Skip to main content

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Nursing

Traumatic events, even those that occur outside of the healthcare system, frequently have serious, long-term implications for patients’ mental, physical and social well-being. Nurses, nurse practitioners and other healthcare providers should consider using a trauma-informed approach to support patient needs as well as improve treatment compliance, engagement and outcomes.

For nurses seeking to advance their education, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program often delves further into this field and provides you with valuable skills to propel your career.

What Is the Purpose of a Trauma-Informed Approach?

The purpose of a trauma-informed approach is to avoid creating an environment that might unintentionally retraumatize a patient and lead them to disengage. As a healthcare professional, if you say or do something that triggers negative emotions for a patient, it may be difficult to establish any level of trust, ultimately hindering your ability to perform an examination, introduce necessary behavioral changes and achieve treatment compliance.

A trauma-informed approach, when applied universally across all encounters and settings, prevents these unnecessary missteps and ensures the quality of care is maintained for all individuals, especially those who are experiencing high levels of stress or who have a history of traumatic events, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse or combat trauma.

The 2020 Stress in America survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), found that stress levels are at an all-time high during the pandemic, and U.S. adults are increasingly concerned about access to healthcare services and meeting their basic human needs. When people repeatedly experience stressors or during particularly vulnerable times, they could suffer new or exacerbated trauma. This can negatively impact patient behavior and reduce compliance, placing them at higher risk for illness and disease and reiterating the need for a trauma-informed approach whenever care is received.

What Are the 6 Guiding Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach?

A trauma-informed approach is typically guided by six principles, including:

  1. Safety: Ensure the patient feels safe, physically and psychologically, as well as any family members or friends accompanying them.
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency: Trust is a cornerstone of patient-provider relationships, and transparency offers a means to achieving it. Be honest and straightforward when answering questions or concerns.
  3. Peer support: Knowing that others have overcome similar traumatic circumstances can be empowering. By offering patients a way to connect through in-person or virtual support groups, you create a social safety net that fosters healing.
  4. Collaboration: Patient-centered care is at the core of this approach, but it requires equal buy-in from everyone. Providers, support staff, patients and their families must work together toward the end goal.
  5. Empowerment: Every patient has unique strengths and characteristics that providers must honor and consider when forming the care plan. This allows autonomy and a sense of control for the patient as they are involved in the decision-making process.
  6. Acknowledge bias: Healthcare providers and staff must recognize and reconcile any implicit biases they hold, including gender and cultural stereotypes, as this may affect care. Training, courses and organized practice is the best way to begin recognizing your biases in certain situations.

What Does Trauma-Informed Nursing Practice Look Like?

A trauma-informed care model influences virtually every area of nursing practice, both in the overall organizational view and in the daily interactions with patients. Built on a foundation of cultivating safety, trust and mutual respect, below are some examples of this approach in action:

  • Introduce yourself to each patient and explain your role in their care.
  • Ask every patient what you can do to make them more comfortable.
  • Before performing any physical exam, explain exactly what you will do and why it is necessary or important.
  • Allow the patient to stay clothed for exams instead of using a gown.
  • Utilize the “teach-back” method to gauge patients’ understanding.
  • Implement a trauma screening protocol or provide a way for patients to self-report.
  • Develop a list of resources to share with patients who are dealing with trauma.
  • Coordinate referrals for patients who require more assistance.

Holistic Care

Using a trauma-informed approach in your nursing practice means patients receive the holistic care they need in an environment where they feel comfortable, respected and safe. When applied universally, this method has the potential to increase patient engagement, compliance and outcomes.

Learn more about the Northern Kentucky University online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.


American Psychological Association: Stress in America 2020

Lippincott NursingCenter: Trauma-Informed Care

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: Trauma-Informed Nursing Practice

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Key Ingredients for Successful

Trauma-Informed Care Implementation

Request Information

Submit this form, and an Enrollment Specialist will contact you to answer your questions.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Or call 800-985-7215

Ready to Begin?

Start your application today!
Or call 800-985-7215 800-985-7215
for help with any questions you may have.

Related Articles