Trauma is a normal human response to an abnormal event.  Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is an approach that recognizes and assumes that an individual may have a history of trauma.  It acknowledges the role of trauma in a person’s interactions.  It is not about diagnosing employees, but shifting our perspective and language to be more strength-based and empowering. This shifts us away from a position of “What is wrong with you?” to “What is right with you?”

Three speech callouts representing a paradigm shift toward understanding, connection, and healing. From "What is wrong with you?" to "What happened to you?" to "What is right with you?"

Read more about the sources and impacts of trauma.

Importance of Trauma Informed Approach

Studies have found that trauma is unfortunately common-- as many as 2 out of 3 participants in one study had at least one adverse childhood experience. We are also living in a time of collective trauma with the COVID-19 pandemic and other national and world events. Many individuals with trauma backgrounds have strengths that are very beneficial to the workplace, including courage, perseverance, empathy, appreciation, and a strong work ethic. At the same time, the workplace can expose employees to trauma, or the environment may include reminders of past traumatic experiences.

Potential trauma reminders

List that is repeated in webpage below of potential trauma reminders, formatted in 3 columns.

Potential trauma reminders in the image above are lack of control, lack of information, being touched, surveillance, disruptions in routine, threats or feeling threatened, observing threats or assaults, loud noises, rejection, darkness, isolation, condescending looks, interacting with authority figures, and being ignored.

Principles of Trauma-informed Supervision

The principles of Trauma-informed Supervision are aimed at reducing the impacts of trauma on the workplace.

5 blue boxes with the following text: Safety, Trustworthiness, Choice, Collaboration, Empowerment
There are five key characteristics of trauma-informed supervision:


Safety involves both physical and emotional safety. Both the work environment and the interactions between coworkers and the public are physically and psychologically safe. This includes where and when services are delivered, as well as awareness of an individual’s discomfort or unease.

In supervision:

  • Encourage staff to create wellness plans
  • Make the environment a sanctuary for all
  • Self-assess your leadership style, approach, and practice
  • Maintain consistent times and days for supervision
  • Minimize interruptions
  • Tell people what you are going to do before you do it


Trustworthiness involves meaningful sharing of power and decision-making. There is transparency in operations and decision-making that maintains trust. Clarity and consistency support trustworthiness.

In supervision:

  • Commit to the well-being and success of employees
  • Communicate clear and consistent expectations
  • Listen without judgment
  • Assist in reflection
  • Give effective feedback
  • Be present


The goal is to strengthen staff’s, participants’, and families’ experience of choice. There is recognition of the need for an individualized approach. There is active participation in decision-making regarding services. Offering built-in small choices makes a real difference.

In supervision:

  • Involve staff and consumer representatives from each service system in organization planning and evaluation
  • Work with staff to develop career goals and promote opportunities for job development
  • Be thoughtful in managing workloads with an eye to vicarious trauma
  • Allow staff to have a say in choosing interventions


This principle is about collaboration and mutuality. This principle is about partnership and a leveling of power differences. There is recognition that healing happens in relationships and meaningful sharing of power.

In supervision:

  • Provide systematic ways for staff to give feedback to leadership
  • Do not privilege supervisor’s knowledge is over staff’s
  • Acknowledging the expertise of staff
  • Allow staff to play an active role in their development


With empowerment, an individual's strengths are recognized, built on, and validated

In supervision:

  • Provide resources and training necessary to implement Trauma Informed Care
  • Supports the time commitment necessary for staff to make changes in long-held habits and coping strategies
  • Recognize when staff do good work
  • Allow and encourage the staff member to seek professional and personal development opportunities (such as EAP’s Compassion Fatigue and Burnout training)

(Source: Fallot and Harris, 2006; UW-Madison School of Social Work, 2016)