Over the past 15 years, human service providers have begun using the term “trauma-informed” to describe the delivery of services that are informed by an understanding of trauma. This marks an important shift in that social service providers are now regularly acknowledging the impact of trauma and the importance of addressing traumatic stress in clinical practice. Without this focus counselors and psychologists are likely to implement services that are focused solely on intrapsychic concerns, ignoring the complex and often long-lasting impacts of traumatic events.
Despite this important shift, there are significant limitations to the ways in which trauma-informed services are enacted. These services use traditional, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-based definitions of trauma, which virtually ignore the substantial systemic factors related to trauma—the social structures and contextual elements that often create or exacerbate trauma, particularly for marginalized groups. Counselors and psychologists may unintentionally exacerbate systemic oppression and distress by using such traditional definitions; failure to acknowledge the systemic forces that engender or aggravate trauma means that these types of traumas will not be addressed in clinical practice, nor will counselors and psychologists take social justice action to challenge the sociopolitical elements that harm our clients.
As such, I propose a more comprehensive view of trauma that includes the systemic and sociopolitical conditions and can lead to more socially just trauma-informed counseling practice. This ecosystemic view of trauma encompasses both direct and indirect experiences of trauma, including transgenerational trauma and systemic oppression trauma. Using this definition, I offer three liberatory approaches to trauma counseling that can be used by counselors and psychologists. These are: deconstructing the sociopolitical context as a part of counseling practice, privileging indigenous ways of healing, and orienting toward resilience and resistance. By offering these approaches, I hope to inspire counselors and psychologists to interrogate their traditional frameworks of trauma counseling and to develop meaningful, socially just counseling practices, particularly when working with marginalized communities and clients.