COVID-19 Needs A Trauma Informed Approach


It is well-documented that the best way to curb the spread of COVID-19 is to practice social distancing. As Governor Evers has said, we are safer at home.

The quicker we stop the spread of COVID-19, the quicker we get back to school, work, and our regular lives. We all want this.

It doesn’t seem that hard to follow the recommendations around social distancing. Stay home, away from people who don’t live with you, wash your hands, and stop touching your face. Easy peasy, right?


Not everyone has the ability, means, or even desire to follow the social distancing guidelines. It’s so tempting to shame people into following the guidelines. This approach won’t work and can cause unnecessary trauma and shame. There are so many memes floating around social media that judge, shame, and blame people who are still shopping and hanging out with friends.

But what if we used a trauma-informed approach to COVID-19 to better understand the barriers that exist for some folks and help them resolve those so they can be healthy and safe as well.

What is trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing situation. Traumatic experiences can involve a threat to someone’s life and/or safety but don’t have to include any physical harm. Trauma affects each person differently and can impact their cognitive, emotional, spiritual, physical, and social life. The tricky thing about trauma is that you never know what someone has been through. COVID-19 impacts everyone differently based on their past experiences. This is where using a trauma-informed lens is so important.

What is trauma-informed care?

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, trauma-informed care is a shift in thinking that focuses on someone’s past experiences and how they shape the present. An easy way to think of trauma-informed care is that it asks the question “what happened to you” instead of “what’s wrong with you.” There are six key principles of trauma-informed care. They are safety, trustworthiness and & transparency, peer support, collaboration & mutuality, empowerment & choice, and cultural, historical & gender issues. Using a trauma-informed care approach to COVID-19 and social distancing can help unite us and help us stay healthy and safe during these unsettling times.

So, the next time you see or hear about someone who isn’t following the guidelines for COVID-19 #flatteningthecurve, consider replacing judgmental thoughts with questions that seek to understand other people. This is easier said than done and takes a ton of practice. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. The goal is to recognize negative thoughts and replace them.

Let’s practice together

The next time you see someone at the grocery store, and it seems like they are buying “more than they need” of something. Instead of judging, consider their past. Maybe they didn’t have enough food as a child or young person. Or maybe they are buying for a food pantry or have a large family.

Maybe your neighbor isn’t following the recommended six feet social distancing guideline. Instead of judging, try to understand the barriers that stop them from following the guidelines. Maybe they need a break from a household member. Or maybe, they have a hard time hearing. Or maybe, physical closeness is a way for them to self-regulate.

Navigating life during the COVID-19 pandemic is hard. We need each other. We can do hard things together.


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