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Shifting notions of trauma-informed practice: from the individual to the organisation

Updated Tuesday, 28 November 2023

This article explains the key principles of trauma-informed practice and how it is implemented in organisations such as the police.

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The concept of trauma-informed (TI) practice originated in healthcare and with the recognition that differing notions of trauma affect patients in unique ways. It has now become apparent that for individuals to provide a TI approach to their service users, organisations also need to portray and deliver this ethos with their employees. In policing this is aligned with what we already know about fairness and procedurally just interactions with the public and the relationship this has with internal organisational justice and fairness within.

Indeed, the relationship between understanding and implementing TI practice within organisations is gaining more recognition as is the relationship this has with staff welfare and the overall health and success of a workplace.

What is TI practice?

TI practice considers the impact of trauma on individuals. It acknowledges individuals’ experiences of trauma and that individuals’ relationships with that trauma may be compounded by other variables such as gender, race, sexuality, disability and class. The outcome of this understanding is that practitioners and organisations create a supportive and understanding environment that empowers individuals to thrive.

The principles of TI practice include safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment. These principles, that in ways align with those of organisational justice, are applied by workplaces to create a more supportive and compassionate environment that then can be transposed onto the service users of that organisation. In the context of recent research completed at The Open University’s Centre for Policing Research and Learning, this relates to victims of rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO).

The impact of trauma in the workplace

Trauma can present in several ways in the workplace. Employees with trauma may struggle with anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While this can impact on their general welfare it can also impact on their productivity and care to victims which can clearly have a negative effect on the organisations’ delivery to the public. Hence workplaces that do not address these issues may experience decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and problems with staff retention.

What are the key principles of TI practice?

If organisations want to effectively implement TI practice understanding and delivering on its core principles is essential.

  1. Safety: Ensure that the workplace is both physically and emotionally safe for, in this case, officers and police staff. This might include addressing accumulative stress issues and triggers of trauma. There is a need to create a space where officers and staff feel safe and supported to discuss these issues as they arise.
  2. Trustworthiness: Organisations need to build trust within the organisation by being transparent, fair and consistent in their approach. This can be achieved through clear and regular communications and transparent and fair actions for all.
  3. Choice: The recognition of choice is central to notions of trust and the creation of an environment that nurtures the rights of their staff. Giving and allowing officers/staff to access opportunities fairly and have control over their work and their decisions is vital.
  4. Collaboration: Encouraging a collaborative and open approach through supervision and wider efforts of communication among all team members regardless of rank fosters a sense of trust and good, fair and participatory leadership.
  5. Empowerment: Empowering employees to open up about their welfare needs and providing adequate resources and accessibility to mental health support services is essential. Officers/staff also need to be enabled to deliver in their roles through effective learning/CPD, etc., otherwise the trauma can be reinforced and compounded.

Implementing TI practice in organisations

Implementing TI practice requires a huge commitment from leadership and a fair and participatory approach. What can organisations do?

  1. Leadership commitment: Leadership must commit to and own a culture that fosters TI approaches. This commitment should be reflected in policies, procedures and decision-making but also in actions and a genuine commitment to this idea.
  2. Training and education: Provide training and education to employees and leadership about TI practice. This will help everyone understand its importance and how to apply it in their roles both from an externally and internally facing perspective.
  3. Assessment and planning: Conduct evaluations and assessments to identify areas where TI practice can improve. Develop a strategy to address it with measurable goals. This might include increased learning offers, wellbeing care and support, and supervision.
  4. Employee support: Offer evidence-based resources and support services for officers and staff. This may include access to counselling services or employee assistance programmes. Reflective practice in supervision can also help with the recognition of need if done effectively by educated supervisors.

Benefits and outcomes

Implementing TI practice within organisations has several positive consequences. These include:

  • Improvements in officer/staff wellbeing: Employees feel valued, trusted, empowered and supported. This leads to improved health outcomes for staff and the organisation itself.
  • Increased productivity: When employees feel empowered to deliver (through good learning and CPD) and well supervised and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and productive in their work. They are also more likely to advocate and support an organisation’s vision.
  • Reduced turnover and better retention: Organisations that prioritise and support TI cultures can experience higher levels of retention which is efficient for recruitment costs/officer training and retaining experience.

Challenges and considerations

While TI practice offers a wide range of benefits there are challenges, not least within policing. Resistance to change is common and good strong leadership is required. Decisions and change need to be long term and transformation over transaction action planning and checklists. CPD needs commitment as does time for learning and supervision. Organisations and leaders must be prepared to address these challenges to successfully implement a TI culture.


TI practice within organisations is not just a caring approach – it must be strategic and stretch across all levels of the police. Recognition of the impact of trauma and the commitment to addressing it can result in a wealth of benefits. Embracing TI practice is a commitment to both officers and staff and the whole organisation’s working practices.





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