Lincoln Center: Changing Our Language as We Interact with Those Affected by Trauma

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Image via The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth.

One of the missions of The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth is to provide trauma-informed counseling to those who have been affected by trauma.

To do that, it’s important to discuss and examine how language has changed over time regarding trauma.

These discussions destigmatize trauma, leading to increased resources, awareness and supportive, safe environments for those who are suffering.

Impact of Trauma

Over the last 40 years, research has shown that trauma changes the brain and may cause individuals to misidentify actions, persons or environments as harmful.

Triggers can involuntarily send them into fight or flight mode and can result in increased stress, fear, irritation, feelings of being unsafe and inability to sleep or concentrate.

It can even affect the ability to function daily and hold a job.

Trauma support comes through many social services, including therapy, group therapy and support groups.

Those in the social services field work closely with individuals suffering the effects of trauma, but communities can also support individuals by practicing appropriate and respectful language.

The Five Primary Elements of Trauma-Informed Care

1. Safety

Practicing safety with those impacted by trauma means providing an environment where one feels safe emotionally, culturally and physically.

It also means checking in with individuals for distress or unease.          

2. Transparency and trustworthiness

Transparency and trustworthiness include providing accurate information to individuals on what is happening and what could occur in the future.

3. Choice

Giving choices means respecting an individual’s self-efficacy and honoring their dignity regardless of our transference or bias.

4. Collaboration and mutuality

Collaboration and mutuality is honored through acknowledging that healing begins in relationships that rely on shared decision-making.

5. Empowerment

Empowerment is supported through the strengths-based perspective.  

Providing recognition for one’s accomplishments and strengths increases confidence and trust within yourself as well as others.

Impact of Language

In addition to applying the components of trauma-informed care, it is also important to practice appropriate and respectful language when working with those affected by trauma.

The use of the word “victim” may be triggering for some and can be altered to “survivor” or “one who has experienced trauma”.

Trauma-informed care suggests the question, “What happened to you?”

This question acknowledges that the client is not at fault for their traumatic experience and allows open dialogue.

This question also supports the importance of understanding the whole individual.

Focusing on the language as well as the reasoning behind their words and actions can allow for true understanding and communication, ensuring further progress through trauma work.

The Lincoln Center

As professionals in the social work field, counselors at The Lincoln Center acknowledge the great strides made in research, acknowledgement and treatment for those affected by trauma.

Moving forward, by changing our language when interacting with those who have experienced trauma, we can encourage feelings of safety, trust, genuineness and hope that support individuals coping with trauma.

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a nonprofit, human services, community-based organization that provides alternative education, coaching, and counseling services to individuals and families in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

Click here to find out more.

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