Jurisprudence Module 4 is a fulfillment of the HPA’s requirement for ACSLPA to provide mandatory education about trauma informed practice, which in turn helps regulated members meet standards for safe, client-centered service provision.

While SLPs and Audiologists in Alberta do not provide services to treat trauma directly and specifically, they can incorporate trauma-informed practices into their service delivery. This involves developing an understanding of the lived experiences and ongoing impacts of trauma, developing ways to effectively manage the impacts of trauma on a client, and avoiding or minimizing retraumatization.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014) defines trauma as an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening, with lasting effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

Some examples of traumatic experiences are shown below:

  • Sudden, unexplained separation from a loved one
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Poverty and discrimination
  • Family members with a mental health disorder
  • Family members with a substance abuse disorder
  • Violence in the community
  • Natural or human-made disasters
  • Forced displacement

Trauma is common and often undiagnosed. In addition, members of historically marginalized groups have a disproportionately higher prevalence of trauma than the general population. This includes people from low-income communities, ethnic and racial minorities, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and women and girls.

Many individual, contextual, and environmental factors impact the effects of traumatic event(s) on an individual:

Individual Factors

  • Age
  • Mental health status
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Temperament and other personality traits

Contextual Factors

  • Novelty, frequency, duration, complexity of traumatic event
  • Type of event, e.g., bodily intrusive, interpersonal

Interpersonal Factors

  • Interaction patterns with loved ones
  • Family history of trauma
  • Family mental health
  • Social network strength

Community Factors

  • School system quality
  • Work environment
  • Neighborhood quality
  • Accessibility of health and social services
  • Access to faith-based settings

Societal Factors

  • Provincial and federal economic and social policies
  • Media societal norms
  • Judicial system

Cultural & Developmental Factors

  • Cultural system norms
  • Cognitive and maturational development

A traumatizing event may not affect two people the same: to the extent that one person may consider an event traumatic while another person may not. Not all children or adults who are exposed to potentially traumatic events experience long-term health problems. Protective factors, e.g., healthy attachments and social connections, or social or emotional competence, may help shield an individual from lasting effects of trauma.

This section reviews a non-exhaustive list of the various forms and types of trauma. Please note that lack of relevance is not implied if a given trauma is not listed or addressed in the following content. In addition, the order of listing of the types of traumas does not denote a specific trauma’s importance or prevalence. Some forms of trauma discussed below may fit in multiple categories. The intent of this section is to give a broad perspective of the various categories and types of trauma.

  • Natural Trauma: natural events, which are typically unavoidable, which may impact a small number of people, or whole communities.
  • Human-Caused Trauma: caused by human failure (e.g., infrastructure catastrophes, accidents), intentional acts (e.g., home invasion, stabbing or shooting), or by human design (e.g., war).

How survivors of natural and human-caused traumas respond to the experience often depends on the degree of devastation, the extent of individual and community losses, the amount of time it takes to reestablish daily routines and services, and the amount, duration, and accessibility of relief services. Traumas perceived as intentionally harmful often make the event more traumatic for people and communities.

  • Individual trauma: an event that only occurs to one person – a single event (e.g., mugging, physical injury, assault), or multiple or prolonged events (e.g., a life-threatening illness, multiple assaults).
  • Although the trauma directly affects one individual, others who know the person will likely experience emotional repercussions from the event(s) as well. Survivors of individual trauma may not receive the environmental support that members of collectively traumatized groups and communities receive. They are less likely to reveal their trauma or to receive validation of their experiences. Often, shame distorts their perception of responsibility for the traumatic event(s).
  • Group trauma: traumatic experiences that affect a particular group of people, whereby the experience of trauma and the characteristics of trauma-related reactions are unique to a small group of people. Groups may share identity, history, activities, or concerns. Examples include first responders responding to a crisis, and military servicepeople.
  • Trauma affecting communities and cultures: this can cover a broad range of violence and atrocities that erode the sense of safety within a given community (e.g., schools, neighborhoods, reserves). It may involve:
    • Assaults, hate crimes, violence;
    • Actions that attempt to dismantle systemic cultural practices, resources, and identities (e.g., the residential schooling system);
    • Indifference or limited responsiveness to specific communities or cultures that are facing potential danger; and/or
    • Events that erode the heritage of a culture (e.g., prejudice, disenfranchisement, heath inequities).

This type of trauma includes:

  • Historical or generational trauma – widespread events that affect an entire culture and influence generations of the culture beyond those who experienced them directly. Historical trauma can increase the vulnerability of multiple generations to the effects of traumas that occur in their lifetimes.
  • Mass trauma – events that affect large numbers of people directly or indirectly. In mass traumas, the initial event often causes additional traumas and other stressful events that lead to more difficulties.

