Trauma-Informed Transports: A Healing Approach

By: Kacy Silverstein, M.Ed., NCC & Heather R. Hayes, M.Ed., LPC, CAI, CIP
September 13, 2017

Trauma is not a new concept. We have studied it for years but until recently, the subject has been relegated to a select group of individuals – survivors of catastrophes, war, or violent crime. The reality is that trauma is pervasive in our society and many individuals behaving in challenging and confusing ways are often struggling with the impact of trauma. Judith Herman, a renowned expert on trauma and trauma theory describes the experience in the following way: “traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life.” [1]  So, why does an understanding of trauma matter in the work we do? It matters because the individuals that we intervene upon, transport, and care for often have extensive and complicated histories of trauma. Trauma is woven into the everyday fabric of their lives and therefore, understanding it must be a part of ours.

At Heather R. Hayes & Associates all of our work is grounded in the concept of “trauma-informed care.” This concept has many facets but at its heart is the belief that all services and interventions provided should do no harm. In addition, trauma-informed care takes into account the connection between presenting symptoms and behaviors and a person’s past trauma history. Trauma-informed care is particularly important when supporting the transportation of a client from one place to another.

On the surface, therapeutic or sober transports may look like simply assisting a person from location A to location B. The reality is much more complicated. Individuals requiring transport have often just accepted help following an intervention, are moving between treatment centers, or are returning home from treatment. This is a very sensitive time for the individual being transported, as well as for their loved ones. What if the person relapses during their journey? How does one manage the stress of travel? What happens upon arrival at the destination? All of these dynamics make it imperative that transporters are trained, compassionate, and trauma-informed.

Safety, Collaboration, and Relationship

So, how does this work? Our transporters first meet a client wherever they are – home, intervention site, treatment center, jail, airport, or hospital. Trauma-informed transporters understand that trust and safety are paramount when assisting a person in crisis and that trust and safety are earned within the context of relationship. As such, transport services are viewed as a collaboration between the transporter and the individual being transported where information, knowledge, and expertise are shared in partnership. In short, everyone has a role to play in a trauma-informed approach. While decisions concerning safety are always in the hands of the transporter, there is a constant focus on the client’s strengths and a belief in the person as a whole. Safety includes not just physical safety but psychological safety as well. As such, transporters must have an understanding of the impact of trauma and how traumatic experiences can affect a person’s ability to feel safe. Transporters are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma, especially when combined with substance use, and seek to actively resist re-traumatization.

Choice and Empowerment

Transporters stay with a client from the moment of engagement until they reach their final destination. This may involve navigating multiple flights, rental cars, and hotel rooms and can last from 24 hours to a few days. During this process, the focus of services is on empowerment, not control and management. Trauma-informed transporters recognize that survivors of trauma often feel powerless and out of control and therefore, progress is difficult when someone feels that they have no say regarding what is happening to them. While the responsibility of safe and secure transport always resides with the transporter, there are ways in which power can be shared to promote understanding and coping.

Let’s start with language. Language is significant in trauma-informed transports, as the words conveyed by the transporter should reflect that the client is viewed as a human being, as a person greater than their symptoms and behaviors. Transporters are encouraged to use non-clinical jargon and to share information with their client in a respectful and welcoming way. This use of language facilitates both trust and transparency with the client.

It can be incredibly empowering to a client to feel that their experiences and behaviors are understood in the context of coping strategies designed to survive traumatic experiences. Transporters understand that trauma plays a role in mental and substance use disorders and that the combination of trauma with other disorders often results in a person feeling disempowered and voiceless. A trauma-informed approach creates a space during the transport journey whereby the person can begin to recognize their innate worth as a human being moving toward recovery.

When transporters are trauma-informed, they are better able to support the healing process for clients. As Gabor Mate explains, the essence of trauma and many substance and mental health issues is disconnection from ourselves. While transporters and clients may only share a brief connection, trained and compassionate transporters offer clients an opportunity to reconnect with the world in a profound way.

To learn more about the transport services offered by Heather R. Hayes & Associates and/or to become trained as a trauma-informed transporter, please call 800-219-0570 or email info@heatherhayes.com.

[1] Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.