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The 5 Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

A black man in jeans and a gray sweatshirt leans forward in his chair talking to a group. A white woman in a white blazer sits next to him listening.

Trauma-informed care follows five principles that guide how treatment systems and their providers work to lower the chance of re-traumatizing the clients under their supervision. It’s easy to generalize and apply these five core principles across the various service settings that any treatment center or practitioner provides. 

What is a Trauma-Informed Care Approach?

You might hear the term “trauma-informed care” a lot. But, what does that mean, exactly?

This modern approach to therapy centers on the understanding that trauma can have long-lasting emotional, neurological, psychological, social, and biological effects. The treatment path is “informed” by these past experiences, with a strong sense of empathy from mental health care providers.

For many people, experiences from childhood end up impacting psychological health even if they seem unrelated to present problems. Trauma that goes untreated will continue to hinder emotional, social, and even physical health.

Trauma-informed care is unique as it reimagines the client-therapist relationship. The therapist is not an authority figure, but instead a partner. They work alongside individuals during the recovery process, providing support throughout their journey of healing and growth. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a trauma-informed approach incorporates three key elements: 


  • Realizing the prevalence of trauma; 
  • Recognizing how trauma affects all individuals involved with the program, organization, or the system, including its workforce; 
  • Responding by putting this knowledge into practice.

An organization using this approach will train team members to use the five guiding principles below so that any and every interaction is mindful and aware.

First, Do No Harm

At the core of Trauma-Informed Care is “Primum non nocere,” which translates from Latin as “First, do no harm.”

When the five principles of trauma-informed care are adhered to, the client’s well-being always comes first. They are not harmed further or re-traumatized by working on their past. 


When a person begins to open up and talk about past traumatic experiences with their therapist, just talking can bring up the emotion of their original trauma. Re-traumatization occurs when the client consciously or unconsciously re-experiences a traumatic event from their past.

Re-traumatization can be caused by stressors (or triggers) that might be similar to the original trauma’s circumstances or environment. A particular smell, physical space, lighting, imagery, taste, or any element that mimics a previously traumatic experience can lead to re-traumatization.

When providing trauma-informed care, each practitioner must consider how their physical presence, stature, posture, volume, tone, smell, and demeanor might come across to the person in care.

An essential part of Trauma-informed care is being mindful of what your presence might be bringing up for another person based on their past experiences.

Trauma Recovery, what it really means to heal. 

The Five Guiding Principles are:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness
  • Choice
  • Collaboration
  • Empowerment

Adhering to these principles ensures an individual’s emotional and physical safety. 

A circular rock labrynth with green grass around the rocks


It may seem obvious, but unfortunately, it is not to some. When working with clients who may have experienced any level of trauma, assurance of their emotional and physical safety is first and foremost. 


The provider must show the client that they are trustworthy enough to feel safe enough to open up and become vulnerable. Consistent boundaries and clear expectations of the service experience are great examples of how a treatment center can show that they are worthy of trust—no surprises or curveballs.


By the time a person finds themselves in need of professional care, they might have spent a significant period of their lives feeling out of control. Trauma-informed care can empower people with making active choices in their treatment plan. These options could include deciding lengths of stay, level of care, or even what to work on in therapy.

It might feel like a revelation to have a sense of control in their treatment and, in effect, their life. 


Trauma-informed care is genuinely a collaboration between a therapist and their client. It is not a strict protocol with defined rules but relies more on empathy and intuition. It looks different for everybody because everybody has different experiences.


This approach to treatment empowers people to discover and build on existing strengths. They develop healthier coping skills and, ultimately, a more solid foundation that they can fall back on when needed in the future. Trauma-informed care promotes resilience and provides the hope that recovery is possible.

Trauma-Informed Care at ILC

At ILC, we believe that our culture reflects what we consider to be essential. We dedicate ourselves to the principles of trauma-informed care and continuously work to be more inclusive and empathic in any way that we can.

Our trauma-informed therapy program focuses on understanding the complex and nuanced effects of trauma on anyone seeking therapy and mental health services.

During therapy sessions at Integrative Life Center, your therapist will help you identify any beliefs that you have that are directly related to the traumatic event. They will then help you overcome and correct these thoughts to move forward in the healing journey.

Working through your past experiences is a step towards a better future. Reach out to an Integrative Life Center member to learn more about how our services can help you understand and work through your life trauma.


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