Events that occur (and typically tend to reoccur) between two people who often know each other, such as spouses, or caregivers and their children. Examples include physical and sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, or elder abuse.

Specific events or experiences that occur within a given developmental stage and influence later development, adjustment, and physical and mental health. Often, these traumas are related to adverse childhood experiences, but can occur from any event in the life cycle that create significant loss or have life-altering consequences.

Anything that threatens the existence, beliefs, well-being, or livelihood of a community. Political terror and war are likely to have lasting consequences for survivors. Examples include the trauma experienced by political asylum seekers and refugees.

Retraumatization occurs when clients experience something that makes them feels as though they are undergoing another trauma. Re-traumatization is any situation or event that resembles an individual’s trauma (literally or symbolically) which then triggers difficult feelings and reactions associated with the original trauma.

Treatment settings can create retraumatizing experiences, often unintentionally, and sometimes clients themselves are not consciously aware that the clinical situation has triggered a traumatic stress reaction. Organizations that anticipate the risk of retraumatization and that are sensitive to the histories and needs of individuals who have undergone trauma are likely to have more success in providing care, retaining clients, and achieving positive outcomes.

Staff and agency issues that can cause retraumatizing include:

  • Clients being asked to continually retell their story.
  • Challenging or discounting reports of abuse or other traumatic events.
  • Using isolation or physical restraints.
  • Allowing the abusive behaviour of another staff member or client towards the client.
  • Failing to provide adequate security and safety within the clinical environment.
  • Limiting the participation of the client in treatment decisions and planning.
  • Minimizing, discrediting, or ignoring client responses.
  • Clients feeling like they are treated ‘as a number’ rather than as a person.
  • Disrobing being required for healthcare procedures.
  • Clients feeling like they are seen as their diagnosis or label (e.g., addict, schizophrenic).
  • No choice being offered in services or treatment provided, or when services are non-collaborative.
  • Clients feeling like they are not being seen or heard by their healthcare provider.

Trauma informed care involves a broad understanding of traumatic stress reactions and common responses to trauma. The table below highlights some common short- and long- term responses to traumatic experiences. These reactions are often normal responses to trauma but can still be distressing to experience. Such responses are not signs of mental illness, nor do they indicate a mental disorder. This information is presented so that regulated members can  increase their awareness of, and sensitivity to, how trauma can affect presentation, engagement, and outcomes in the clinical relationship. However, making clinical inferences or diagnoses related to trauma, or treating trauma responses are outside the scope of practice for ACSLPA regulated members.

Domain Immediate Reactions Delayed Reactions
  • Numbness and detachment
  • Anxiety or severe fear
  • Guilt
  • Exhilaration
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Helplessness
  • Disorientation
  • Depersonalization
    (i.e., feeling as if you are watching yourself)
  • Feeling out of control
  • Denial
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Depression
  • Mood swings or instability
  • Anxiety
  • Fear of trauma reoccurrence
  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Feelings of fragility/vulnerability
  • Emotional detachment
    (e.g., relationships, conversations)
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal distress
  • Sweating or shivering
  • Faintness
  • Muscle tremors or uncontrollable shaking
  • Increased heartrate, respiration, and blood pressure
  • Extreme fatigue or exhaustion
  • Greater startle response
  • Depersonalization
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Appetite and digestive changes
  • Lowered resistance to colds and infections
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Hyperarousal
  • Long-term health effects
    (e.g., liver, heart, and autoimmune disease)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Rumination or racing thoughts
  • Distortion of time and space
    (e.g., events seeming like they are happening in slow motion)
  • Memory problems
  • Intrusive memories of flashbacks
  • Self-blame
  • Preoccupation with the traumatic event
  • Difficulties making decisions
  • Magical thinking
  • Generalization of triggers
  • Startled reaction
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep and appetite disturbance
  • Difficulty expressing oneself
  • Argumentative behaviour
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
  • Withdrawal and apathy
  • Avoidant behaviours
  • Avoidance of event reminders
  • Social relationship disturbances
  • Decreased activity levels
  • Engagement in high-risk behaviours
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawal
  • Intense use of prayer
  • Loss of self-efficacy
  • Despair about humanity
  • Immediate disruption of life assumptions
    (e.g., fairness, safety, goodness of self and others)
  • Questioning (e.g., “why me?”)
  • Increased cynicism or disillusionment
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Loss of purpose
  • Renewed faith
  • Hopelessness
  • Reestablishing priorities
  • Redefining meaning and importance of life

Experiencing traumatic events increases an individual’s risk of long-term physical and behavioral health issues and affects health throughout the lifespan. The more an individual is exposed to a variety of stressful and potentially traumatic experiences (especially as a child), the greater the risk for chronic health conditions and health-risk behaviors.

