What is Trauma-Informed Counseling?

Trauma-Informed Counseling means recognizing that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives. In general, trauma is the experience of extreme stress that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. People who have been traumatized need support and understanding from those around them. Often, trauma survivors can be re-traumatized by well-meaning caregivers and community service providers who haven’t been properly trained.

Trauma is usually shrouded in secrecy and denial; and it is often ignored. However, we now know that trauma is a near universal experience of individuals with behavioral health problems. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, 85% to 95% of women in the public mental health system report a history of trauma. An individual’s experience of trauma impacts their physical, mental, behavioral, social, and spiritual lives.

Why does Trauma-Informed Counseling Matter?

Trauma-Informed Counseling is more that just a theory, it is an overall approach to counseling that includes everything from being mindful about the way the physical environment of the therapy room may affect clients, to understanding that even the most destructive behavior patterns are simply a way of adapting to the trauma and a method of surviving and managing current discomfort.

Trauma-informed counselors recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma, and believe that recovering from the trauma is just as important as dealing with the “issue” that brought the client to therapy in the first place (ie..substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.). Trauma-informed counselors focus on and build strengths: life will inevitably bring new challenges, and reliance on these strengths is key to navigating those challenges and making it through to the other side. Furthermore, trauma-informed counselors make their own self-care a priority so they don’t burn out or experience vicarious trauma. Finally, and most importantly, trauma-informed counselors wholeheartedly believe that people with lived experiences of trauma can and do recover and heal.

Certification in Traumatic Stress Studies

Trauma-Informed Counseling--Certification in Traumatic Stress Studies

This summer, I completed a nine-month certification program in Traumatic Stress Studies through The Trauma Center at JRI in Boston. My teachers included some of the leading researchers in the field of trauma, including Bessel van der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score.” Throughout the past nine months, we learned the latest research and treatment options in these areas:

  • Neurobiology of trauma
  • Attachment theory
  • Understanding trauma in developmental context
  • Complex and acute trauma
  • Dissociation and memory
  • Stabilization
  • Trauma Processing: Cognitive, Expressive, Mind-Body, EMDR
  • Play therapy with traumatized children
  • Trauma and resiliency
  • Vicarious trauma and self-care

Why did I Invest in this Certification?

I found that while working with individuals struggling with stress-management, anxiety, and depression, oftentimes there is an underlying trauma or event that has had a major impact on the following aspects of their lives:

  • Self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Their view of themselves and the world around them
  • Ability to form and maintain new relationships with others
  • The thoughts and behaviors they use to manage discomfort and stress
  • Their ability to control their emotions, and their connection to their creativity and spirituality.

I wanted to learn more about why and how these things change, and, most importantly, how I could better help them in counseling. I value giving my clients the best possible care when they enter through my doors, and I owe it to them to stay informed about new developments in the field and apply this knowledge in the work we do in counseling.

In my next post, I will be sharing a few things that I think are important for everyone to know about trauma. As I stated earlier, trauma is shrouded in secrecy, and survivors feel isolated and often avoid seeking treatment. However, the reality is that trauma is common across all races, genders, and cultural backgrounds. It’s time to shine a spotlight on the commonality of trauma, so healing can begin.

Trauma-Informed Counseling Resources

To learn more about trauma-informed counseling, please visit the following:



Kara Ashley-Gilmore is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Art Therapist, and Founder of Mountain Creative Arts Counseling. I provide trauma-informed counseling to adolescents and adults who feel crushed by the weight of their anxieties, and want to live more present lives. I often incorporate the creative process into therapy sessions to help clients use their creativity for their own growth and healing.