What Do You Know about Trauma-Informed Care?

Marika Elek

Marika Elek

This past November, PRSN hosted an informative workshop on trauma-informed care that featured three speakers – Jess Howsam, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, Huda Bukhari, and Samar Ahmed, both from the Canadian Centre of Victims of Torture.  These experts unpacked the different components of trauma and provided practical advice to sponsors on how to help.

Jess Howsam pointed out that traumatic response can include the common emotions of grief, separation, and terror, and feelings of being overwhelmed. She emphasized that newcomers are not only grieving for those lost to war and violence, but also for who they were in their home countries.  For many refugees, separation from family and friends causes great stress; they worry about people who are still in dangerous situations and wonder if they can ever be together again in safety.
Huda Bukhari and Samar Ahmed addressed traumatic reactions and what sponsors can do to help. They pointed out that trauma can be reflected at individual, family and community levels and complicate the resettlement of newcomers.  Trauma can arise from pre-migration circumstances, the experience of migration, especially if it was dangerous, and the stresses of resettlement including poverty, loss of previous self and the difficulties of a new language, laws and customs. They emphasized that a trauma reaction can occur in individuals with no former history of illness and present as depression, anxiety, or flashbacks to the trauma.  They may be withdrawn, develop headaches, body pain, fatigue, hypervigilance or develop substance abuse. 


Trauma informed care moves the conversation from “what’s wrong with you” to “what happened to you”. Some practical settlement takeaways for sponsors:


    • Help newcomers build bridges to their past self through empowerment
    • Connect to community cultural resources for grief
    • Do not expect gratitude for your help in settlement
    • Be compassionate, build trust, listen actively
    • Encourage physical activity; take a walk to have conversation
    • Exercise curiosity, proceed gently, respond non-judgementally
    • Encourage ways to address distress – yoga, dancing, gardening, community cooking, listen to music


For more information about trauma-informed care: http://traumainformedcareproject.org/about.php