Trauma is thought to overwhelm a person’s coping capacity, resulting in adaptive yet unhealthy coping mechanisms. Over time, these coping mechanisms can evolve into health risk behaviors and conditions e.g.:

  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Social isolation
  • Chronic disease e.g., lung, liver, or heart disease
  • substance abuse disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

The effects of trauma may show themselves in therapeutic relationships with clients, e.g.:

  • Impaired memory, concentration, new learning, and focus.
  • Impaired ability to trust, cope, and form healthy relationships.
  • Disrupted emotional regulation and the ability to distinguish between what is safe and unsafe.
  • Impacted beliefs about self and others, and outlook on life.
  • Experiencing defensive responses (fight, flight, or freeze), even in situations that are not life-threatening.
  • Rejection of care.
  • Other emotional, behavioural, physical, or cognitive trauma reactions, e.g., flashbacks, dissociation, self-harm

ACSLPA regulated members are not expected to directly treat any of the above trauma related reactions as part of service provision. However, regulated members should be sensitive and responsive to any trauma related reactions and seek appropriate referrals and/or resources for clients as needed.

Trauma informed care understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize. Trauma informed care acknowledges that understanding a client’s life experiences is key to improving engagement and outcomes. Providers who understand the connection behind trauma and health are able to create clinical environments that are less triggering, identify appropriate referrals, and develop more effective therapeutic alliances with clients.

Trauma informed approaches are a crucial aspect of high-quality healthcare. They can improve client engagement, treatment adherence, and health outcomes, as well as mitigate risks to physical and mental health.

Trauma informed care shifts the focus of care from ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’ by:

  • Developing and maintaining awareness of
    • The commonness of trauma experiences,
    • The impact of trauma on development,
    • The wide range of adaptations used to cope with trauma, and
    • The relationship between trauma, substance use, and physical and mental health.
  • Realizing the widespread impact of trauma and understanding potential paths to recovery.
  • Being sensitive and responsive to signs and symptoms of trauma in clients and families.
  • Integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.
  • Seeking to actively resist re-traumatization (i.e., avoid creating an environment that reminds clients of traumatic experiences and causing them to experience emotional and biological distress).

Trauma informed care is grounded in principles of dignity, respect, and justice. It takes the client’s experience of trauma into account when providing services and is attuned to a range of experiences, relevant to the people and communities served. While SLPs and Audiologists should not directly target healing from trauma in their clinical goals, engaging in trauma-informed practice within the therapeutic relationship may allow for an additional context in which healing can occur for the client.

There are five guiding principles that serve as a framework for trauma informed care. The figure below outlines these principles, with examples of trauma informed care practices that can be put into place.

In the case of client disclosure of trauma or client demonstrating a trauma response, practitioners should be mindful of the following practices:

Maintain Confidentiality

Regulated members should review confidentiality requirements, which may differ for adult and pediatric clients. In situations where documentation of the disclosure is legally or ethically required, the practitioner could ask “I’m wondering how you would like me to note what you have told me on your health record?”. Clients must also be informed of any reporting requirements for the practitioner.

In situations where documentation is not required, the practitioner could ask what the client would like recorded in their health record, e.g., “This is an important conversation, I’m wondering what, if anything, you’d like me to write in your file?”.

Acknowledge and Check in

SLPs and Audiologist should not directly ask clients if they have a history of trauma. However, regulated members should be mindful of and pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues that something feels ‘off’ for the client. If anything unusual is detected, members can acknowledge their observation and check in with the client. For example, “You seem a bit uncomfortable so I want to check in with you. Is there anything about the appointment or something that I’m saying or doing that is making you uncomfortable? How can we make that better?”.

Members may be able to provide the client with some options to regulate or exercise choice in the moment. For example, a regulated member can ask if the client is ok to continue with the session; if they would like a few minutes to regroup or if they would like to reschedule for a different day.

Listen and Validate

In the event of a trauma disclosure, regulated members should listen to the client’s story, without asking for details. The information that is shared should be acknowledged with empathy. Practitioners should validate what is shared; it is important that clients see and hear from their provider that their experience is believed and that there is appreciation for the courage it took to share their story.

Maintain Scope of Practice and Refer

Treating trauma is outside of the scope of practice for ACSLPA regulated members. As such, giving advice or counselling the client is a professional overstep. However, regulated members can initiate referrals as needed to appropriate healthcare professionals (with the client’s consent) who can provide clinical treatment for trauma and its impacts.

Regulated members must also respond to immediate safety concerns (i.e., threats of violence in the home, self-harm, child safety, etc.) with appropriate referrals.