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Creating Welcoming and Safe Spaces

A person who has experienced trauma is at increased risk for retraumatization. Re-traumatization is a situation, attitude, interaction, or environment that reminds an individual of a past trauma and that triggers the overwhelming feelings and reactions associated with that experience. Re-traumatization often replicates the dynamics of the original trauma, i.e., loss of power, control and safety. Being “trauma aware” means understanding that trauma is common, and every individual who accesses health care and social services may have an unknown trauma history. By taking “universal precautions,” or assuming that all clients/patients may have a trauma history, services can be shaped to minimize the possibility that someone will be re-traumatized. Trauma awareness also results in increased understanding of how individuals who have experience trauma may engage with services. When service providers are “trauma aware,” it is possible to understand people’s reactions and behaviours (e.g., rage, treatment refusal, mistrust, fear) as a result of previous injury, rather than as sickness or bad behavior. The question becomes “What has happened to this person?” rather than “What is wrong with this person?” Without trauma awareness, there is the possibility that service providers will misinterpret people’s behavior and act in ways that increase feelings of fear and loss of control, which may cause them to disengage from services.