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Thursday, January 20, 2022
Co-workers working on laptops at table wearing face masks.
Tips & Training

Working toward trauma-informed career development organizations

Over the past few years, we have talked a lot about trauma-informed career development. It’s time to take that conversation to the decision makers and board members of organizations.

Trauma-informed organizations work to incorporate non-violent communication strategies and create choices for staff and clients. These are organizations where the underlying assumption is that everyone is dealing with some trauma in their nervous system and that we can create workplaces and services that respect that.

The 4 Rs of trauma-informed organizations

Trauma-informed organization create polices that realize that trauma exists in both clients and staff stories, they recognize the signs and symptoms in the workplace, they respond in ways that integrate this knowledge into policy and they work to resist re-traumatizing clients and staff.

Creating trauma-informed organizations involves building a community of practice where individual career professionals are supported by both policies and colleagues. Career professionals who work in trauma-informed organizations have a voice to address systemic oppression with decision makers.


Douglas College is the “Around the World Sessions Partner” for CERIC’s Cannexus22 Career Development Conference, taking place Jan. 24-26, 2022. Seanna Quressette and Dr. Catherine Hajnal will be presenting a session on “Creating Trauma-Informed Organizations” at the virtual conference. 


Realize that trauma exists

It is important for us to realize that in these times, we have all experienced some trauma related to COVID. While we have all experienced the same event, depending on our level of privilege and proximity to the virus, we have all had different experiences of it. The effect of the pandemic on each of us is based on our experience of the event and what was already alive in our nervous system.

When we say that everyone has trauma in their nervous system, we are saying that there are ways in which all of us have circumstances where our nervous system is attuned to fight, flight or freeze. Some of us may find we are living outside our window of tolerance, unable to return to a sense of safety in our nervous system. Some people are able to integrate the arousal that COVID has caused fairly easily, and for others, it triggers anxieties and traumas.

“It is important for us to realize that in these times, we have all experienced some trauma related to COVID.”

Recognize the signs and symptoms

A trauma-informed organization recognizes neither staff nor clients can leave their nervous system at the door. We bring our history with us, including what has been experienced intergenerationally. Many people in the workforce have had adverse childhood experiences, adverse community experiences, adverse cultural experiences and adverse organizational experiences.

When we work with clients in career transition, they often share parts of their life stories. Practitioners can experience vicarious trauma as they listen to these stories. It’s important to recognize this possibility and plan for how to cope if/when it occurs.

Career development professionals and clients also have experienced positive and compensatory experiences (PACEs) throughout their childhoods. These experiences – having an ally outside their family of origin, having a mentor, helping others, learning new skills – build strengths and provide a launching place for resilience throughout life. Good organizations look for ways to contribute to the PACEs of their staff and clients

Respond to trauma and resist re-traumatizing clients and staff

Trauma-informed organizations are places where policies and procedures are in place that support practitioners where they need it. They are places of collaboration, respect, choice and safety. Organizations that acknowledge that their staff are affected by the stories they hold for their clients are trauma informed. These organizations create space for de-briefing and encourage supports for after de-briefing. These are organizations that lay the foundation of collaboration and safety for all.

Trauma-informed organizations are trauma-informed at all levels. They use leadership practices that identify the relationship between trauma and programming. Staff are trauma-informed and work in culturally sensitive ways. These organizations monitor and evaluate their progress on a regular basis. Their physical and virtual space is designed to calm the nervous system.  For example, signs and symbols used in the space reflect the cultural diversity and intersectional identities of the client and staff base of the organization.  This supports the clients’ and staffs’ sense of mattering and belonging.  Finally, policies and procedures are designed with safety and choice in mind. And those organizations encourage a community of practice in their teams.

When career professionals in these organizations make referrals to other services, they endeavour to refer clients to other trauma-informed organizations. They look for places where staff use the language of choice and where well-being is understood from a culturally sensitive perspective.

The process of becoming a trauma-informed organization

Wondering where to begin? The Missouri Model lays out four stages of adoption for trauma-informed organizations.

  1. Awareness: Organization becomes aware of how prevalent trauma is and its impact on workers, clients, and business outcomes.
  2. Sensitivity: Organization begins to understand trauma-informed principles, causes, expressions and possible ways to overcome problems that affect workers and business.
  3. Response: Organization begins to implement changes that affect culture, routines and human resource processes to eliminate triggers.
  4. Informed: Organization begins to implement trauma-informed practices and monitors the impacts of changes made to policies and practices.

As we become more trauma-informed in our work and in our sector, it is important that awareness reaches into the board rooms, directorships of our organizations, with funders and with employers so we can be trauma-informed for everyone.

Douglas College will be offering a new course, The Trauma Informed Organization, in the spring of 2022.

Dr. Catherine Hajnal facilitates an understanding of trauma, loss and grief as well as their transformative potential. She is committed to creating learning environments that foster a deeper understanding of the human condition. | Seanna Quressette, MEd, CCDP is a trauma therapist with 30+ years experience in career development. Seanna lives with PTSD and anxiety. Seanna has taught career practitioners for over 20 years and is currently faculty at Douglas College.
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Dr. Catherine Hajnal facilitates an understanding of trauma, loss and grief as well as their transformative potential. She is committed to creating learning environments that foster a deeper understanding of the human condition. | Seanna Quressette, MEd, CCDP is a trauma therapist with 30+ years experience in career development. Seanna lives with PTSD and anxiety. Seanna has taught career practitioners for over 20 years and is currently faculty at Douglas College.
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