Coaching Techniques

Understanding Trauma-Informed Coaching: What It Truly Means and Why It Matters

All about trauma-informed coaching and how to pursue proper training and certification to ensure ethical and effective practice as a coach.

How to understand trauma-informed coaching?

At least 70% of adults have experienced a traumatic event in their life. If you’re considering working with trauma and you want to do it within the framework of coaching, there’s a few important considerations for you to bear in mind.

In recent years, the term "trauma-informed" has become more and more prominent in the coaching industry. It’s understandable – collectively we’re beginning to understand the role that trauma plays in shaping who we are, and how we experience the world.

However, within the coaching community, there’s also a growing concern that the phrase may be used too loosely or without proper understanding. People who are calling themselves trauma informed coaches without proper training or qualifications can potentially harm those who need trauma-informed care the most. 

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some key concepts coaches should be aware of, resources for further exploration, and the ethical considerations around working with trauma in your practice. 

What is trauma? 

Trauma occurs when a person is faced with stressful events or situations, and responds with feelings of terror, dread, or incapacity. This extreme stress overwhelms the person’s ability to handle their emotions. Trauma and health issues are linked as well – everything from diabetes to cancer and beyond.

According to the National Council on Behavioral Health, trauma can be caused by many things, but especially:

  • childhood abuse or neglect
  • physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • accidents
  • natural disasters
  • war and other forms of violence
  • grief and loss
  • witnessing acts of violence
  • medical interventions 
  • cultural, intergenerational and historical trauma

What is trauma-informed coaching?

Trauma-informed coaching is a coaching practice that integrates an understanding of the impact of trauma into the coach’s framework. It acknowledges past traumas and seeks to create a safe, non-judgmental space for clients to grow and move forward.

This approach recognizes that trauma can affect all dimensions of well-being, and focuses on building resilience and empowering the client. A hoped for outcome is that by deepening our understanding of how people are affected by trauma, we as coaches can avoid triggering clients or re-traumatizing them.

This discipline requires specialized training and care to be effective – along with a healthy understanding of when to refer out and a strong network of therapists to refer out to.

Beyond the regular skills taught in coach training, “trauma-informed coaches have training in client regulation, brain-body connection, behavioral reaction, different types of traumas, leading causes, and subsequent symptoms. They will have learned methods to help ‘regulate’ the nervous system, discard shame and guilt through powerful questions, and recognize and promote wellness as it starts to develop…” according to Moving the Human Spirit, an ICF (International Coaching Federation)  accredited trauma informed training program.

Is specialized training in trauma-informed coaching necessary?

In our view, simply undergoing a weekend training session or reading a book on trauma is not enough to brand yourself as a "trauma-informed coach." The title carries ethical implications and should be backed by rigorous education, ongoing supervision, and an unwavering commitment to do no harm.

Not everyone needs specialized training to practice as a coach, but when it comes to this area of practice, we highly recommend it.. Survivors of traumatic experiences are often drawn to this work, which can be a powerful point of connection with, and empathy for, clients. However, conditions such as PTSD are a medical diagnosis, and lived experience alone is not a sufficient substitute for qualified professional care. 

So how does it relate to the work of coaching? A trauma-informed approach widens our perspective, and helps to create a foundation of safety and trust between the coach and client. Clients are also far more likely to achieve their goals and engage fully in the coaching process when they feel seen, heard, and respected. Being trained in trauma informed care can uplevel your practice in this respect.

What are the core principles of trauma informed care?

SAMHSA (the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) takes trauma informed care seriously and has developed six guiding principles that can help us understand it better. These six principles are part of a framework for individuals and organizations to commit to caring for those who have experienced trauma.

So, how can we apply these six principles to coaching?

  • Safety: Creating a physically, psychologically emotionally safe environment for our clients.
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency: Maintaining transparency in intentions and confidentiality, while following through on commitments and promises.
  • Peer Support: The experiences of those who have lived through trauma can give us valuable insights and guidance.
  • Collaboration and Mutuality: Engaging the client as a full partner in their journey, working together to ensure there is creative partnership as a powerful instrument. 
  • Empowerment, Voice and Choice: Ensuring that the client has control over their decisions, while celebrating their resilience and acknowledging their ability to heal.  Focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses.
  • Cultural, Historical, and Gender Sensitivity: Being aware of the wider systemic factors that can play a harmful or difficult role.

The limitations of coaching

While trauma-informed coaching is deeply invested in considering the impact of trauma, it’s important to remember that coaches are not therapists. We are not qualified to “heal” trauma.

Coaching is a collaborative partnership focused on goal achievement, and is not a substitute for medical or psychological treatment. Yes, trauma-informed coaches can offer valuable tools for managing life's challenges and achieving goals, even with their additional training they are not trained or qualified in their role as coach to provide mental health treatment.

The importance of collaboration and referring out

Because of these limitations, coaches practicing trauma-informed coaching should establish a strong network of qualified therapists and other resources for referring clients to.

If there’s any indication that your client’s trauma is impacting their emotional or psychological well being, the most ethical thing you can do is refer them to a qualified medical professional or a therapist who can take over care. 

Trauma-informed Training and Certification Programs

If you're serious about integrating trauma-informed coaching into your practice, it's essential to undergo rigorous training to ensure that you can practice safely and responsibly. Be sure to vet the program you’re considering and ensure that they take a responsible approach to trauma and are accredited. There are many options out there, here’s just a few to get you started:

Moving the Human Spirit – ICF accredited – ground-breaking, ICF-accredited online trauma-informed coach training. The need for trauma-informed coaches is growing, and our internationally recognized trauma coaching courses will prepare you to help others recover from trauma.

Trauma Recovery Coaching Certification Program – ACTO Certified – This program was created, written, taught and led by trauma survivors who have a vested first hand interest in equipping coaches with the tools needed to help others.

Certified Trauma Informed Coach from Coach Training World – ICF Accredited as CCE – Gives you a deep understanding of all the different types of trauma and teaches you how to offer support and help your clients reclaim their sense of self.

Somatic Trauma Informed Coaching Certification with Caroline Strawson – ICF Accredited – Designed for healers, transformers, and trailblazers who are passionate about working in the trauma space and making a meaningful difference in other’s lives.

Trauma-informed coaching is a specialized skill set and a true responsibility. It involves a deep understanding of trauma's complexities and a commitment to creating a safe, empowering space for your clients.

If you undergo proper training and always follow the trauma-informed principles, you contribute to a higher standard of care in the professional coaching industry – and put the needs of your clients first.

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