Trauma is a complex concept, but has been succinctly defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as resulting “from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening” [1]. Trauma is pervasive, and while many individuals recover without negative effects, for some, even if experienced for just a short time, trauma can have long-lasting effects on mental, physical, and emotional health. For this reason, it is important to address trauma and provide support for individuals who have experienced traumatic events. Health practitioners, or any professional that works in a service sector, will encounter individuals that have experienced trauma - not just those that work in the behavioral health field [1]. This is why it is critical to understand what trauma-informed care is, and how to use it in practice.

According to SAMHSA, a trauma-informed approach to care involves:

  • Realizing that trauma has a widespread impact on individuals and that there are different possible paths to recovery

  • Recognizing symptoms of trauma in all individuals within a system

  • Incorporating what is known about trauma into policies and practices

  • Avoiding re-traumatization [1]

SAMHSA has also indicated that there are six key principles vital to using a trauma-informed approach in practice: safety; trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; collaboration and mutuality; empowerment, voice and choice; and cultural, historical, and gender issues. This last principle includes the provision of gender-responsive care, or interacting with individuals with the consideration of specific needs based on gender [1].

Ensuring that trauma-informed care is gender-responsive is important, because women and men typically experience different types of trauma, and react to trauma in different ways. For example, women are more likely to experience trauma at the hands of an intimate partner, while the risk of trauma for men is more often from a stranger. Naturally, the effects of these types of trauma often differ, as do the processes to recover from them [2].

A gender-responsive, trauma-informed approach to care should be used in all environments, but it is particularly important to use this approach when treating women in certain settings, such as mental health care and substance use treatment. This is because mental health issues and substance use disorders are often co-occurring among women. Additionally, while both men and women experience these issues, for women, there is a strong link between these disorders and trauma. Research suggests that between 55% to 99% of women that have co-occurring mental health and substance use issues experienced trauma in the form of abuse within their lives [3]. For these reasons, it is important that both mental health care and treatment for substance use be both trauma-informed and gender-responsive.

To learn more about trauma-informed care or access resources for implementing a trauma-informed approach, visit



[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4884. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.

[2] Covington, S. (2012). Curricula to support trauma-informed practice with women. In N. Poole, & L. Greaves (Eds). Moving the Addiction and Mental Health System Towards Being More Trauma-Informed. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

[3] Covington S.S., Burke C., Keaton S., & Norcott C. Evaluation of a trauma-informed and gender-responsive intervention for women in drug treatment. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2008 Nov; Suppl 5:387-98.

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