The specialization in trauma informed practice enhances and extends the nine social work competencies. Each of the competencies and the dimensions (knowledge, skills, values, and cognitive and affective processes) that comprise the competencies in trauma informed practice are described below:
Competency 1: Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior
Trauma-informed social workers recognize and demonstrate the key characteristics of trauma-informed practice. They adhere to the ethical responsibility to represent themselves as competent only within the boundaries of their education, training, supervised experience, or other relevant professional experience. They are knowledgeable about the impact of personal and collective, secondary, and vicarious exposure to trauma. Trauma informed social workers recognize the importance of attending to organizational dynamics that contribute to traumatic stress. They demonstrate ethical behavior by developing and maintaining professional development activities at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. They engage in ethical decision making that addresses the potential risk for harm and retraumatization in the helping relationship. Trauma-informed social workers understand their own trauma-related history, client experience of trauma, and their positionality as it relates to issues of diversity. They recognize the impact of historical, collective, global, secondary, and vicarious exposure to trauma and the resulting cognitive shift in worldview. Trauma informed social workers research, study, and implement current evidence-informed approaches and technologies for working with individuals, families, organizations, and communities who have suffered violence, victimization, systematic oppression, abuse, and other personal and collective traumatic experiences while addressing complex ethical issues that may emerge within and from studying and implementing evidence-in-formed approaches.
Competency 2: Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice
Trauma-informed social workers know that trauma occurs in a socio-political-cultural context, crating variable risk for trauma. They understand the intersectionality of diverse factors specified in 2015 EPAS (EP 3.0 on diversity that result in disproportionate trauma exposure, access to services, and social support resources. They engage in trauma work grounded in values of cultural humility, respecting all individuals as experts of their own experiences. They understand the ideals of inclusive excellence, the complex history and impact of structural oppression, and the effects of intergenerational and historical trauma on an individual’s, family’s or community’s ability to thrive. Trauma-informed social workers uphold policies and protection for vulnerable people and marginalized populations in practice and research, advocating for trauma-informed interventions and inquiry. They draw on their professional values and use the tools of self-reflection and critical thinking to increase their self-awareness, mediating the impact of their own experiences, cognitive processes, and personal affective responses to trauma. They promote inclusivity and the rights of survivors and communities to be treated with dignity and respect and the need for responsive assessment and intervention services. Clients are valued from a strength perspective as individuals inherently capable of healing, resiliency, and wellness.
Competency 3: Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice
Trauma-informed social workers recognize that trauma adaptation and growth are most attainable when fundamental human rights of individuals, families, communities, and populations are upheld and restored. They are knowledgeable about how traumatic events do not occur evenly across societal groups and understand that the contextual realities of trauma survivors often affect their ability to recover and thrive in ongoing and posttraumatic circumstances. In their work, trauma informed social workers engage with others in ways that reflect how trauma is experienced in many ways, individually, relationally, and structurally, and requires multilevel and inter-professional response strategies. Furthermore, they advocate for policies and services to transform the social, economic, and environmental conditions that limit human rights and the quality of life, thus, promoting resilience and growth.
Competency 4: Engage in Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice
Trauma-informed social workers understand the role of theory and its relationship to evidence-based trauma intervention. They can apply the neurobiological research on the impact of trauma experiences, including epigenetic changes and transgenerational transmission, to explain the bio-psycho-social and cultural factors related to trauma. They examine the effects trauma has on diverse populations and commit to strategies that advocate for research-in-formed practice. Trauma-informed social workers understand the varying effectiveness of trauma treatment models or approaches for healing or mitigating the effects of trauma across cultures and can apply the appropriate treatment modalities. They also carefully document challenging trauma cases to inform ongoing and future research, conduct trauma-informed research, and actively collaborate with trauma researchers to ensure clinically relevant interventions. Trauma-informed social workers understand the important role of interdisciplinary research in trauma practice and collaborate inter-professionally with all stakeholders, including client systems and practitioners, to improve outcomes. Trauma-informed social workers use empirically informed strategies to regulate their cognitive and affective responses. They use trauma research to advocate for policies and systemic changes to ensure that all agencies, organizations, and systems that work with people who have histories of trauma become trauma informed.
Competency 5: Engage in Policy Practice
Social workers engage in trauma-informed policy practice with a framework guided by principles of safety; trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; collaboration and mutuality; empowerment, voice, and choice; and cultural, historical, and gender issues. Trauma-informed social workers understand that policy affects an agency’s capacity to provide trauma-informed services. They use a trauma-focused lens to approach policy practice at local, state, national, and global levels and across fields of practice to prevent retraumatization by and within systems. Trauma-informed social workers use critical thinking to analyze the impact of social policy on domains of trauma and resilience across the lifespan and identify methods to improve such policies. They engage coalitions and formulate arguments in support of culturally informed evidence-based policy making to advance key policy issues related to trauma. Trauma-informed social workers seek to advance policy that recognizes and builds on resilience of trauma-affected systems: individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations, including the workforce, through policy analysis and advocacy.
