Engaging with complexity: Providing effective trauma-informed care for women

In recent years, understanding of trauma has increased significantly. Alongside this has been a growing recognition of the role institutions can play in perpetuating trauma, inadvertently causing further harm to some of the most vulnerable people they work with. Understanding the impact of trauma on women is therefore vital for providing effective services.

Engaging with complexity offers public services a brief guide to the principles of trauma informed care and how to put it into practice. Looking at the concept of trauma (including causes, impact and prevalence), the report explores the model of trauma-informed care, and UK organisations currently employing such approaches.

The resource was produced by Centre for Mental Health and the Mental Health Foundation in collaboration with the Association of Mental Health Providers, the National LGB&T Partnership and the Race Equality Foundation. It was commissioned by the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance, a partnership between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England. Engaging with complexity follows the 2018 Women’s Mental Health Taskforce report, whose recommendations included the wider use of trauma informed care.


Who is the resource for?

The purpose of this resource is to provide insights, guidance and advice for public sector service providers and commissioners who are looking to adopt gender-sensitive trauma-informed approaches in their own organisations.

How is the resource organised?

Section one

Section one introduces the concept of trauma, including its causes, its impact (especially on women), its prevalence, and the role services can play in both perpetuating and preventing it. This section will be helpful to anyone looking for an overview of the theoretical background to trauma-informed care.

Section two

Section two discusses the concept of traumainformed care in more detail. It covers the four essential aspects of trauma-informed care identified by our research – listening, understanding, responding and checking – considering what each of these looks like in practice. It also anticipates some of the challenges services might face on their journey to becoming trauma-informed. This section will be helpful to anyone who is interested in, or who is working towards, adopting traumainformed care in their own organisation.

Section three

Section three lists some organisations in the UK with expertise in different areas that came to our attention in the course of the research as having an interest in trauma-informed approaches. Section three also provides links to resources that may act as a useful starting point for services aiming to become trauma-informed. This section will be helpful to services that are interested in sharing ideas and gaining further information from organisations working in their sector. 

What does it mean to be trauma informed?

  • Trauma-informed services put people before protocols.
  • They do not try to make women’s needs fit into pre-specified boxes.
  • Instead, they create a culture of thoughtfulness and communication, continuously doing their best to learn about, and adapt to, the different and changing needs of the individuals they work with.
  • In order to do this, it is crucial that services are willing and able to engage with complexity.
  • As a result, trauma-informed care is most usefully defined in terms of ongoing processes, approaches and values, rather than fixed procedures.

Four processes emerged from our research as fundamental to trauma-informed care:

  • Listening: enabling women to tell their stories in their own words.
  • Understanding: receiving women and their stories with insight and empathy.
  • Responding: offering women support that is timely, holistic and tailored to their individual needs.
  • Checking: ensuring that services are listening, understanding and responding in a meaningful way.

View the full guide