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Research: Trauma-Informed Organizations

Change Package: Strengths-based


Incorporating recovery-oriented approaches that focus on assets and resources over problems or deficits

Recovery-oriented approaches acknowledge that each individual is an expert on their own life, and staff must work in partnership with individuals to give support in a way that works for that individual. Recovery-oriented care identifies and builds upon each individual’s assets, strengths, and areas of health and competence in an effort to support the individual in achieving their self-defined goals, while regaining their life and achieving a meaningful, constructive sense of membership in the broader community.

Incorporating person-centered approaches

Moving away from the idea that the person in a position of power is the expert and instead trusting the innate tendency (known as the actualizing tendency) of human beings to find fulfilment of their personal potential. A person-centered environment focuses on building relationships grounded in understanding (empathy), acceptance (having unconditional positive regard), and authenticity (congruency).

Integrating concepts of resilience

Resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope in the face of adversity, trauma, or other stressors, and return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resiliency is a natural human trait as well as a skill that can be developed. Resilience uses one’s strengths to protect the self from potential negative effects of stressors.

Staff Experience

  • Solicit from staff how they can convey that consumers are the ultimate expert on their own experience.

  • Ensure all communication uses “people-first” language rather than labels (e.g., “people who are experiencing homelessness” rather than “homeless people”).

  • Coach staff in acknowledging consumers for their progress/ good work.
  • Train supervisors to identify supervisees’ strengths and skills, and explore how these can best be used to provide quality care to consumers.
  • Train supervisors in humility and strengths-based, person-centered models.

  • Frequently acknowledge staff for their work and efforts, both privately and publically.

Consumer Experience

  • Review and replace polices, whenever possible, that involve involuntary or potentially coercive aspects of treatment—such as physical restraints/ holds, involuntary hospitalization or medication, representative payeeship, or outpatient commitment.
  • Review assessments, intakes, and other forms to determine where language is deficit- or problem-based, and reframe questions with a strengths-based lens.

  • Evaluate communication to ensure it is strengths-based (i.e., reaffirming/validating the person’s experience, while highlighting the person’s strengths or past ability to survive/cope with the situation, such as being solution-focused).

  • Ensure consumers are encouraged to set their own goals, and that those goals are respected and validated.
  • Develop intake forms/interviews that involve a review of supports and strengths:
    • Self-identified and observed strengths.
    • Support system, including partner, family, or friends.
  • Ensure staff explicitly acknowledge consumer strengths and/or accom

  • Train staff on how comments can invalidate a consumer’s feelings, thoughts, or life experiences, including inappropriate use of humor, and provide concrete examples.
  • Train staff on communication skills that are empowering when working with people with developmental disabilities, various mental health issues, and varying levels of functioning.

  • Coach supervisors on active listening and reflective listening skills, and/or motivational interviewing.
  • Coach supervisors on self-awareness when communicating one’s own views/beliefs to a supervisee.
  • Instruct staff on using language and terms that are strengths-based.

  • Ensure leadership openly accepts feedback and advertises changes.
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