Competency 6: Engage with [Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and or Communities selected by the program and relevant to the specialization]
Trauma-informed social workers recognize that individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities affected by trauma may have experienced a variety of emotional and psychological disturbances. Therefore, the process of engagement models a restorative and trusting relationship focused on pacing, empathic responding, mirroring, attending, and awareness of nonverbal behavior, including the use of empirically informed engagement and outreach strategies. The collaborative alliance with the client and or client systems formed during the engagement process provides safety for the client and acknowledges that disclosure of trauma occurs at the client’s pace. The trauma-in-formed social worker provides genuineness, sensitivity, and respect and pays particular attention to triggering stimuli and responses for themselves and the client. The trauma-informed practitioner is cognizant of the interplay of culture and belief systems in the engagement process. Practitioners recognize that institutions and their practices and policies may exacerbate trauma and thereby negatively affect the engagement process. Trauma-informed social workers demonstrate a heightened awareness of the conscious use of self and the ability to critically self-reflect. Social workers demonstrate an ability to engage with different cultures, understand the interpersonal dynamics of client systems in a regional and global context affected by trauma, attend to personal reactions, and use supervision.
Competency 7: Assess [Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and or Communities selected by the program and relevant to the specialization]
Social workers assess for the impact of trauma by using a range of behavioral, cognitive, affective, spiritual, and neurological indicators and a review of risk factors, protective factors, strengths, and resilience. They assess organizational and systemic factors that influence trauma-informed agency and organizational policies and procedures to promote effective care. Social workers collect and apply assessment data to inform the development of interprofessional, interorganizational, and collaborative systems for trauma-informed care and use data to assess the impact of compassion fatigue and vicarious and secondary trauma on staff and organizations. Social workers respect clients’ willingness to disclose trauma at their own pace, and they encourage the disclosure of historical events and explore with the client the meanings and the impact attached to those experiences. Presenting problems are assessed, through the lens of trauma, as adaptive skills that can be channeled to increase healthy functioning. Social workers use principles of developmental and ecological theory in trauma-focused assessments at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Social workers value the ethical responsibilities of consent and confidentiality in a trauma-informed assessment process and balance respect for privacy and the need to intervene to prevent harm to the client or others. Social workers use empirically sound trauma assessment tools that are culturally and developmentally relevant for the client to ensure that clients are physically and emotionally safe. Social workers engage in self-assessment and reflection to recognize and address the impact of secondary trauma that can occur as a result of assessing and providing services for clients who experience trauma and they practice effective self-care strategies including appropriate use of supervision, consultation, and peer support.
Competency 8: Intervene with [Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and or Communities selected by the program and relevant to the specialization]
Social workers addressing trauma strive to create trauma-informed systems of care that recognize and respond effectively to signs of traumatic distress in human beings across their lifespan and throughout the various service settings that client’s access. They bring a compassionate and nonjudgmental stance to their work and build relationships with clients based on safety, support, respect, and trust. They work to increase psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual safety in individuals, families, communities, and organizations. They help clients develop flexible and increasingly adaptive responses to trauma effects, managing emotional dysregulation and developing maximally adaptive personal narratives in the wake of traumatic experiences. They are mindful of the effect they can have on their clients and of the effect their clients’ trauma histories can have on them. They increase resilience by helping clients develop ways of managing future exposure to potentially traumatic events while maintaining a positive sense of the future that allows maximal engagement with life opportunities. Social workers are knowledgeable about the theoretical and empirical foundations of trauma-informed evidence-based practice and apply that knowledge to identify and developmentally and culturally appropriate trauma-focused interventions.
Trauma social workers facilitate healing with client systems by processing trauma experiences within somatic, affective, cognitive, and spiritual domains in a phase-based approach that attends to safety and meaning making. Trauma social workers value strength-based and empowerment-oriented approaches to practice that recognize promotive and protective factors, resiliency, and opportunities for posttraumatic growth in individuals, families, organizations, and communities. Trauma social workers build practice-based evidence to determine how to intervene in the absence of research-based adaptations are needed for cultural or contextual reasons.
Trauma-informed organizations proactively promote self-care, supervision, and training in evidence-based interventions to support professional development and to address risks of vicarious traumatization. Trauma social workers advocate for social justice because they understand that systematic and structural inequality and oppression increase risk factors for and exacerbate the adverse consequences of exposure to trauma, including historical trauma. They advocate for expanding access to trauma-informed care and culturally appropriate evidence-based trauma treatments, particularly for those most vulnerable and marginalized in or society.
Competency 9: Evaluate Practice with [Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and or Communities selected by the program and relevant to the specialization]
Trauma-informed practitioners understand the impact of current and historical trauma on individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities, and they critically evaluate and apply this knowledge in evaluating process and outcomes and use the information to inform practice decisions and quality assurance to strengthen systems of care. Evaluation of practice is collaborative and strength-based, and it seeks to empower client systems, which upholds the social contract that often has been breached in trauma survivors’ experience. Qualitative and quantitative methods, including standardized measures and culturally responsive methods, are used systematically to gather data about current and historical trauma, responses to trauma, secondary traumatic stress (STS), evidence-informed trauma-specific interventions, and self-care strategies for social workers, students, educators, researchers, organizations, and communities, in order to evaluate processes and outcomes and increase and engage in personal and professional strategies to minimize these effects and increase the effectiveness of the services they provide.