdom within.” – Conny Lee
Trauma-Informed Care: Lori’s Approach
When in doubt about handling the situation, we can refer the client to a trusted professional specialized in a particular area. The CPC Code of Professional Conduct requires that we provide services that are only within our scope of practice and expertise.
In my work, I encounter clients who have experienced harassment or bullying by a supervisor, co-worker, or even their whole work team. This traumatic event can affect the client long after they have left that workplace. It may be easy to judge the client and advise them to toughen up, move on, and forget about the experience. Forgetting about a traumatic event is not that simple, though. It takes time to heal. Everyone processes trauma differently, in their own space and in their own time. As work-life strategists, we need to take a holistic approach to wellness.
Rather than asking clients, “What is wrong with you?”, ask “Do you want to share your story by telling me what has happened?” This question often prompts the client to share their experience. It allows them to safely trust they can tell their story without fear of judgment or critical opinion.
“Beneath the upheaval is the possibility for a better today and tomorrow. It starts with us, the choices we make, the attitudes we initiate, and the mindset we choose to adopt each day when we wake up.” – Lori Jazvac
Trauma-Informed Care: Ksenia’s Approach
From the first meeting, I establish an alliance to help my clients achieve their life, learning, and work goals. I ask clients questions that consider their situation as a whole:
- What type of work did you do before?
- What is your present situation like?
- What do you want to achieve in the short-term and long-term?
- What kind of help are you expecting from me?
We develop an action plan to help my client achieve their goals while applying a client-centred and hope-centred approach. The people I work with are the agents of their own process, while I support them through every step. My goal is to empower my clients in their process, celebrate every success—small or big—and overcome setbacks together. We regroup, grow through overcoming challenges, find hope, and move forward.
My clients experience many struggles—from undergoing trauma in their home countries, being uprooted and displaced from their culture and support network, learning English, finding meaningful work, and integrating into their new communities. They often internalize their prolonged search for work and failed job search attempts. While supporting clients, I demonstrate unconditional support, positive regard, and kindness.
Consistency and transparency help me establish a sense of safety and predictability for my clients. By using the same virtual background and room setting, sharing my computer screen, walking clients through every step of our process, and seeking their feedback, I aim to establish a trusting, collaborative client relationship.
“This too shall pass, and I am here to support you through every step.” – Ksenia Lazoukova
Strategies For Adopting a Trauma-Informed Care Approach
- Never assume anything about your client. Never presume that you know the client’s “real” situation or its impact on their life. Using a trauma-informed care approach, we need to suspect some trauma in every client we support. We sometimes fail to realize that deep-rooted trauma may be behind a client’s behaviour, attitudes, ailments, and challenges. Trauma can have far-reaching effects on their life, including their relationships, self-esteem, and/or physical and mental well-being.
- Treat every client with empathy and compassion. Listen actively to the client and tune into their needs without judgment or discrimination. Recognize your biases. Demonstrate the values of purposeful kindness, mutual respect, authenticity, and empathy. Step back and assess your views and actions. Ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
- Adopt a holistic approach. View the client as a “whole” person with multiple roles and responsibilities. A trauma-informed care approach ensures that we obtain a complete picture of the client’s past and present situation so we can offer effective help.
- Respect each client for their uniqueness. Clients evolve from diverse walks of life, cultures, values, beliefs, and backgrounds. One of Neuro-Linguistic Programming’s (NLP) foundational principles suggests that we need to respect the other person’s model of the world.
- Honour the client’s feelings. Validate the client’s feelings. Every client handles each situation differently. Applying the Kubler-Ross Model, understand that the client might be grieving for some time over a loss, but may not be ready to reveal the details of their situation. So, we need to be patient and supportive, ask the right questions, and hold a sacred space for the client.
- Remind the client of their focus and their goal. Encourage the client to take accountability and explore options in dealing with their trauma by understanding their “why.” This strategy will help the client stay motivated and empowered to achieve their goals.
- Be empathetic but assertive. Sometimes clients may disapprove of our approach. They may lash out or blame us for their experience or emotions. We need to politely remind them of our responsibility—to support them without harming or re-traumatizing them, while respectfully maintaining professional boundaries.
- Help the client to positively reframe their situation. Whether the client has experienced a traumatic event, such as downsizing or mistreatment at work, we can help them to leverage the positive in every situation to uncover opportunities for growth and finding meaning.
- Help the client to expand their sense of choice. When clients feel stuck, they may experience a feeling of loss of control over their lives or their situation. Help the client see that they do have the choice to take ownership. Help them expand their knowledge with diverse and workable options. Choice is better than no choice.
- Have a network of contacts at your disposal. If in doubt, offer the client a referral. Refer the client to a licensed counsellor or someone with more expertise if you are not professionally equipped, trained, or licensed to deal with a certain situation.
- Practice self-care. As work-life strategists, we can best help others if we take care of ourselves first. Compassion fatigue or secondary trauma may occur due to internalizing the client’s traumatic event. As a result, we may sense the impact on our energy levels and well-being. Therefore, we need to remain grounded and separate ourselves from the events our client has experienced to provide clarity and authentic support.
We owe it to our clients to be trauma-informed. If you are interested in learning more about helping clients by using a trauma-informed care approach—while discovering ways to increase your own resiliency—enrol in CPC’s Certified Work-Life Strategist course.
Lori Jazvac is a passionate, award-winning Master Certified Résumé Strategist and Certified Employment Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada. As a multi-certified Master Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Coach, she specializes in helping clients navigate challenging career transitions. In 2013, an empowering vision inspired Lori to launch Creative Horizons Communications, a holistic career services firm where she virtually supports jobseekers around the globe to embrace their next career milestone. In her spare time, Lori enjoys dance, blogging, watching comedies and reality shows, yoga, and taking long walks in nature.
Ksenia Lazoukova is a Certified Career Development Practitioner (CCDP), Certified Résumé Strategist, Certified Career Strategist, Certified Employment Strategist, Certified Interview Strategist, and Certified Work-Life Strategist. She is a proud member and volunteer with Career Professionals of Canada. Ksenia is a dynamic career development professional, case manager, program coordinator, adult educator, and learning developer working at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia where she helps newcomers to Nova Scotia achieve their employment and career goals. In her past role as a job coach, Ksenia provided a wide range of employment services to people with disabilities in the supported employment setting. Her passion is helping people of various backgrounds overcome multiple barriers, fulfill their life and career dreams and goals, and become more fully integrated into their communities.